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The end of this season will mark only the second time in the Roman Abramovich era that Chelsea will have gone four seasons without winning the Premier League title and the club’s latest head coach Thomas Tuchel conceded the numbers do not look good.
There was even an uncertain tone to Tuchel’s promise that from next season “we will challenge for all titles”, which was understandable given there is every chance that this will also be the fourth successive campaign, since last lifting the Premier League trophy in 2017, that Chelsea will finish more than 20 points behind the champions.
Thursday night’s trip to Liverpool is all about the top four for both clubs, but Tuchel admitted that last season’s champions, along with this year’s runaway leaders Manchester City, are the benchmark for his Chelsea team and it is clear that Abramovich’s ambition beyond this season extends past Champions League qualification.
It is striking that since winning the title under Antonio Conte four years ago, despite serving a one-window transfer ban in the summer of 2019, Chelsea have spent more than City and Liverpool on first-team players, and yet have fallen a long way behind their so-called rivals.
Almost £700 million has been spent on finishing 30, 26 and 33 points behind the champions in each of the last three seasons, while Chelsea travel to Anfield 21 points behind first-placed City, who still have 11 league games left to play.
Tuchel pursed his lips and puffed out his cheeks when faced with the figures, before saying: “If you read these numbers out loud, like you did now, then it seems not [realistic to overtake Liverpool and City next season]. But we should also not limit our thoughts. We should at least try and not prepare for excuses.
“The amount of points shows how big the gap was and still is, and maybe it is sometimes good to look at the reality and to speak it loud. But still it has to be the ambition to close it as fast as possible.
“The point is, will we close the gap to Man City this season? No, we will not. It’s impossible. But from next season on, we will start with zero points, all of us. Now we are challenging for the top four, which was a big, big task when we first stepped in, and from next year we will challenge for all titles, all competitions, sure.”
It may well be that Chelsea outspend Liverpool once again in this summer’s transfer market, but the last four seasons have taught us that, while the Erling Haalands of this world might have a price, cultures cannot be bought and, instead, must be cultivated.
Football cultures are about shared ideas, customs and behaviour, and both the Liverpool and City teams have become an image of their managers over recent years, which is in stark contrast to Chelsea, where some players could be forgiven for becoming conditioned to believe they can outlast whoever is supposedly in charge.
After finishing 18 points behind Liverpool at the end of last season, City have responded in exactly the way Guardiola would have demanded, despite a slow start to the season, and it is probably no coincidence that his team have lost just one game since the Spaniard extended his contract on November 19.
City were 10th when Guardiola committed himself for another two years on top of this season and yet there had not been even the remotest possibility that his job could be in danger. The only fear surrounding Klopp after four successive League defeats was that the German may decide to walk away, a rumour he denied.
Just as City shared in Guardiola’s belief over how his squad would respond this season, Liverpool will no doubt allow Klopp to lead from the front over how his side will look to bounce back.
Tuchel is Chelsea’s fourth head coach since the club’s last title success and it has been obvious that, just as Guardiola and Klopp have done at City and Liverpool, he has gone about trying to build a tight union with his players, even though time is not on his side.
The 47-year-old has been in charge at Chelsea for just one month and yet at the end of this season he will only have 12 months remaining on his contract, less than both Klopp, whose deal runs to 2024 and Guardiola, whose extension expires in 2023.
“I have to earn it, so that I can have the same time as Jurgen and Pep,” said Tuchel. “This was no gift to them. I think everybody in their clubs saw what they are doing, what impact they can have on teams and on clubs and this is what I have to prove.
“This is my target and from there on, it’s my job I have to live every day and every week to make my impact here and to show that I deserve the same amount of time to build teams. I have to earn it, I cannot say more, but I don’t have the feeling right now that it’s an obstacle that holds me back from building and showing that I’m capable of doing it.”