Chelsea’s 2022/23 Premier League season was a mess. The club fell from third place in the previous season to 12th and also managed to dent the reputations of multiple coaches who all tried and failed to steady the ship. But where did it go so wrong? In 2022, ownership of Chelsea Football Club passed from Roman Abramovich to Todd Boehly, who headed a consortium buyout worth £4.25 billion.
Boehly, who had already dipped his hands into baseball and basketball immediately brought about change at Chelsea Football Club. There were staff changes galore, however, the biggest moves came in the transfer market, and in one season Chelsea spent approximately £600 million on player transfer fees. This not only created future financial issues but also made coaching a near-impossible feat.
Head Coach Thomas Tuchel, still fresh off the back of winning the Champions League the previous season, was sacked in early September 2022. His replacement, the exciting Graham Potter only made it until April, and his replacement Frank Lampard took over until the end of the season. Each coach tried and failed to implement a system, and all struggled to juggle the media attention atop coaching a bloated squad in free-fall.
Into the 2023/2024 season, new head coach Mauricio Pochettino is faced with a mountain of a task given how Chelsea ended last season. Nevertheless, although it is only pre-season, Pochettino looks to have already taken huge strides towards returning Chelsea to the heights of English and European football.
The USA Premier League Summer Series may have appeared, at face value, to be nothing more than a friendly tournament. However, in the modern game, pre-season is vitally important for not only fitness, but team cohesion and tactical tweaking, and this was especially true for Chelsea. Not only did the Chelsea squad look incredibly fit after just a few short weeks of preseason, there were already clear tactical elements associated with Pochettino’s style of play.
Pochettino plays a fluid 4-2-3-1 system, which often looks to build possession by shifting into a makeshift back three, to create numerical overloads further up the field. Pochettino sides need to be fit and be able to compress the opponents into tight areas, whilst having the cohesive ability to play their own game in tight areas. All of this has been evident in Chelsea’s pre-season matches.
In Ben Chilwell and Reece James, Chelsea has an attacking expansive left-back and right-back, and Pochettino often used one as more of a winger, whilst the opposing full-back tucked inside as more of a third central defender. Pochettino has also experimented with the trendy box midfield popularized last season.
By allowing one full-back to push higher, the same-side winger can push inside alongside the attacking midfielder, to help create a box midfield and numeral overload. This allows the far-side winger and the advanced full-back to hold the width, whilst the lone striker occupies the opposition backline. Atop this, Chelsea’s large squad size and variation of players may also work in Pochettino’s favor, in regards to applying different structures going forward.
In players such as Mykhailo Mudryk and Raheem Sterling, Chelsea have effective natural wingers which allows for dangerous overlaps from players such as Reece James at right-back or Connor Gallagher in midfield. Pochettino has already looked to have begun getting the best out of players who struggled last season, such as Mudryk and Gallagher, however, Chelsea’s new additions have also impressed.
Impressing in pre-season
Prolific all-round attacker Christopher Nkunku has found himself on the scoresheet in pre-season, as has new striker Nicolas Jackson, whose effective hold-up and link-up play against Brighton was highly impressive. Academy graduates Ian Maatsen and Cesare Casadei have also both played pivotal roles in pre-season following seasons on loan in the EFL Championship last season.
Pochettino has a track record of getting the best out of young players, particularly when he was coach at Southampton, and this may have been a factor in his appointment. At the time of writing, Chelsea are still not finished in the transfer market and are still heavily linked with Moises Caicedo for further midfield cover, however, the club does still look well-positioned to compete on all fronts this season based on pre-season.
Expectations for Next Season
So what are realistic expectations for Chelsea under Pochettino this season? Given the current competitive nature of the Premier League, it may well be difficult for Chelsea to immediately break back into the top four. The seemingly indomitable Manchester City are forever present, Liverpool are expected to be stronger, and Arsenal and Manchester United are only further improving. However, Chelsea’s lack of European competition provides more freedom for player rotation and resting, a luxury smaller sides competing in Europe, such as Newcastle and Brighton, are not blessed with.
Therefore, although this may be a transitional year for Chelsea, under a new coach with a young and relatively inexperienced squad, a top-six finish would likely be an acceptable season. Chelsea may not be back just yet, however, with a strong pre-season under their belt and an experienced manager at the helm, it could prove to be an exciting return to competitive football for Chelsea fans next season.