The resigned groans of Stamford Bridge were wrapped in a tinge of tiredness like we had experienced this all before too many times.
Wasted opportunities, laboured play and a lack of invention have all been sad trademarks of Chelsea performances in the Premier League over the past four years. For outsiders, this result and performance might have been shocking, but I’d be quite stunned if any avid supporter would be.
The 1-1 draw at home to a weakened, confidence sapped and out of form Everton is undeniably the worst result of the season so far vindicating Frank Lampard’s title prediction.
It was in January of this year following an insipid 2-0 defeat to Leicester that Lampard made damning comments about his current squad.
“We are not at the position of a Chelsea football club that we were when we were winning leagues” the former Blues boss said after the game.
“We are not ready to compete.”
That turned out to be Lampard’s final Premier League game in charge, sacked the following Monday to be replaced by Thomas Tuchel.
Those comments quickly became a stick to beat Lampard with, especially when Tuchel was transforming a once underperforming squad to something greater in the Champions League.
By the time Chelsea were lifting the European Cup at the Estádio do Dragão in May it was very hard to make the case for Lampard’s comments being accurate on this squad being unable to compete.
Jumping forward to the final weeks of 2021 and suddenly those remarks feel relevant again, mostly in regards to Lampard dismissing the club’s current title credentials.
The dropped points to Everton only continue a concerning dip in performances and results since the win over Leicester following the November international break.
Tuchel has only managed to win two of the next five league encounters, drawing two and losing the other to West Ham.
A once almost mechanical outfit that appeared to be growing in stature has quickly found itself limping towards the new year, clinging onto a relevant place in the title race.
This may sound overly dramatic given the gap between the Blues and top spot only being four points, but that gap appears to be widening. And of more concern to Tuchel will be that performances are showing a general downwards turn whilst Liverpool and Manchester City pick up speed.
There are varying factors to this plummet in quality, a host of injuries to key players be that Ben Chilwell, N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic or Trevoh Chalobah.
The sudden absence on Thursday evening of a number of obvious attacking options shortened down Tuchel’s solutions when he desperately needed his over £300m valued attack to spark into life.
Though that should not excuse Chelsea’s passive approach to an opponent they should have easily swatted aside with pleasure. And the opportunities were there to do so.
The levels of profligacy within the squad’s ranks is not a groundbreaking revelation and it appeared as if every chance missed sapped the creativity behind them, causing the dreaded window-wiping style of play to grab hold.
Antonio Conte, Maurizio Sarri or Lampard could have been sat in the dugout last night and it would not have looked out of place.
For all of the money invested on this squad since 2019 Chelsea still are craving a ruthless edge their title rivals produce without much fuss. For all of Tuchel’s amazing work in under 12 months, old cracks in this squad are starting to appear, whilst the fresh £98m solution is cruelly snatched away from the German.
Part of what made the evening more irritating was the lack of an obvious central attacker to compensate for no Romelu Lukaku or Kai Havertz. Christian Pulisic was favoured in the middle of an attacking trio of the American, Mason Mount and Hakim Ziyech.
Questions can be posed over the summer sales of Tammy Abraham to Roma and Olivier Giroud to AC Milan.
Abraham’s 10 goals for Jose Mourinho so far would make him the Blues top scorer in 2021/22, his league tally better than that of both Lukaku and Timo Werner.
A figure who was deemed by Tuchel and sections of fans online as not up to the club’s “standards” despite matching Werner’s Premier League goal tally for the entirety of 2020/21 when he was effectively rendered an outcast for half of it.
Elsewhere, inexperienced loanees are proving more ruthless with less game time playing for weaker opposition.
Armando Broja is already on four league goals for Southampton, Conor Gallagher is on six for Crystal Palace.
This is not to argue all three of Abraham, Broja and Gallagher staying is a simple solution, it is to point out their departures, particularly Abraham, should have been justified by an attack of higher value or reputation.
Tuchel has still yet to find a settled attacking outlook whilst the certainty of Liverpool and Man City has proved more reliable than the frequent rotation of Chelsea.
No supporter should have woken up this morning staggered by this mini-collapse unless you have had your memory erased before August, this is the modus operandi of the Blues Premier League campaigns since 2017/18.
A very encouraging summer and autumn give hope of a title charge before winter ushers in a swift turn in fortune, seeing those title aspirations drift into the distance as the club is dragged into the slog for Champions League qualification.
For that to happen for a fifth consecutive season would create a new level of boredom, probably forcing me to rewatch Groundhog Day to remember what Bill Murray did to get him out of this nightmarish loop.
Tuchel does not have a full deck to play with during a period where his title dream hangs in the balance.
For all his critics, there was a reason Lampard, who had played in a side that not only won but competed for the title on a regular basis doubted the squad’s readiness to overcome a major hurdle.
Just like Mourinho did with his infamous “little horse” comments during the 2013/14 season, the challenge of winning a league over 38 games is very different to lifting the Champions League as silly as that may sound to some.
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The mentality of tirelessly putting away opposition with efficiency week in, week out, even when the occasion may not feel as glamorous or high stakes.
There is a level of prestige to every Champions League knockout tie, the opposition almost always of elite calibre, the stakes unmatched and rewards staggering.
Tuchel formed a squad who were undeniably the best European team last season, but lifting that level of precision and focus from seven games to 38 is another task.
Also when you consider tactically Chelsea are unable to play as the underdogs for most of the league season, rarely find themselves without the ball, being forced to break another team down. That mentality shift is something Tuchel is still trying to resolve, evidenced by the similar draws to Burnley, Manchester United and Everton.
Since an unfortunate number of injuries and other circumstances, Chelsea have looked much more like the team who have spent the last four seasons labouring from 19 to 30 points behind the eventual champions.
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