EPL TALK: Left with an unloved mess, Tuchel should have gone to Man United

·5 min read
Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel.
Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel. (PHOTO: Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

SOMETIMES, the symbolism is almost too obvious.

In the blue corner, there was Cesar Azpilicueta, punching the air and directing his anger at his unexpected opponent. Also in the blue corner, there was a Chelsea supporter, waving his fists of fury at his captain.

The footballer and the fan, mano a mano, in a fight of the handbags, for our amusement. Who do you pick? The post-match confrontation felt like a catfight between the Kardashians, a contest with no popular choice, just an entertaining epilogue after another TV debacle.

This is Chelsea now. A gaudy, expensive experiment reduced to a weekly pantomime, filled with characters fighting among themselves and enough villains to boo from the cheap seats.

Even manager Thomas Tuchel is living up to the stereotype, sulkily blaming the Arsenal defeat on a bad pitch like a teenager blaming his drunken state on a spiked drink. The baseball cap doesn’t help. As he tugs on the visor, the German seems one petulant outburst away from storming off and getting a "I hate grown-ups" tattoo.

Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta gestures angrily at a club supporter during their 2-4 defeat by Arsenal in the English Premier League.
Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta gestures angrily at a club supporter during their 2-4 defeat by Arsenal in the English Premier League. (PHOTOS: Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

How he must pine for a comparatively settled position with a more stable regime, somewhere like Manchester United perhaps.

Only recently, Jamie Carragher suggested such a switch, encouraging Tuchel to swap one listing vessel for another, adding the caveat that the Red Devils will never sink. Chelsea’s immediate future is far less certain.

The Blues are lumbered with a tainted legacy, a battered reputation and unpalatable sense of entitlement that only grows as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues.

To follow a club currently sanctioned by their own government is no fault of the fans. To whine about ticket allocations during the Russian invasion is a more egregious offence.

From the moment Roman Abramovich sought to offload the club before steering his super yachts towards sanction-free ports, too many Chelsea loyalists seized the wrong initiative, chanting the name of Vladimir Putin’s ally for far too long.

If Abramovich’s old mate lost the PR war in Ukraine, his old supporters swiftly followed suit in West London, idiotically expressing devotion for a Putin-backed oligarch. Never mind the war crimes. Just look at the size of Roman’s trophy cabinet.

Perhaps English football needed to reach this immoral endgame, a final reckoning for a sport that has taken money from foreign state-backed individuals – or foreign states themselves – for long enough.

Of course, we’re not quite there yet. While Tuchel has been candid in expressing his views on Ukraine, Newcastle manager Eddie Howe retains the air of a thumb-sucking rookie cop, standing outside a burning building and insisting that there’s nothing to see here.

And why not? The Magpies will be playing Premier League football again next season, giving the coaching staff enough time now to scout signings and read up on Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations.

Chelsea, on the other hand, have lost their benefactor. New owners may be secured shortly, but the chances of them investing £1.5 billion to buy the next £100-million non-scoring striker are about the same as Romelu Lukaku resurrecting his Chelsea career.

Abramovich splurged that amount, no questions asked, as long as no questions were asked. He reigned in simpler times, when distant foreign ownership was exotic, rather than toxic, and sportswashing was the exclusive preserve of dressing room kitmen.

The Blues will not see such generous squad investment again.

The Blues are lumbered with a tainted legacy, a battered reputation and unpalatable sense of entitlement that only grows as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues.

And Tuchel has problems from front to back. His leading man has morphed into a sad hybrid of Wayne Rooney and Benjamin Button. Lukaku was old when he was young. He has the air of a heavy-set father trying to convince the kids that he’s still got it. He’s the oldest 28-year-old in world football, chasing a playing template that is beyond his weary legs.

But until recently, Tuchel had Chelsea’s shortcomings covered. He had a system. Defence was his thing. Today’s elite managers must have a thing. Jurgen Klopp has his relentless pressing, Pep Guardiola has his total possession and Tuchel has his fortress.

But in the spring sunshine, Chelsea’s defenders have turned into students on spring break, chasing random guys and picking fights with strangers without success.

With three consecutive home defeats, 11 goals conceded and the hapless Andreas Christensen substituted at half-time for the second time in four matches, Chelsea have already shipped more goals in 2022 than in the first 10 months of last year.

Christensen and Antonio Rüdiger are out of contract. In midfield, Jorginho, N’Golo Kanté and Marcos Alonso all have just one year left on their respective deals. They are all in their 30s. Christensen is expected to move to Barcelona and Lukaku appears to have checked out already.

And it’s hard to care.

Chelsea’s recent form, on and off the pitch, make sympathy difficult, particularly when a lack of empathy, on and off the pitch, was too apparent on too many occasions.

Tuchel was an empathetic voice of reason early on, expressing his criticism of Chelsea fans for chanting Abramovich’s name. Now Blues supporters are arguing with their own players and their manager is walking out on interviews.

Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before he walks out on Chelsea.

Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 26 books.

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