Thomas Tuchel’s side have lost their fluency in the final third and contrived to drop two points against Everton. As injuries and illness mount, the Blues could do with a break time won’t afford
After a match spent furiously huffing and puffing from his technical area, berating his side’s every poor decision and wasted pass in a constant monologue, Thomas Tuchel was finally lost for words. “Today is a freak result for this kind of match,” he protested. “So where to start? Where to point the finger?”
In truth though, for all Chelsea’s relentless, almost machine-like success under the German, the pain of their inexplicable draw against an injury-stricken Everton was achingly familiar. A system ordinarily and obsessively fine-tuned to perfection, there is no escaping that Tuchel’s side has been short-circuiting in recent weeks, with their spark in the final third blinking repeatedly and their defence regularly breached. It has been a slump accelerated by a spate of injuries and now exacerbated further after Covid left four of his forwards in isolation on Wednesday.
But for all those obvious caveats, there can still be few excuses for Chelsea’s failure to take all three points against a second-string Everton yesterday. Rafael Benitez’s side had already been hollowed out to a husk over a wretched run of form, and injuries attacked the bare bones before kick-off at Stamford Bridge, with a debut afforded to striker Ellis Simms in the absences of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison, Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend. As if there was a need to highlight the difference in squad depth any further, Everton did not even manage to fill all eight spots on their bench.
In a first half that amounted to a constant onslaught, Chelsea had over 80% possession and more than a dozen shots as Everton reeled and withstood wave after wave of attack. Tuchel’s side should have been out of sight within minutes after Reece James preyed on Everton’s inexperienced teenage centre-back Jarrad Branthwaite and how they continued to fail to break the deadlock became a source of exasperation, particularly once Mason Mount contrived to miss from point-blank range.
For all their dominance, wel, there wasn’t disbelief at what was unfolding. This is a pattern that has prevailed for a while now, where Chelsea command matches without a killer instinct, and the trouble is that familiarity breeds contempt – and apprehension. The sense of urgency was palpable in the stands and transmitted to those on the pitch with every chance missed and extra minute made to suffer. Having toiled unnecessarily for well over an hour to finally take the lead, that Chelsea squandered it just moments later – the tenth time they have done so this season – was a sign of how their ruthless streak has been blunted by recent setbacks.
Such has been the relentlessness of this season’s title race so far that every dropped point can feel like a fatal blow. Chelsea may still only be four points adrift of Manchester City, and this hardly qualifies as an outright crisis, but they are surrendering ground at an alarming rate and there is no sign of any let-up from Liverpool either. If Chelsea’s incoherency in the final third keeps translating into dropped points, the gap could very quickly become too great to recover.
The current chaos and uncertainty around the Premier League, as already fatigued squads are further depleted by Covid outbreaks, should in truth hand Chelsea some sort of advantage. They have a remarkably deep arsenal to call upon, as evidenced by the fact their reserve front-three yesterday still featured Christian Pulisic, Mason Mount and Hakim Ziyech, but there are seemingly few sides who might benefit as much from the chance to reset.
“I would be more concerned if we were totally out of form, conceding the first goal and then struggling to come back,” Tuchel said of his side’s performance. “I would be more concerned, although maybe it would be easier to analyse.”
At some point, after such a drumming rhythm to their success, it was inevitable that Chelsea’s form would eventually waver. They have been wearied by a congested schedule, rocked by injuries and illness, and riddled by their own lack of cutting-edge. The problems have pushed Tuchel’s system to the point of overheating. Not unlike so many other clubs, Chelsea could do with a break that time simply won’t allow them.