It is in less than four weeks’ time that Chelsea will get their 2021/22 season underway in Belfast when they take on Europa League winners Villarreal in the UEFA Super Cup.
Some will view the game as glorified pre-season friendly, the last opportunity for Thomas Tuchel to prepare his squad for the arduous Premier League campaign ahead. But there is a trophy at stake and it’s one that the German and his players will be keen to win.
There is still plenty of work to do for the Chelsea head coach before then, however.
Tuchel spent last week evaluating the 28-man first-team group that returned for pre-season training. There are a smattering of star names, a large number of returning loanees, and a couple of academy graduates who are on the road back for long-term injuries.
This makeshift squad was given its first match action on Saturday against Peterborough United. The Blues ran out 6-1 winners at Cobham with Hakim Ziyech scoring a hat-trick, Tammy Abraham finding the net, Christian Pulisic converting a penalty, and Armando Broja also on target.
Pre-season steps up this week with Chelsea set to fly out to Ireland this morning for a week-long training camp. The likes of N’Golo Kante, Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Antonio Rudiger and Mateo Kovacic are also expected to report back having had three weeks off after their exploits at Euro 2020.
Tuchel heads into 2021/22 in a strong position at Chelsea. He delivered the club’s second Champions League trophy last term and built up a lot of credit within the club. Yet he knows as well as anyone that a Blues head coach can never feel comfortable, there is always a risk of the sack if results turn sour.
That is, partly, why the German will be keen for his side to hit the ground running next month, to live up to the expectations he set for the forthcoming season.
Here, we look back on five objectives Tuchel has already said he is hoping to achieve over the next year.
Chasing down Manchester City
Since Tuchel’s appointment in January, Chelsea have faced Manchester City on three occasions. And they have come away victorious on every occasion.
Yet the Blues head coach is under no illusions that Pep Guardiola’s side are the benchmark that Chelsea must aim to reach in this season’s Premier League
“So from next year on, from day one of next season we will hunt them, we will try to close the gap between us,” he said in April. “And this is the benchmark. For me, there are two teams who are the benchmark in Europe: Bayern Munich and Manchester City.”
He added: “From next year on we will start like everybody expects from us and I expect from myself.
“We will [aim] to win the very first match, and from there prepare for every match to win it, then we will see how consistent we are and how good we are.”
When Chelsea paid RB Leipzig £49.5million to sign the German last summer, it was hoped his goals would bring success to Stamford Bridge.
That didn’t happen exactly as planned. Werner scored eight in his first 11 appearances for Chelsea but, from mid-November, found the net only four more times. Yet he remained an integral part of the side and ended the season having lifted the Champions League.
There is obvious room for improvement for Werner this term and Tuchel, speaking in May, expects the 25-year-old to have a bigger impact during the forthcoming campaign.
“He’s still young and can still improve,” the Chelsea head coach. “This is what we demand week by week. When he has some time to reflect, rest, some time on holiday for mental rest, I’m sure he can take the next steps next year.
“He is not new anymore, he will know the environment, what he is coming back to, his teammates, what he is up against on the first game and how to adapt. This will help him. We try to push the process right now because we need him.”
Taking more chances
Poor finishing wasn’t exclusively a Werner problem last term.
Following Tuchel’s arrival, Chelsea created more big chances and had more shots on target than any other Premier League side. Yet nine other sides scored more goals.
Tuchel knows improvement is needed.
“We never lack intensity, we never lack chances, we never lack touches in the box and it might be boring, but we focus on that to increase these numbers and to create more and more chances, maybe higher quality chances, higher frequency,” he told Sky Sports in May.
“We have lots of talent, but we are still young, there is still room to improve and our players arrive rarely in a relaxed way. When they have chance, most of the time, they put in a huge physical input to defend. They have their part in defence and we don’t point the fingers at them if they don’t score.”
Trusting Cobham’s own
This summer hasn’t been easy for those Chelsea fans that are fond of the club’s homegrown stars.
Marc Guehi has moved on for Crystal Palace, Myles Peart-Harris is set for Brentford, Lewis Bate is attracting interest from the likes of Liverpool and Leeds, while Tino Livramento has a host of Premier League and top-level clubs abroad in pursuit of his signature.
Not every academy graduate can make it at Chelsea. And nobody expects the club to ever field a starting XI solely consisting of players who’ve spent their formative years at Cobham.
But Tuchel himself said way back at his unveiling that it is important to keep the link between academy and first team strong in the seasons ahead. His actions can ensure that happens.
“I like that we have not only young players but young players from the academy which is crucial for me in any club in the world,” said the German in January.
“Chelsea is famous for having one of the best academies in Europe, so there must be a way that we push the guys.
“We can never forget that it takes some time to be part of one of the most demanding teams in the world and of course we play for titles and results, so if you want to make it here it’s one of the biggest challenges for a youngster.
“But we will never stop pushing them, we will guide them, we will help them.
Helping Hudson-Odoi take the next step
It was on the first day of pre-season training – when only Tammy Abraham, Tino Anjorin and Callum Hudson-Odoi were at Cobham alongside 18 coaches – that Tuchel sent a message to Hudson-Odoi. “This is very good for Callum Hudson-Odoi. No more hiding. Hiding is over,” he said.
After making an encouraging 13 appearances in the first two months of Tuchel’s reign, the 20-year-old played only 172 minutes across the next 16. One of those brief cameos was against Man City at the Etihad in May during which Hudson-Odoi had a hand in Chelsea’s winner.
After the game, Tuchel marched onto the pitch and spoke passionately to the winger about what he did well. He then laid down a challenge for Hudson-Odoi ahead of this season.
He said: “Callum needs to understand how to use his potential. He needs to understand how to push himself to the absolute limit, not be happy with 80, 85, 90, 95 percent. He must simply be not happy about it any single day. This is the thing he has to learn, understand and live for.
“Once he does this, he will make his way and leave his footprint. In his position, it’s about assisting and scoring. Don’t forget that, we don’t have to talk around that. Big talent is a big responsibility and this is what he’s trying hard [to realise].”