LONDON — Chelsea may actually be doing Thomas Tuchel a favour by ending the season like this.
Incoming owner Todd Boehly was at Stamford Bridge on Thursday as Chelsea meandered to a 1-1 draw against Leicester City in their penultimate home game of a campaign that everyone in these parts cannot wait to be over.
Boehly’s attendance is not always advertised but it is highly likely he hasn’t actually seen Chelsea win in person since entering into advanced talks to buy the club. We know he was present for the 3-1 home defeat to Real Madrid on April 6, the 4-2 loss to Arsenal two weeks later, a draw against Wolves earlier this month, last weekend’s FA Cup final defeat to Liverpool and now this Leicester draw.
Thankfully for Raine Group, the New York-based merchant bank handling the sale, Chelsea’s price has already been agreed. What hasn’t, however, is the level of investment the Boehly-led consortium are prepared to commit ahead of their first transfer window in which Tuchel believes his squad needs a “rebuild.”
Boehly and Tuchel had lunch at the club’s Cobham Training Centre in the build-up to last weekend’s Wembley defeat, but the players and staff were also in attendance, rendering it only a chance to get acquainted rather than discuss the tough decisions that lie ahead as they attempt to close the gap on Manchester City and Liverpool next season.
The pair plans to meet again at some point soon after Sunday’s final game against Watford, and if Boehly needs any convincing that major investment is required, Tuchel can point to the first-hand evidence he witnessed here.
In fairness, this was still a result that effectively secured third place, and Chelsea improved after a dreadfully sloppy start that was perhaps the product of an inevitable hangover from Saturday’s FA Cup final defeat to Liverpool and the knowledge Champions League football had already been secured.
After just six minutes played here, Marcos Alonso allowed Timothy Castagne to escape with embarrassing ease to collect Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel’s long ball upfield and suddenly James Maddison had the ball at his feet, working on opening on his right foot to bend a shot past Edouard Mendy from 20 yards.
Maddison is an expert of the genre: he has 14 goals from outside the box since making his Premier League debut in August 2018. (Only Southampton’s James Ward Prowse has more with 15).
Alonso made amends on 35 minutes, arrowing a volley from Reece James’ clever angled pass inside Schmeichel’s near post.
Chelsea stepped up again in the second half, monopolising possession and creating sufficient chances to win, most notably when Romelu Lukaku squared the ball to Christian Pulisic seven yards out, only for the U.S. men’s national team star to side-foot tamely off-target.
Pulisic was withdrawn for the final 18 minutes and he kicked the back of the chair in front after taking his seat in the dugout. After being guilty of two bad misses in the FA Cup final, Pulisic’s season is drifting towards an ignominious conclusion. But he is far from alone, and in fact, Chelsea may have collectively reached that point some time ago as the debilitating effects of UK government sanctions took hold had the cup final not sharpened minds into mid-May.
Alonso is likely to be moved on, Antonio Rudiger is already joining Real Madrid, Andreas Christensen was left out altogether as he closes in on a move to Barcelona while Cesar Azpilicueta, an unused substitute, could follow him to the Camp Nou despite triggering an automatic one-year extension.
N’Golo Kante and Jorginho will have one year remaining on their deals this summer, Pulisic has two years left and seems to be at a crossroads in his development while fringe players like Kenedy, somehow on the bench against Leicester, will be sold if a buyer can be found.
Kepa Arrizabalaga, Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are expected to have conversations with Tuchel over their role going forward and then there is the issue of Romelu Lukaku, who headed a good second-half chance wide and touched the ball fewer times (26) than any other starter on the pitch other than Leicester Kelechi Iheanacho and Jamie Vardy.
Kante is seemingly a pivotal part of Tuchel’s plans despite an injury-wrecked season, starting just 20 league games.
“I think he is our key, key, key players but key, key, key players need to be on the pitch and if he plays only 40% of the games, it is maybe a miracle that we arrive in third place,” Tuchel said after Thursday’s match. “He is our Mo Salah, our [Virgil] van Dijk, our [Kevin] De Bruyne. He is imply that player. He is our Neymar, our Kylian Mbappe, he is the guy who makes the difference and if you only have him 40%, it is a huge problem.
“It is maybe a miracle of how consistent we produce results and puts everything into perspective because I saw Liverpool last season without Van Dijk and they struggled heavily. You see the difference. N’Golo is our key player but he needs to be on the pitch.”
Yet even with Kante, this was still an error-strewn performance which extends an all-too familiar pattern at home: Chelsea dominate the ball, create chances but a failure to take them is compounded by individual errors at the back.
They were reliant once again on their wing-backs to make a contribution at the top end of the pitch, a point not lost on Tuchel.
“It is the story of the season — we need an assist from a wing-back and a goal from a wing-back, you can see the numbers of our offensive players and the numbers from the teams that are in front of us,” he said.
With one game to play, Chelsea have won just eight league matches in front of their own supporters. That is the lowest number of any team in the top seven and a long way behind Liverpool and City (both 14).
Chelsea are almost certainly yet to win in front of Boehly since takeover talks began, too. Although if that encourages a dynamic first summer in the transfer market, that might not be the worst thing.