All of a sudden, this feels like the end of an era on and off the pitch at Chelsea
ALL of a sudden, this feels like end of an era for Chelsea, on and off the pitch.
A couple of disastrous results cannot unpick 19 years of glorious success for the club reinvented under the ownership of their Russian ‘sugar daddy’ Roman Abramovich.
Yet after a week that saw Brentford win 4-1 in front of a stunned Stamford Bridge crowd and Real Madrid seal a 3-1 Champions League win at the same venue five days later, the question of what comes next is suddenly laced with sinister uncertainty.
Saturday's thumping 6-0 win at Southampton confirmed there is still fight left in the battered
Blues, yet this club is set for a massive overhaul at the top and that is fuelling concern.
As the battle to acquire Chelsea continues to rage among a selection of potential buyers, manager Thomas Tuchel’s remarkable achievement of blanking out the noise off the field from his players on it has faltered fatally.
Six wins may have followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the crisis it spawned for Abramovich, but that may merely have been a smokescreen for what was to come.
It wasn’t just the fact that Chelsea lost to Brentford and Real Madrid that set alarm bells ringing, as the scale of those setbacks led to a crisis meeting on Thursday that saw Tuchel give the players a piece of his mind.
This was not a team-bonding session that allowed players to clear the air and vent their frustrations.
No, this was a gathering that saw Tuchel hold court and warn that their once promising season is in danger of imploding.
“It was not a discussion type of meeting,” said Tuchel. “Yesterday, it was more that I gave my point of view and that’s sometimes also necessary.
“We always take the players’ view into account, but over the last two games we felt it was maybe necessary to give our point of view.
“It was behind closed doors in an atmosphere where everybody can take criticism.
“We don’t point fingers, we don’t look for people who are guilty; we are in this together.
“But we needed to point out some things in our game where we were not happy, but it was about the game.
“We are aware of the problems and we don’t like them. I don’t know if we are concerned, but this is very untypical for us.
“We looked into it and we talked to the team about it, to try to figure out how to improve and to stop this direction of travel as soon as possible.”
Tuchel could have taken the easy option and defended his players ahead of a week that could repair much of the damage done over the last few days.
Yet like so many of the modern game’s top managers, he used his moment of maximum exposure to send a message to the watching world ... and the players he needed to send a thunderbolt through after a shocking fall from grace.
The response was instant, as they stormed to a convincing 6-0 win at Southampton yesterday, but repairing the damage in the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid on Tuesday night will not be so easy.
Then there are the problems starting to mount for Tuchel and the next Chelsea ownership group that will need to be solved over an extended period of time.
The woeful form of star striker Romelu Lukaku, long-term injuries to key players, the ongoing ownership saga and uncertainty in a dressing room featuring players preparing to leave this summer have finally caught up with Chelsea.
Captain Cesar Azpilicueta has activated a one-year extension in his contract that ensures he can stay at the club until the summer of 2023.
The same short-term solution cannot be found for defenders Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen, with their contracts
set to expire this summer and Chelsea currently blocked from opening talks over new deals due to the restrictions placed on the club by the UK government.
Then the contracts of key midfield duo N’Golo Kante and Jorginho are due to expire in the summer of 2023, with uncertainty remains over the futures of misfiring strikers Lukaku and Timo Werner.
On top of that, this is a Chelsea squad reliant on a host of players who are reaching the final stages of their trophy-laden careers.
Azpilicueta, Thiago Silva, Jorginho and Kante are all over the age of 30 and will need to be replaced sooner rather than later, with a rebuild likely to spark a period of transition between Roman’s empire and whatever will come next.
Managers have often been the fall guys for Chelsea slumps during Abramovich’s reign as Stamford Bridge Tzar, but no one is pointing an accusing finger at the tactician who brought the Champions League trophy to Stamford Bridge last May.
Tuchel has been cast as diplomat, apologist and spokesman for a club backed by a benefactor whose ties to Russian war criminal Vladimir Putin has become an unsolvable problem.
Now Tuchel will be among those questioning what comes next at Chelsea.
Those vying to buy the club will aim to keep Chelsea at the top of the European ladder, yet Manchester United’s decline
over the last decade highlights the negative impact owners can have, on and off the pitch.
While Abramovich’s ruthless approach at Chelsea has resulted in managers being hired and fired at a rapid rate, the robust foundations put in place at the club have withstood any turbulence that has been thrown at it.
Yet this Chelsea crisis has now been taken out of the actual club’s hands and that’s why this feels very different.
Next Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final against Crystal Palace at Wembley offers hope that this season can still end in glory.
The trouble is, Chelsea’s hope is now tinged with the kind of trepidation this club has not experienced in a generation.
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