I was once told by a highly respected head coach that they treat every interview and press conference as if they are speaking directly to the players. That theory, it would seem, is being put into practice by Thomas Tuchel after he told his Chelsea squad to “toughen up” after their latest Premier League loss to Southampton on Tuesday.
It was Chelsea’s second defeat in five games this season and they have conceded eight goals. Tuchel will want them to be more resilient because their flaws have been highlighted. At St Mary’s, the winner came in first-half stoppage time. Spurs snatched a point at Stamford Bridge because Chelsea could not hold out for the final few seconds in that game either.
Tuchel has always been very open and honest with the media; he knows his words will be heard by his players. Maybe he went into the dressing room at St Mary’s and said nothing to the team, instead using his post-match interviews to get his message across and make everyone aware that things need to improve. He will know fans read those words and they will want to see the same reaction.
Lapses in concentration have been costly: from Édouard Mendy’s dallying on the ball at Leeds, allowing Brenden Aaronson to score, to failing to close down Southampton’s Roméo Lavia for his perfectly struck equaliser on Tuesday. These are errors that need to be eradicated if Chelsea are to progress from last season, when they finished 19 points behind the champions, Manchester City.
Leeds outran Chelsea, put them under pressure, forced them to make mistakes and capitalised on them. If the players fail to match a Premier League opponent they will come unstuck and great credit goes to Leeds. I saw Chelsea at the other end of the performance spectrum against Tottenham, when they were exceptional; they were dynamic, tactically superb and scored good goals but they need to do that consistently and are yet to find the right formula.
César Azpilicueta and Thiago Silva are brilliant players but are in the latter stages of their careers and Kalidou Koulibaly can be left exposed when Marc Cucurella pushes up the left. There are weaknesses for opponents to target. The arrival of Wesley Fofana will help in the long term and Reece James returning from illness, after his absence at Southampton, would be a huge boost. A backline of James, Fofana, Koulibaly and Cucurella or Ben Chilwell with Mendy behind them could provide the foundation for years of success once they are settled and fully know their individual roles within the unit.
At the moment it is obvious certain players are not at their best, which is affecting the collective. Conor Gallagher has returned from his time at Crystal Palace and looks almost as if he is trying too hard to show what he can offer. Sometimes players stop playing their normal game to prove their worth and that can have a negative impact. Gallagher’s dismissal against Leicester was the first red card of his career, which could show he is putting extra pressure on himself. He needs to refocus and remember what made him a class act for Palace last season, because he deserves his opportunity at Chelsea.
Gallagher is in many ways a new face at Chelsea, and there is no shortage of those. They may have overpaid a little in the window but that is nothing new for Chelsea. Under their previous owner, Roman Abramovich, there was always a premium to be paid because of the image he created of the club. All the arrivals look like sound investments. In addition to signing established names they have looked to bring in some of the continent’s most talented young players – such as Carney Chukwuemeka from Aston Villa and Cesare Casadei from Internazionale – which shows there is a long-term strategy as well as a plan to be capable of competing at the top this season.
The key problem they have had in recruitment is sourcing a striker capable of taking them back to the days of Didier Drogba and Diego Costa scoring the goals that helped win titles. Barcelona, Manchester City and Liverpool acted quickly to bring in Robert Lewandowski, Erling Haaland and Darwin Núñez respectively but Chelsea have struggled to identify a prolific goalscorer of their own. There aren’t many on the market, hence their move for Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang.
They got it wrong last season with the signing of Romelu Lukaku, so Chelsea were sensible not to buy someone for the sake of it. They are a high-pressing team and only a striker that fits that mould will move them forward. Raheem Sterling is a great signing and has the ability to score 15-20 goals a season but he performs best with a striker alongside him.
From the team that played at Southampton, it is hard to see a prolific forward. The club’s top scorer in the league last season was Mason Mount with 11, followed by Kai Havertz and Lukaku with eight. Teams cannot expect to consistently challenge for honours with that level of goal accumulation.
Tuchel will hope to see his vision of a toughened team against West Ham on Saturday because he knows they, like Leeds, will not give them an easy ride. Chelsea need to rise to the challenge to show their head coach has been heard loud and clear.