From Riches to Rags
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Chelsea is an elite English football team with a history of triumph. They have gathered 34 trophies in their history, making them one of the most successful clubs in the hyper-competitive Premier League. They won the UEFA Champions League in 2021, a competition widely recognized as the most prestigious in club football. At the time, their team was versatile and adaptive. Their impregnable backline consisted of defenders Thiago Silva, Antonio Rüdiger, and César Azpilicueta. N’Golo Kanté dominated the midfield, consistently creating chances and maintaining control of the ball. Forwards Christian Pulisic and Kai Havertz were consistently among the highest scorers in football. Chelsea was able to form a nearly perfect team. However, their success was only temporary.
As of the 25th matchday of the 2022-23 Premier League season, Chelsea are nowhere near the top of the table. They are currently standing in 10th place, 11 points behind the coveted Champions League spots. On top of that, they have spent $388.5 million in the winter marketplace, breaking all records for highest expenditure during a trade window. They bought central midfielder and Argentine wonderkid Enzo Fernández for €120 million, midfielder Mykhailo Mudryk for €70 million, and defender Benoît Badiashile for €37 million, to name a few. Despite these expensive purchases, Chelsea is only at the middle of the table, posting no wins in their last four games and even losing 0-1 to bottom-of-the-table Southampton at home. Why is this happening?
Key departures and panic signings are primary reasons for Chelsea’s poor performance. Forward Timo Werner and centerbacks Andreas Christensen and Rüdiger all left Chelsea’s team this season, creating gaps in the team’s offense and defense. These players were critical to the team’s structure, and replacing them was a difficult task. In order to address the situation, Chelsea bought many new players under their new American owner, Todd Boehly. However, none of their new players have been impactful for various reasons. Forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is off form, having scored only one goal in his last eight games. Defender Wesley Fofana is constantly injured and struggles to get playtime. Defenders Marc Cucurella and Kalidou Koulibaly are having a hard time adapting to the team, not assisted by their lack of form. Similarly, Fernández and Mudryk have performed underwhelmingly and have been slow to adapt to manager Graham Potter’s game plans. However, new signings make up eight players out of Chelsea’s starting 11, which in part explains why the team has not been able to see results.
Chelsea’s performance has also been marred by internal drama. Last season, all of Chelsea’s bank accounts were frozen, leaving staff’s and players’ salaries suspended. When American billionaire Boehly bought the club, he paid the overdue wages but caused new problems for the team. The owner’s flamboyant oversight contradicted manager Thomas Tuchel’s calm and systematic style. One significant dispute between the pair was over the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo. Boehly supported his purchase, while Tuchel was hesitant, as he claimed Rondaldo would not fit into his system. This ultimately led to Tuchel’s firing and Potter’s hiring as the new manager. Tuchel was loved at Chelsea and had a large impact on the players. The adaptation of a less experienced and less popular manager has hurt the team strategically and psychologically. Despite having a series of talented forwards, Chelsea’s attack is rarely able to score. A major reason for this is the confusing, passive attacking strategy employed by Potter. The Chelsea players are arranged in a way that provides little support for the player possessing the ball, which generally means that Chelsea loses their attacking momentum after an attacker attempts to score a difficult goal from far away. Additionally, Chelsea lack the motivation and killer instinct to outperform high quality teams in high-pressure situations. Though this may not be completely Potter’s fault, it is apparent that his presence in the locker room is not enough to inspire and guide the Chelsea’s team to victory.
The last major problem contributing to Chelsea’s mediocre performance has been poor decision-making from owners. Chelsea has a history of sacking managers, with 17 manager swaps in the last 20 years. Instead of sticking with a manager like Arsenal did with Mikel Arteta, Chelsea constantly fires managers after a few losses. Additionally, they have a history of firing managers after expensive transfer windows, a feat seen with both Tuchel and his predecessor, Frank Lampard. Not only has firing managers caused the club instability, but it also prevents managers from installing long-term plans, wasting the large amounts of money at their disposal during transfer windows.
This season has been disappointing for Chelsea fans, and it seems as if it is progressively getting worse. Will Potter be able to stabilize the team and move up in the table, or will he be sacked, and which would cause further problems? Are Chelsea going to live up to their name and secure a trophy? Or are they going to disappoint their fans and tear apart their reputation? Only time will tell, and though Chelsea’s season has been disappointing for fans to watch, the drama demonstrated how even the best teams cannot sustain success forever.