Three ways Chelsea could line up in the first season of the Todd Boehly era
A new era is upon Chelsea after a consortium led by American businessman Todd Boehly succeeded Roman Abramovich as club owner.
Boehly is no stranger to dealing with sports teams, or franchises, as he already owns 20% of Major League Baseball (MLB) side the Los Angeles Dodgers, plus a 27% stake in National Basketball Association (NBA) outfit the Los Angeles Lakers, both of whom have enjoyed recent successes in their respective competitions.
He is currently tasked with helping finance Chelsea’s recruitment this summer and has taken a hands-on role in transfers, negotiating with clubs himself with Marina Granovskaia leaving her role as director.
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However, it’s worth noting that, despite the consortium being led by Boehly, its Californian private equity firm Clearlake Capital who owns a majority of the shares. Other investors include US billionaire Mark Walter, a co-owner of the Dodgers with Boehly, and Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss.
For supporters hearing the new owners have “big ambitions” in the transfer market is encouraging as they seek to close the gap on champions Manchester City and Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Abramovich famously invested over £120m to kick-start his regime, with West Ham defender Glen Johnson being the first player in. There is already one new star man at Stamford Bridge and the Blues are being linked with a number of other players, but how many of their targets will they actually get? And how could Thomas Tuchel assemble his squad on paper?
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Thomas Tuchel’s first choice
Last season was Tuchel’s first full campaign in charge of Chelsea having replaced Frank Lampard midway through 2020/21 to lead the Blues to Champions League glory. Over the campaign, Tuchel did make a number of changes to his team to try and find what worked and while some suffered, there were clear favourites.
The easiest choice for Tuchel to make is in goal with Edouard Mendy his No.1, while Reece James and Ben Chilwell will surely be the wing-back options when both are fit, even with the arrival of Marc Cucurella. Their injuries last season were arguably the biggest reason for Chelsea’s failed title challenge, considering the Blues were top of the league at the start of December – just after Chilwell had suffered an ACL injury. Tuchel’s gameplan is heavily reliant on his wing-backs, and James and Chilwell seem perfect for his system, getting high up the pitch to provide width – almost playing in line with the attackers.
But there will be a lot of change between the two wing-backs. While Thiago Silva will remain as the club’s central centre-back in the three, he’ll have new partners with Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen leaving for Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively. And that’s where one of the new signings comes in, as shown in Chelsea’s Premier League win over Everton. Kalidou Koulibaly was the second big arrival of the summer (more on the first later) and he started at Goodison Park on the right side of Chelsea’s back three, where Rudiger was. Then we have a potential arrival in Wesley Fofana, with Chelsea pushing hard to sign the centre-back from Leicester, currently 8/11 with Sky Bet to sign the Frenchman this summer.
The midfield is pretty standard with N’Golo Kante and Jorginho probably the starting two, but Mateo Kovacic will be thrown in as rotation and there are other options that we’ll look into in a bit. Then we have the attack. No matter who else joins Chelsea this season (among their realistic targets), Raheem Sterling will be the marquee arrival, signed from Manchester City for around £45m. The Englishman outscored every Chelsea player in the Premier League last season, netting 13 goals despite having to contend with competition at Man City and Pep Roulette, and he’s the man Tuchel needs to burst in behind to score while also being mobile enough to track back.
Against Everton, Sterling started as the false nine and this could be a frequent role for the Englishman, though he still sees himself as primarily a winger.
“As you all know, my position is mainly as a winger. Some of the time I enjoy floating about and getting on the ball,” he told reporters.
“But I always judge myself on how effective I am on the games, so it depends on where I’m going to be most effective at the moment. The last game against Everton I played from the false nine position. And again, I’ll be most happy where I can be effective and help my team.”
He’ll likely be joined in attack by Mason Mount, the one Chelsea player to be directly involved in more goals than Sterling (scoring 11 recording 10 assists) and Kai Havertz, the potential new False No.9.
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A positive for Tuchel is that there are options outside of his first-choice XI that will allow him to rotate when injury and form dictates, as well as certain games and opponents that might require slight shifts in a system. In goal, Kepa Arrizabalaga is a capable replacement for Mendy as shown while the No.16 was away helping Senegal win the Africa Cup of Nations in January, and should be respected despite losing confidence and some of his ability during over the past couple of years. Ahead of him, Silva is not able to play every game so will need to be rotated out and the good thing about Koulibaly is that he could play every game if needed, potentially swapping to the centre of the back three.
On one side of Koulibaly, Trevoh Chalobah will undoubtedly be hoping for a starting role at Chelsea this season but that just doesn’t seem likely with the money they are looking to spend on centre-backs. But the Englishman is a more than capable deputy and will only thrive from learning under Silva and Koulibaly. He was good when given a chance at the start of last season but did allow some mistakes to slip into his game, understandable given his age, and struggled to get back into Tuchel’s team. Fans will be hoping he can get back on track this year. On the other side, Chelsea have secured captain Cesar Azpilicueta on a new contract so he’ll fit in there.
In the midfield, Chelsea don’t actually have that much depth at right-wing-back but Ruben Loftus-Cheek has been used there by Tuchel, so comes as the natural replacement for James if Azpilicueta were to play at centre-back. On the other side, Cucurella will be fighting Chilwell for the starting spot but he does begin the season as second choice, purely due to his late arrival. In the middle, as mentioned Kovacic will rotate with Kante, while Conor Gallagher will also fancy his chances to challenge for one of the two midfield roles and he more than proved himself at Crystal Palace.
Then there’s the attack. Romelu Lukaku has gone on loan and Timo Werner is back at RB Leipzig permanent, so Armando Broja is currently competing with Sterling/Havertz for the No.9 spot. Flanking him, Hakim Ziyech appears the most likely Chelsea winger to leave this summer, giving Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic the chance to contest for the wide roles – though the former has also chipped in at wing-back.
Now, this isn’t an XI we expect to see completely used from front to back, but it shows the options that Tuchel does have (providing everyone stays).
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Chelsea’s Ultimate Team
Understandably, given their recent take-over, Chelsea are being linked with a lot of players over the transfer window. Some they have missed out on, like Raphinha, or appear to have, with Serge Gnabry, Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt and Ousmane Dembele all drifting way; and some they have reportedly turned down themselves, reportedly steering clear of Cristiano Ronaldo – moving to 8/1 with Sky Bet to sign the Portuguese forward. But what if Chelsea did manage to get a large number of their reported targets, forgetting Financial Fair Play for a moment to assemble an XI that wouldn’t look out of place on Ultimate Team.
We’re putting this in a back four which is another option for Tuchel though he favours the 3-4-2-1, and the back four consists of Mendy, James, Silva, Koulibaly and Chilwell – five players already on the books. We also have Sterling, Kante and Mount in this XI, but then it’s all change.
Chelsea were linked with Declan Rice all summer but those talks have quietened once again, so it may have to be Frenkie de Jong partnering Kante. The Dutch midfielder has been heavily linked with a move away from Barcelona, and appeared to be on his way to Manchester United but reportedly didn’t fancy dropping down to the Europa League. Up stepped Chelsea and the Blues now lead the way for his signature, 13/8 to sign De Jong this summer — though he does have shorter odds (6/5) to stay at Barcelona.
Although starting in a deeper role, De Jong will have the freedom to move up the pitch thanks to Kante’s positioning next to him, playing a similar role to that of Lasse Schone at Ajax. However, while Chelsea fans are eager to sign De Jong, former Blues defender William Gallas believes they don’t necessarily need him.
“De Jong is a great player,” he told Genting Casino.
“He is still young but he is so experienced in the way he plays. I don’t think Chelsea have to go for someone of that profile though. Chelsea already have players like him.
“They should go for someone like Casemiro or Rodri instead. They are strong guys who stay in front of their defenders. They have good impacts physically as well. That is why I would not sign De Jong, because they already have players who are a little bit similar.”
Then we have the attack. First, leading the line, could be a Borussia Dortmund reunion for Tuchel and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who is 1/2 to join Chelsea this summer after Barcelona signing Robert Lewandowski. And then joining Sterling and Mount behind Aubameyang, Wilfried Zaha is a name that has popped up in recent days, currently 4/1 to sign for Chelsea this summer.