Chelsea cannot afford to stumble again when they visit Wolves on Sunday. They are in danger of losing sight of Manchester City and Liverpool after winning three of their past seven league games and it is difficult to agree with Thomas Tuchel’s insistence that there was little wrong with his side’s performance in their sloppy 1-1 draw with Everton on Thursday.
“We have good performances, sometimes very good, but we don’t have the results,” Tuchel says. “This is exactly the place where you don’t want to be. If you have bad performances and don’t have the results you just focus on the performance and you speak it out loud.
“You get the performance better. Whatever needs to be done, get it done to increase the possibility of a result. A good performance and no result is the worst place. A bad performance and a good result is the best place because you say focus on the performance and we still win and you have the atmosphere. I refuse to analyse the Everton match from the result. And if you only look at results in football you can be horribly misled.”
Tuchel, who is still grumbling about Chelsea succumbing to a lucky late winner from Arthur Masuaku when they lost to West Ham this month, is adamant that it was a freak result against Everton. He could point to statistics showing that the European champions had 80% possession and had 23 shots against Rafael Benítez’s side, who burgled a point when shoddy defending from a set piece allowed Jarrad Branthwaite to cancel out Mason Mount’s fourth goal in as many games. “The feeling would be totally different if we sat here now after a 3-0 win,” Tuchel said. “We would be praising the players.”
Yet Chelsea did not win 3-0. They drew with a poor side who travelled without 12 key players. The lack of ruthlessness proved costly again. There were too many missed chances and the fundamental flaw with Tuchel’s argument is that it is impossible to overlook the toothlessness in attack when it comes to analysing Chelsea’s recent displays.
Putting the ball in the net is not a separate part of the performance that can be put to one side at one’s convenience; it is a difficult skill and Chelsea are not good enough at it at the moment. They are allowing games to drift and, although they had more than enough chances to beat Everton, they rarely look as fluent as City and Liverpool in attack. Even Leeds, beaten 7-0 by City on Tuesday, were able to restrict Chelsea in open play when they visited last weekend. But for Antonio Rüdiger’s late tumble in the area, it would have been another draw against a weaker side at home.
That has to be a major concern for Tuchel, who has seen a five-point lead over City turn into a four-point deficit. Mostly, there is not much wrong with his set-up. Chelsea are still not being cut open on a regular basis, even though they have conceded nine goals in their past four games. Sometimes your luck is out and Chelsea, who must feel that every little defensive slip-up is being punished at the moment, will hope that things start to go their way soon.
All the same, too much pressure is being put on the defence to be perfect. It is not sustainable and it is up to the forwards to take on more responsibility. They were culpable when Chelsea drew 1-1 with Burnley at the start of November. They were the ones who failed to create when Chelsea were held by Michael Carrick’s negative Manchester United. Only Mount, who has seven goals this season, looks reliable at the moment.
Of course, allowances can be made for injuries. Chelsea, who will also be under pressure when they visit Aston Villa on Boxing Day, have suffered without Ben Chilwell at left wing-back. Jorginho and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have been an unconvincing midfield pairing in the absence of N’Golo Kanté and Mateo Kovacic, both of whom could start against Wolves after lengthy lay-offs. “We have Jorginho in doubt because he is in pain,” Tuchel said. “Ruben Loftus-Cheek is a doubt. Maybe we will start with N’Golo and Mateo. Would that be fair? No.”
The squad has been stretched and it did not help when Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner and Callum Hudson-Odoi tested positive for Covid-19 before facing Everton. Yet Chelsea are not the only team with injury problems.
West Ham, Everton, Leeds and United were missing important players when they faced Chelsea. Excuses only go so far. After all Chelsea had a front three of Mount, Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech against Everton, while Kai Havertz could return from illness against Wolves. The £62m forward has only scored twice in the league this season and needs to be more clinical.
“He’s trying hard,” Tuchel says. “He is still adapting and he has all the potential and all the character to be a top player for Chelsea, but he is still growing. He is far from being ready. He is still super young and he needs to grow into it.” The problem is that Chelsea need their forwards to pick up speed sooner rather than later. Otherwise City and Liverpool are going to sail into the distance.