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Premier League: Where has it gone wrong for Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea?

Where has it gone wrong this season for Chelsea? Tuesday’s draw at Brighton saw them drift from 50/1 to 100/1 to win the league, with their early-season title challenge a very distant memory.

After beating Leicester they were as short as 2/1 to win the league.

They then faced Manchester United with Romelu Lukaku still not up to speed, while Ben Chilwell, N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic were all injured.

To be fair to Chelsea, they dominated the game, and a shocker of a touch from Jorginho gifted United a thoroughly undeserved lead. He made amends from the spot later in the second half, but it was two points dropped.

They bounced back against Watford a few days later, but in contrast to their weekend win against the Red Devils, Chelsea could count themselves lucky to have taken all three points.

Since that Leicester win, their form has been distinctly mediocre, picking up fewer points per game than the rest of the top seven, as well as Wolves, Leicester and Leeds, for whom it doesn’t seem long ago people were suggesting they could be in a relegation scrap.

Cracks were beginning to appear. They were beaten 3-2 by West Ham, and needed a 93rd-minute penalty to beat Leeds.

All of these games were when N’Golo Kante was absent and his presence is always missed.

While Tuchel hasn’t been able to name a consistent midfield pairing as often as he’d like, Kante – who enjoyed a real resurgence when the German took charge – has been allowed more attacking freedom while Jorginho has sat deeper.

Compared to previous seasons, he’s had more touches in the final third as well as more tackles and is carrying the ball into dangerous positions well.

The downside is his struggle for a run of games. A hamstring injury kept him out for the best part of two months last season with a variety of muscle injuries limiting his game time the season before.

In the last two seasons he’s managed to play just 50.6% and 62.7% of minutes, and this season it’s dropped further still to 45.5%.

Another notable absentee in the middle has been Kovacic.

While onlookers have a tendency to assume a midfielder is either responsible for having the mettle to win the ball back in the defensive third or the guile to create chances in the attacking third, the midfielders who are responsible for transporting the ball between the two are often overlooked, and when it comes to operating in the middle of the pitch, the Croatian is up there with Europe’s elite.

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One positive – or negative, however you choose to look at it – is that Chelsea haven’t actually been much better or worse than they were at the start of the season when they took 25 points from their first 10 games, conceding just three goals.

As impressive as Edouard Mendy had been between the sticks, the Blues’ xGA for that period was 10.5, and it wasn’t unexpected when the run of clean sheets ended.

They’ve now kept just one clean sheet in their last 11 games (a 0-0 draw with Wolves), while their xGA has been 9.7, marginally better than when they were regularly keeping sides out.

More concerning may be Tuchel’s admission that his side are tired – too tired to celebrate their goal against Brighton – particularly when you consider the strength in depth they have which had many people tipping them for the title.

That said, there need to be 38 games played between August and May, and Chelsea are one of the few clubs not to have one postponed this season, so when other sides experience a fixture pile-up, Chelsea could face a more lenient schedule.

They’ll still need to find a way to get the best out of Lukaku. After starting with three goals in his first three games, he was 5/2 to be Premier League top scorer, and 2/1 to score 25 or more. Based on how things have gone since he’ll do well to notch 25 shots on target.

He’s had just nine shots on target this season and for the first time in his entire career he’s averaging less than one per 90 minutes played.

Far from simply being a target man or poacher, Lukaku has been heavily involved in link-up play during his last four seasons with Manchester United and Inter, while Tuchel seems to exclusively want him in a central role, rather than dropping off to the right as he did under Antonio Conte.

As a result, Lukaku is set to record a single assist for Chelsea, compared to the 11 he laid on last season.

Mason Mount on the other hand has been a revelation. Amongst his Chelsea colleagues he’s recorded the most key passes, the most passes into the penalty area, has contributed to the most shot-creating and goal-creating actions, had the most touches in the final third, most touches in the area, and has received the most progressive passes.

And crucially to Tuchel’s philosophy, he’s led Chelsea’s pressing game from the front.

It’s remarkable to consider that a player of Mount’s quality isn’t an automatic starter at international level, such is the wealth of attacking options at Gareth Southgate’s disposal.

Tuchel is only one game away from another piece of silverware in the EFL Cup, where the Blues will face Liverpool in the final. They also have favourable draws in the FA Cup and Champions League, and they’re 50/1 for a hat-trick of cups this season

While the Premier League is now out of reach, it may well be a successful season for Chelsea yet.

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