“The pre-season is fake”. The phrase uttered by Jose Mourinho in 2015 shortly after Chelsea’s 4-2 loss to New York Red Bulls was meant to downplay the importance of pre-season and calm nerves ahead of the new campaign.
In fact, he proved otherwise. In December, Mourinho was sent off from Stamford Bridge, after leading the defending Premier League champions to nine defeats in the first 16 games of the season.
It’s hard not to consider the resemblance between Mourinho’s ill-fated pre-season stint in North America and Thomas Tuchel’s failed US tour this month.
Chelsea’s 4-0 loss to Arsenal worsened the club’s chaotic pre-season tour of the United States
A worryingly lackluster display in the penalty shoot-out loss to Charlotte and a humiliating 4-0 thrashing of Arsenal’s four main rivals showed Chelsea were well behind before the opening weekend in less than a fortnight .
Moreover, just like in 2015, there are rumors of unrest in the Blues camp, if Tuchel’s seething rant after the Orlando loss is to be believed.
“We were totally uncompetitive,” he insisted. “What is worrying is the level of commitment, physically and mentally…it was much higher for Arsenal than for us.”
Kalidou Koulibaly has joined Arsenal for £34m from Napoli as a replacement for Antonio Rudiger
Chelsea would be forgiven for putting on the occasional rusty performance at this stage, given the large number of key ins and outs this summer, but a lack of commitment is nothing short of a glaring concern.
The unrest in the dressing room at Stamford Bridge first came to light last December when Romelu Lukaku revealed his desire to leave to the Italian press.
The club were hoping Belgium’s return from loan to Inter would clear up any lingering problems, but Tuchel’s comments showed a few other players are watching the way out.
He said: “(There was) a level of mental engagement that we lacked because we have a lot of players who are considering leaving and looking at their options.
“We were sanctioned and players left us. We know some players are trying to leave us and that’s where it’s at.
Saying goodbye to Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger on free transfers didn’t just cause Chelsea a financial setback.
Losing such stalwarts in defense is sure to unsettle the back line on the pitch at the start of the season, putting extra pressure on Kalidou Koulibaly to integrate seamlessly following his arrival from Napoli.
Thomas Tuchel was visibly unhappy with his Chelsea side after the first 45 minutes
Despite flirting with the moves of Jules Kounde, Presnel Kimpembe and Nathan Ake, the Blues chiefs are yet to land a second centre-back, and 23-year-old Trevoh Chalobah and Malang Sarr haven’t done much -something to curry favor with the manager against the Gunners. .
As a result, Tuchel experimented with a four-man defense in pre-season, adding a system change to the growing list of things Chelsea need to work on ahead of the opening clash against Everton.
Kolibaly and fellow recruit Raheem Sterling arguably impressed the most in the chaotic 4-0 loss, easily eclipsing the crop of long-serving players at Stamford Bridge.
While Lukaku’s exit would seemingly pave the perfect way for Timo Werner to lead the line at Chelsea again, the German striker still appears to be reeling from his major drop in form since arriving in west London and is therefore considering to walk away.
The 26-year-old said “I could be happy anywhere” towards the start of the US tour, hinting he is open to leaving.
Striker Timo Werner said he could be ‘happy everywhere’ when asked about his future at Chelsea
Red Devils leaker Cristiano Ronaldo was linked with a move to Chelsea earlier this month
Moreover, club veteran Cesar Azpilicueta, the last Chelsea star to break into Mourinho’s first team in 2015, has been linked with a move to Barcelona.
If distracted by transfer speculation, Werner and Azpilicueta simply exacerbate Tuchel’s problems in attack and midfield, intensifying the obvious need for reinforcements in those positions.
Whether Cristiano Ronaldo is the answer in Manchester, Chelsea are set to struggle next season with United’s natural attacking player Kai Havertz going solo.
With ex-managers Frank Lampard and Antonio Conte to face in the first two matches of the season, the pressure could well be at boiling point as Tuchel’s new look Chelsea try to put on a turbulent pre-season in their wake next month.
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