‘Pre-season is fake’. The phrase uttered by Jose Mourinho in 2015 shortly after Chelsea‘s 4-2 defeat by New York Red Bulls was designed to downplay the importance of pre-season and calm nerves ahead of the new campaign.
In fact, it proved the opposite. By December, Mourinho was axed from Stamford Bridge, after marshalling the reigning Premier League champions to nine defeats in the opening 16 games of the season.
It is hard not to consider the resemblance between Mourinho’s ill-fated pre-season stint in North America and Thomas Tuchel‘s blighted tour of the US this month.
Chelsea’s 4-0 thrashing to Arsenal compounded the club’s shambolic pre-season tour of US
A concerningly lacklustre display during the penalty shoot-out defeat to Charlotte and a humiliating 4-0 thrashing from top four rivals Arsenal have shown Chelsea to be well off the pace ahead of the opening weekend in less than a fortnight.
Moreover, much like in 2015, there are whisperings of unrest in the Blues camp, if Tuchel’s seething rant after the trouncing in Orlando is anything to go by.
‘We were absolutely not competitive,’ he insisted. ‘The worrying part is the level of commitment, physically and mentally… it was far higher for Arsenal than us.’
Kalidou Koulibaly joined Arsenal for £34m from Napoli as a replacement for Antonio Rudiger
Chelsea would be forgiven for showcasing the occasional rusty performance at this stage, considering the significant number of key incomings and outgoings this summer, but a lack of commitment is nothing short of a glaring concern.
Unrest in the Stamford Bridge dressing room first unearthed last December when Romelu Lukaku revealed his desire to leave to the Italian press.
The club hoped the Belgium’s loan move back to Inter would weed out any perpetuating issues, but Tuchel’s comments have shown that a few more players are eyeing the exit door.
He said: ‘(There was) a level of mental commitment that we lacked because we have a lot of players who are thinking about leaving and looking at their options.
‘We got sanctioned and players left us. We know that some players are trying to leave us and this is where it is.’
Waving farewell to both Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger on free transfers did not just provide Chelsea with a setback financially.
Losing such stalwarts in defence is bound to disrupt the back line on the pitch at the start of the season, piling extra pressure on Kalidou Koulibaly to slot in seamlessly following his arrival from Napoli.
Thomas Tuchel was visibly displeased with his Chelsea side after the opening 45 minutes
Despite flirting with moves for Jules Kounde, Presnel Kimpembe and Nathan Ake, the Blues chiefs have yet to land a second centre-back replacement, and 23-year-olds Trevoh Chalobah and Malang Sarr did very little to win the manager’s favour against the Gunners.
As a result, Tuchel has experimented with a four-man defence in pre-season, adding a change of system to the growing list of things Chelsea need to work on ahead of the opening clash against Everton.
Koulibaly and fellow marquee signing Raheem Sterling arguably impressed the most during the shambolic 4-0 defeat, easily outshining the long-serving crop of players at Stamford Bridge.
Whilst Lukaku’s exit would seemingly carve out the perfect route for Timo Werner to lead the line once again at Chelsea, the German striker still seems shell-shocked by his vast decline in form since arriving in west London and is thus contemplating a move away.
The 26-year-old said ‘I could be happy everywhere’ near the start of the US tour, dropping a hint that he is open to a departure.
Striker Timo Werner said he could be ‘happy everywhere’ when asked about his Chelsea future
Red Devils wantaway Cristiano Ronaldo was linked with a move to Chelsea earlier this month
Additionally, club veteran Cesar Azpilicueta, the last Chelsea star to feature as part of Mourinho’s first team in 2015, has been linked with a switch to Barcelona.
If distracted by transfer speculation, Werner and Azpilicueta are simply exacerbating the issues for Tuchel in attack and at centre-half, intensifying the clear need for reinforcements in those positions.
Whether Manchester United wantaway Cristiano Ronaldo is the answer, Chelsea are likely to struggle next season with natural attacking midfielder Kai Havertz leading the line solo.
With ex-managers Frank Lampard and Antonio Conte to face in the first two matches of the season, pressure could well be at boiling point as Tuchel’s new-look Chelsea bid to put a turbulent pre-season in their wake next month.