YOU should always take pre-season performances with a pinch of salt – especially if you’re a Chelsea fan.

The Blues were thumped 4-0 by a new-look Arsenal, but then again Liverpool were battered by the same scoreline against Manchester United.

Thomas Tuchel has plenty of work to do as Chelsea prepare for the new season

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Thomas Tuchel has plenty of work to do as Chelsea prepare for the new seasonCredit: Getty
The Blues were thumped 4-0 by Arsenal

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The Blues were thumped 4-0 by ArsenalCredit: Getty

Under Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea have an established – and very talented – coach.

But with the club now under new ownership – and following the loss of Romelu Lukaku – there are questions surrounding the squad.

Todd Boehly has already shown he is willing to back Tuchel – with the additions of Raheem Sterling and Kalidou Koulibaly superb moves.

Even then, it’s fair to say that things have not gone to plan so far in pre-season – and not just because the club are struggling to offload the deadwood like Timo Werner, Kepa Arrizabalaga and Michy Batshuayi.

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As the pre-season campaign rages on and the start of the 2022-23 Premier League season approaches, SunSport takes a look at three key areas for Chelsea…

What will Conor Gallagher’s role be?

Unsurprisingly, we start with a question. A big question, in fact.

Last season Conor Gallagher impressed during a loan spell in the Premier League with Crystal Palace. The England U21 international looked the part playing as a free 8 or No10 for Palace as they went from strength to strength under the coaching of the former Arsenal midfielder Patrick Vieira.

So far in pre-season we have seen Chelsea line up in a 3-4-3 shape or in a 4-4-2 shape but either time they have only used a line of two in the central midfield positions. This has seen Gallagher positioned in areas that are deeper than we are used to seeing him
So far in pre-season we have seen Chelsea line up in a 3-4-3 shape or in a 4-4-2 shape but either time they have only used a line of two in the central midfield positions. This has seen Gallagher positioned in areas that are deeper than we are used to seeing him
Gallagher has not had the easiest pre-season

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Gallagher has not had the easiest pre-seasonCredit: AP

Gallagher is not a midfield player that we would expect to see sitting deep and playing passes backwards or to the sides in order to increase his pass completion percentages.

Instead, the young midfielder seemed to thrive in Palace’s transitional attack as he continually broke forward with late runs into the final third or even into the penalty area.

Gallagher seemed to be developing into more of a “needle” player who thrives on a lower percentage of touches and completes the majority of his actions in the final third.

There had been noise over the course of the summer that clubs around the Premier League would look to take Gallagher from Chelsea, either on loan or permanently, but the player himself has made it clear in recent days that he will be staying at the club to look to establish himself in the first-team this coming season.

Again, here we see the movement and positioning of Chelsea in the attack. In these situations, we might have expected Gallagher to make a long run to support the players around the area. Instead, we are seeing a more disciplined approach
Again, here we see the movement and positioning of Chelsea in the attack. In these situations, we might have expected Gallagher to make a long run to support the players around the area. Instead, we are seeing a more disciplined approach

The issue that Gallagher will have, however, is that there is no immediate position within the systems that tend to be used by Tuchel that will suit his natural strengths.

If he is playing as part of a midfield two, as Chelsea tend to favour, he has to be more disciplined in his approach in terms of supporting the attack from behind and not leaving his team open and vulnerable to counterattacks from opposition players.

This does not mean though that the young midfielder cannot play this role.

Indeed, his aggressive approach to passing and breaking lines would add something that Chelsea have lacked in the midfield unit.

There is also, of course, the possibility that Tuchel finds a way to include Gallagher further forward whether playing him behind the striker, whoever that will end up being, or switching to more of a 3-5-2 with Gallagher given licence to break forward from the midfield.

Either way, this promises to be something of a make-or-break season for Gallagher at Chelsea.

Defensive problems

There are few clubs around who could comfortably absorb the loss of a defender who is as accomplished as the German international Antonio Rudiger.

The 29-year-old central defender had developed into one of Chelsea’s most important and effective players and as such his decision to leave and join Real Madrid on a free transfer was a blow to Tuchel and his plans going forward.

This blow was, of course, significantly lessened by the capture of 31-year-old Senegalese international Kalidou Koulibaly from Napoli.

While Koulibaly is naturally right-footed he can play on either the right or the left of the defensive line comfortably and his leadership, experience and understanding of the game will add a lot to the Chelsea defensive unit this season.

Chelsea were caught trying to play out from the back when Chalobah played a loose pass into the midfield. There was a real lack of urgency and aggression from the midfielders and no cover across from the other central defenders as Arsenal broke through to score
Chelsea were caught trying to play out from the back when Chalobah played a loose pass into the midfield. There was a real lack of urgency and aggression from the midfielders and no cover across from the other central defenders as Arsenal broke through to score

There are, however, still issues and questions around the Chelsea defence.

Nobody can doubt the pedigree or game intelligence of Thiago Silva but the Brazilian international is coming into his age 38 season.

There are questions around whether he can continue to play effectively in a back four or whether he needs to be played as the central player in a back three. 

So far we have seen both systems from Chelsea and there seems to be some indecision from Tuchel about how best to set up going into the 2022-23 season.

While Koulibaly and Silva are both vastly experienced there are still question marks around Trevoh Chalobah as the youngster has looked raw at times.

The same is true of Levi Colwill, the young academy graduate who shone last season on loan at Huddersfield Town.

The Chelsea midfield of Jorginho and Gallagher are caught out completely by a simple forward run from Martin Odegaard of Arsenal as the Norwegian international breaks a line and receives the ball in a very dangerous area
The Chelsea midfield of Jorginho and Gallagher are caught out completely by a simple forward run from Martin Odegaard of Arsenal as the Norwegian international breaks a line and receives the ball in a very dangerous area

Whatever the decision is made in terms of the structure of the defence they will need far more support from the two midfielders ahead of them than we have seen so far this preseason.

Jorginho and Gallagher have a lot of strengths but defensive awareness is not one that stands out for either.

Arsenal, in particular, created a lot of threat through simple runs through the midfield areas that were not tracked effectively.

Narrow attacks

While, in retrospect, the big money signing last summer of Romelu Lukaku has ended in failure, with the Belgian international moving back to Italy on loan, the loss of the experienced striker has left something of a vacuum in the attack for Chelsea.

The assumption so far, based on quotes from Tuchel and evidence from preseason, is that Kai Havertz will take the striker role for the most part this season.

While Havertz is exceptionally talented he is a very different forward to the likes of Lukaku and he is more likely to drop off the front line to link play as opposed to providing a focal point high up the pitch.

Against Charlotte we routinely saw the wide attackers for Chelsea moving in to take up central positions as the attack developed. This meant that the wing-backs (or full-backs) for Chelsea had to provide the width
Against Charlotte we routinely saw the wide attackers for Chelsea moving in to take up central positions as the attack developed. This meant that the wing-backs (or full-backs) for Chelsea had to provide the width

Havertz is more comfortable in a fluid role where he is allowed to move around the final third and the signing of Raheem Sterling, from Manchester City, is seen as a move to lift the goal-scoring burden from the young German.

With the addition of Sterling to go along with the likes of Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic or even Timo Werner we now see that Chelsea have a lot of talented forwards that like to start wide and then come inside to play narrow in the attack.

We can also add Hakim Ziyech to that list although Chelsea would prefer to move the Moroccan international on at this point.

With Havertz tending to pull deeper and the wide attackers coming narrow, however, there is a danger for Chelsea, as we have seen so far this pre-season that they will be missing the final thrust in front of goal that they will need to challenge for the Premier League table.

One again as Chelsea attack they are narrow in their shape in the final third with six players positioned in the width of the penalty area
One again as Chelsea attack they are narrow in their shape in the final third with six players positioned in the width of the penalty area

There are players in that attacking third, however, that do have the capacity to run behind with Sterling, in particular, excelling in that role throughout his career.

As the season draws nearer though it feels as though Tuchel needs to become clearer in how he will use his attacking players and how to combine them as a unit.

So what does all this mean?

Put very simply, Chelsea do need further reinforcements at the back otherwise you can see the elite teams finding a way through quite comfortably in the big matches.

In attack, they need to settle on their patterns of play which will make it easier for the squad to be rotated. And when we say patterns of play, we really mean what can they do to make sure Raheem Sterling still carries the same goal threat as he did at City.

Finally, 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 had joined Frank Lampard at Goodison – even if that would probably have meant a relegation battle?

The new Total Football Analysis Magazine will be out on Tuesday, 2 August



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