YOU should always take pre-season performances with a grain of salt – especially if you’re a Chelsea fan.
Thomas Tuchel was furious with his blues stars after they were beaten 4-0 by new-look Arsenal in Florida.
But remember Liverpool were hit by the same result against Manchester United just a week earlier.
Chelsea have an established – and very talented – manager in Thomas Tuchel.
But with the club now under new ownership – and after the loss of Romelu Lukaku – there are questions surrounding the squad.
Todd Boehly has already shown he’s ready to back Tuchel – with the excellent moves of Raheem Sterling and Kalidou Koulibaly.
Still, it’s fair to say things haven’t gone to plan in preparation so far – and not just because the club are struggling to shed deadwood like Timo Werner, Kepa Arrizabalaga and Michy Batshuayi.
As pre-season rages on and the start of the 2022-23 Premier League season draws closer, SunSport takes a look at three key areas for Chelsea…
What role will Conor Gallagher play?
Unsurprisingly, we start with a question. Actually a big question.
Last season, Conor Gallagher impressed while on loan in the Premier League with Crystal Palace. The England U21 international appeared to play the role as a free 8 or number 10 for Palace as they went from strength to strength under the tutelage of former Arsenal midfielder Patrick Vieira.
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Gallagher isn’t a midfielder who we’d expect to sit low and play passes from behind or to the sides to increase his pass completion rate.
Instead, the young midfielder seemed to thrive in Palace’s transition attack as he kept penetrating late runs into the final third or even the box.
Gallagher appeared to be shaping up as more of a “needle player” who thrives with a lower touch percentage and completes the majority of his actions in the final third.
There had been rumors over the summer that clubs in the Premier League were looking to acquire Gallagher from Chelsea, either on loan or permanently, but the player himself has made it clear in recent days that he would like to remain at the club establish in the first team next season.
The problem Gallagher will have, however, is that within the systems Tuchel tends to use there is no immediate position that matches his natural strengths.
Playing in the two-man midfield like Chelsea prefers, he needs to be more disciplined to support the attack from behind and not leave his team open and vulnerable to counter-attacks from opposing players.
But that doesn’t mean the young midfielder can’t play that role.
Indeed, his aggressive approach to passing and breaking lines would add something Chelsea have been lacking in midfield.
There’s also the possibility, of course, that Tuchel will find a way to push Gallagher further forward, whether playing him behind the striker, whoever that will end up being, or switching to a 3-5-2 where Gallagher is the license to break is obtained from midfield forward.
Either way, this promises to be a crucial season for Gallagher at Chelsea.
There are only a few clubs that could easily cope with the loss of a defender as experienced as German international Antonio Rüdiger.
The 29-year-old centre-back had emerged as one of Chelsea’s most important and effective players and as such his decision to leave Real Madrid and join on a free transfer was a blow to Tuchel and his plans for the future.
That blow was of course softened considerably by the signing of 31-year-old Senegalese international Kalidou Koulibaly from Napoli.
Despite being right-footed by nature, Koulibaly can comfortably play either right or left of the defensive line and his leadership, experience and understanding of the game will add much to Chelsea’s defense this season.
However, there are still issues and questions surrounding Chelsea’s defence.
No one can doubt Thiago Silva’s lineage or game intelligence, but the Brazil international enters his 38-year season.
The question is whether he can continue to play effectively in a back four or if he needs to be used as a central player in a back three.
So far we’ve seen both of Chelsea’s systems and there seems to be some indecisiveness from Tuchel on how best to fit into the 2022-23 season.
While Koulibaly and Silva are both highly experienced, there are still question marks surrounding Trevoh Chalobah as the youngster has looked rough at times.
The same goes for Levi Colwill, the young academy graduate who shone on loan to Huddersfield Town last season.
Whatever decision is made regarding the structure of the defense, they will need far more support from the two midfielders in front of them than we’ve seen so far this preseason.
Jorginho and Gallagher have many strengths, but defensive awareness doesn’t stand out either.
Arsenal in particular created a lot of threat from simple runs through the midfield areas that weren’t followed up effectively.
With hindsight, while Romelu Lukaku’s big-money signing last summer fell through and the Belgium international returned to Italy on loan, the loss of the veteran striker in Chelsea attack has left something of a vacuum.
The assumption so far, based on quotes from Tuchel and evidence from the previous season, is that Kai Havertz will play the forward role for the most part this season.
While Havertz is exceptionally talented, he’s a very different forward than Lukaku and is more likely to drop off the frontline to tie the game rather than provide a focus high up the pitch.
Havertz is more comfortable in a fluid role where he’s allowed to maneuver around the final third and the signing of Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling is seen as a move to ease the young German’s goalscoring burden.
With the addition of Sterling alongside Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic or even Timo Werner, we now see that Chelsea have plenty of talented strikers who like to start wide and then come inside to play tight in attack.
We can also add Hakim Ziyech to this list, although Chelsea would prefer to move the Moroccan international at this point.
However, with Havertz tending to dig deeper and the wingers getting tight, there is a risk for Chelsea, as we’ve seen so far this preseason, to lack the final push in front of goal they need to challenge for the Premier League table.
However, there are players in that offensive third who have the ability to fall behind, particularly with Sterling who has excelled in that role throughout his career.
The closer the season gets, the clearer it has to be for Tuchel to use his offensive players and combine them as a unit.
What does it all mean?
Put simply, Chelsea need more reinforcements in defence, otherwise you’ll see the elite teams get through the big games quite comfortably.
In attack, they need to agree on their playing patterns that make it easier for the team to be rotated. And when we talk about patterns of play, we really mean what they can do to ensure Raheem Sterling still carries the same scoring threat as City.
Eventually, will Tuchel be brave and trust Gallagher to be a key member of his squad? Or will the England international spend the first half of the season wishing he’d gone to Frank Lampard at Goodison – even if that likely meant a relegation battle?
The new Total Football Analysis Magazine is out on Tuesday 2nd August
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