To overcome Real Madrid in the quarter-final of the Champions League would have been the stuff of dreams for Chelsea. Tuchel himself made that very clear ahead of the match. Indeed, to even suggest that defeating Real Madrid might have been possible was a show of great, and, some might argue, misplaced optimism on the part of their manager, for the vast majority of us who watched Chelsea’s frankly dismal performance in the first leg would have quite fairly rendered it an impossibility.
It was always going to be a mammoth task. Real Madrid had a 3-1 advantage on aggregate, they were playing in front of a home crowd, and, to top this all off, they have, after all, won this prestigious contest thirteen times. In spite of this, the current holders of the Champions League put on a performance to be proud of; indeed, had they won, they would have deservedly been lauded for making one of the finest comebacks in European football. But, they didn’t. Instead, Real Madrid find themselves advancing to the semi-final of this competition for a record-breaking 31st time with a real chance of making this their thirteenth European Cup.
The question that Tuchel and his team ought to be asking themselves is “how did we let this happen?”.
The answer is plain and simple. It lies in the underwhelming performances of their front three, something which Chelsea fans have become sorely accustomed to. Indeed, their goalkeeping was sound, their defence was incredibly strong, and the team’s mentality was astonishing. They really did put heart and soul into this truly remarkable second leg performance. No one can take that away from them. But, it was their strikers’ chronic inability to find the back of the net that, once again, let them down.
It is all too easy to dismiss this as a serious issue, especially since Mount and Werner (by some minor miracle) were able to get themselves onto the scoresheet, and, together with Rudiger’s sublime (and much-needed) header, the Blues did put three goals past Real Madrid. However, that is three goals out of a grand total of twenty-eight shots on goal; Real Madrid, on the other hand, managed to, in the same match, convert their significantly fewer ten shots on goal into two goals. The issue evidently lies in converting chances into goals; indeed, there comes a point when a striker can no longer afford to just be “unlucky”. And so, to use the scoreline as an excuse not to address Chelsea’s ongoing goalscoring woes would be to overlook the problem entirely. This is something which the Blues simply cannot afford to do. After all, this has already dashed their dream of defending the Champions League title, and, no doubt, it will continue to haunt them should they fail to root it out. One thing is clear: it will not just disappear. So, how should they address it?
To be fair on the Blues, this does seem to be an issue that the past two managers have strived to solve through conventional, and, dare I say it, all too convenient means, that is through transfers. It is certainly striking (absolutely no pun intended!) that Havertz, Werner, Pulisic, Ziyech, and Lukaku have signed, and in the case of Lukaku, re-signed for the club in the past three years. Any club would certainly expect some sort of attacking revolution as a result of these transfers alone. It would only be natural. Perhaps this is to come for Chelsea, perhaps these players will eventually fulfil their potential, or, perhaps, this is just wishful thinking. Maybe it is just too much to ask of these players.
Yet, anyone who keeps an eager eye on the transfer window, would remember how Werner, Havertz, and Pulisic were all lauded as exceptional young talents, players with great ability and with even greater potential. Their price tags certainly suggested so much. And Chelsea certainly put their money (and lots of it, at that) on it; other European clubs were certainly not prepared to do the same. Surely the Blues would not have done so without some conviction of the excellence of these players? And yet, despite these big buck transfers, Chelsea are still lacking in the goalscoring department. Pulisic, for instance, a player who Tuchel tasked with revitalising the team in this match when he took him off the bench, went on to miss numerous vital chances, chances which would have granted the team with the opportunity of, at least, having a fair chance of progressing to the semi-finals. I think its fair to say that it wouldn’t have hurt to let him continue keeping the bench warm. Of course, he is not the only one to have missed excellent opportunities. Havertz, too, though he managed to win quite a few headers from corner kicks, failed to convert any into convincing shots, let alone goals.
So, in light of this predicament, a little introspection is required. I would suggest that there are (at least) two different explanations that might go some way as to account for their present woes.
Firstly, it might just be that the transfers were just not that lucrative to begin with. It might have been the case that these players were just not as talented as they were made out to be. And yet, they were chosen by the club, who certainly would have had the opportunity to vet these players. So, in light of this, we can only conclude that Chelsea are profoundly (and painfully) lacking the knack of spotting talented, and well-suited players, who would make valuable additions to their team. Perhaps, in this department, they ought to take a leaf out of Liverpool’s book. Liverpool, under Klopp, have, after all, made some excellent, wonderfully savvy, and hugely successful transfers. Indeed, in many ways, their current success is testament to this.
Perhaps, however, Chelsea simply cannot get the most out of their transfers. Indeed, for many players, working with a new team with a new playing style, under a new manager, and, quite often, in a new league can be quite the adjustment to make. And this takes time, but certainly not what looks like it might be a seemingly infinite amount of it. So, change might be in order in the Blues’ training camp. Indeed, it is probably not likely to be the case that all of these players just simply did not gel, if you will, with the club. There comes a point when one has to ask whether the club did not gel with them.
Of course, transfers are not the only way of improving a squad. Academy players, too, make wonderful additions to a team. Liverpool’s Alexander-Arnold is an excellent example of this. Of course, this very option hinges on how much time and effort the club invests in their academy. Furthermore, looking into loan players, which could then sign permanent contracts with the club, might also be a way forward. It is certainly not all doom and gloom for the Blues. But, if they want to be serious contenders for trophies, titles, and important wins, they need to address their goalscoring issues, and fast.
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