Billed by many as the early-season favourites for the Premier League title, alongside talk of retaining their Champions League crown, Chelsea are now set to finish this hugely promising season with a whimper after another cup final defeat.
That’s now three defeats and no goals in each of the domestic cup finals Thomas Tuchel has guided Chelsea to, with Liverpool edging the Blues on penalties yesterday, just as they did after another 0-0 at Wembley in the Carabao Cup final back in February.
It also means an unwanted record of three consecutive appearances in the FA Cup final with only runners-up medals to show for it on each occasion, with under-achievement and big-game bottling starting to become synonymous with a club that were previously such ruthless winners for so much of the Roman Abramovich era.
Although it may be harsh to pick apart a team who went toe-to-toe with quadruple-chasing Liverpool in both cup finals this season, here’s a look at where it went wrong for Tuchel and co. this term…
Romelu Lukaku’s surprise struggles in front of goal
It was painfully obvious last season that the main thing missing in this Chelsea side was goals.
The club-record signing of Lukaku from Inter Milan looked a no-brainer for CFC in that respect. The Belgium international had just hit 30 goals in 44 games in 2020/21 to fire Inter to the Serie A title.
With Tuchel doing so well to turn Chelsea into European champions, the potential seemed endless with an addition like Lukaku up front. “I think bringing in someone like Lukaku who can score every type of goal means Chelsea now will be favourites,” club legend Ashley Cole told the Daily Mail at the time, while David Ornstein spoke in the video below about the former Manchester United and Everton man being the missing piece of the jigsaw. None of us were arguing.
Fast forward a few months later, and the Lukaku signing has been nothing short of a disaster. The 29-year-old has managed just 15 goals in total, with most of those coming earlier on in the season before the bizarre decision to give that explosive interview with Sky Italia that cast his future into doubt.
Not only has Lukaku not scored, but he’s looked off the pace, unfit, unsuited to Tuchel’s tactics. Instead of signing the Lukaku from Inter, it seems Chelsea ended up with the Manchester United version.
Mason Mount’s Wembley curse reflects a deeper problem
You’ve probably seen the following stat doing the rounds, with Mason Mount losing six Wembley finals now, with his three FA Cup final defeats, as well as defeats in the Carabao Cup, the playoffs, and the Euro 2020 final with England…
?Mason Mount has lost his last SIX Wembley finals.? pic.twitter.com/Vj9VObsnSs
— SPORF (@Sporf) May 14, 2022
No one’s saying that Mount alone is at fault here, but he did miss two huge chances in the League Cup final loss, and the decisive penalty in yesterday’s game.
With Lukaku not firing, Chelsea have needed a lot more from Mount, and also from the likes of Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic this season.
Compare Chelsea’s top scorers to Liverpool’s and it clearly illustrates the problem – a lot of expensive attacking talent not contributing nearly enough:
Mount – 13
Havertz – 13
Werner – 11
Jorginho – 9
Pulisic – 8
Ziyech – 8
Chelsea don’t have one player to reach 20 goals, whereas Liverpool have three who’ve surpassed that:
Salah – 30
Mane – 22
Jota – 21
Firmino – 11
Minamino – 9
Fabinho – 8
Diaz – 6
Note that even Takumi Minamino, who barely ever plays, has more goals than Pulisic or Ziyech. Luis Diaz only joined in January but is not far behind, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he ended the season with more.
Sanctions and player contracts
As much as Chelsea’s players and staff will have liked to believe they could ignore this, it’s bound to have played a part in the team’s slump in the second half of the season.
Abramovich has been a huge part of Chelsea’s success, and now, suddenly, he’s gone, with his reputation in tatters. Tuchel has navigated a difficult situation well by saying all the right things to the press, but it’s the kind of distraction no manager needs.
It’s also had very real implications for the west Londoners and their efforts to tie some key players down to new contracts. All three of Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and Cesar Azpilicueta are about to be out of contract, and, though they might have left anyway, the sanctions against the club meant it was impossible to discuss new deals for them. That’s three hugely important, experienced players who everyone knows is leaving.
Azpilicueta made a terrible error for Everton’s winning goal recently, while a similar Christensen mistake contributed to Arsenal’s 4-2 win at Stamford Bridge. It could just be a coincidence, but probably not.
All in all, a season that promised so much is now ending with new owners coming in facing what clearly looks like a major rebuilding job.