Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel revealed after his side’s mauling by Leeds that he and his coaching staff had been forced to take the bus to West Yorkshire rather than fly with their players. But he will have left Elland Road feeling even more grounded.
His expensively assembled side, which has been supplemented by more than £170m of spending this summer, were taken apart by Jesse Marsch’s Leeds, with the American describing the 3-0 win as “the best day since I’ve been here”.
By contrast, Tuchel said: “Everything that can go wrong did go wrong.” After the transport problems, things went from bad to worse, with his side missing chances in the first 20 minutes, Edouard Mendy’s mistake, a set-piece goal for Rodrigo, and Kalidou Koulibaly’s late red card.
But the Blues head coach did not accept that the defeat was down to Leeds running an extra 10km, Conor Gallagher being pressed by Tyler Adams on his full Chelsea debut, his team’s mentality, or needing another midfielder or striker.
“We were not all over the place,” he said. “With the ball, we were not disciplined enough and were not sharp enough after 20 minutes. But against the ball, everything was fine… It was a set piece and an own goal [with Mendy’s error allowing Brenden Aaronson to score] that tells the story today.”
Tuchel insisted: “This has simply nothing to do with pressing, simply nothing to do with running less kilometres, and nothing to do with the style of Leeds.
“We should not confuse these things. We were able to cope with that style, we were able to be the better team, we were able to be one [or] two-zero ahead.”
Having weathered an early storm, that was partially true – but even taking Mendy’s blunder for Leeds’ opener out of the equation, there were concerns about the defence, the midfield and his attack.
Former Chelsea winger Pat Nevin said on BBC Radio Five Live: “There are a lot of questions about what Chelsea need – a centre half or a centre forward. Looking at it now it’s not either, or, it is both.”
Fofana deal could help unleash James
Under Tuchel, Chelsea have the ability to conjure up a shock defeat.
In his first half-season in charge, West Brom beat them 5-2. Last season, Brentford beat them 4-1 at Stamford Bridge. And now Leeds have done the damage.
Yet the difference this time is that, while those defeats were with a squad that Tuchel inherited, this is one which he has helped to build over this summer.
On this evidence, there is plenty more to do.
Tuchel wants Leicester defender Wesley Fofana, who sat out the Foxes’ defeat by Southampton on Saturday. Reece James playing in a back three meant they did not have one of their best attacking outlets on the right wing.
Mendy’s mistake and Koulibaly getting to grips with the increased tempo of the Premier League can be seen as one-offs, but losing James’ presence on the right did not help a team that came under pressure.
“Tuchel feels this is a transitional season, despite being here a year and a half and winning the Champions League,” Nevin added.
“The problem they have is Reece James is one of their best players going forward and he was stuck at centre half. You don’t have that problem if you have another centre back.
“Chelsea need more at the back and they need more numbers in general, but that Fofana fee has just gone up £10m.”
Does the midfield and attack need addressing?
Chelsea’s midfield has always been a strength, but regular injuries to N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic last season, and now this campaign, have highlighted a potential weakness.
Gallagher’s debut might be one he wants to forget, and Tuchel did not want to talk about it afterwards, but he is determined to make his mark this season after a successful loan at Crystal Palace last term.
The problem at Elland Road, however, was that he was a target for the Leeds midfield, and when Gallagher did stride forward, he did not connect well with Chelsea’s strikers.
“Chelsea without Kante were swamped in midfield,” said Nevin. “There is no doubt he makes a massive difference. It is not just one player, but he is a world class player who is like two players.
“And don’t take for granted that a lot of players hugely underperformed. Raheem Sterling, who started well, had absolutely no service and faded as a result.”
Which brings us to the biggest problem with Chelsea. Converting chances. It has been an issue for several seasons, and Sterling has not yet shown he can be the player to turn things around on his own. Although he had a goal disallowed, he also missed a good chance in the first minute, adding to a sitter against Spurs last Sunday.
Barcelona’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been linked with another opportunity to be coached by Tuchel, after the pair worked together at Borussia Dortmund. The final touch is still missing from Chelsea, as Tuchel alluded to afterwards.
Nevin added: “If it wasn’t for Auba’s relationship with Tuchel, I would be wary. Remember, everyone thought Romelu Lukaku would be a good bet. I didn’t because Chelsea don’t play that style. I think Tuchel wants a high tempo player up there.
“Is he the one that will make Chelsea compete with Manchester City? I’m not sure.”
As Tuchel and his players head back to London, whether by bus or by plane, they will have plenty to ponder. Although a chastening defeat will cause concern amongst the fans, and further questions for Tuchel, it may also sharpen a few minds.
The good news is that with 10 days of the transfer window left, Chelsea still have time to rectify some of their problems in the transfer market.