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The month-long angst troubling Chelsea fans worldwide can finally settle down, as the Blues have stabilized themselves and once again seemingly returned to normalcy.
What a way indeed to kick off the new year, with Chelsea’s first four games resulting in three wins and one well-fought draw to rescue a point from the Liverpool game despite all the turbulence prior to and going into that match.
Chelsea without doubt owe their recent success to a number of major contributors who have clearly stepped up for the team in this time of great need. The most ostentatious of them is Mateo Kovacic, whose return from injury has been nothing short of magnificent. His sheer display of control and command in the midfield along with his stunning potential goal of the season against Liverpool has left us fans with a taste of what we had been missing during his absence.
With various key players still out, the Blues have been forced to adapt and call upon some unlikely names to supplement their efforts. During a comfortable victory over Chesterfield in the FA Cup, fans got to witness the debut of just 17-year-old Chelsea academy boy Lewis Hall, whose tenacious performance will leave the club with excitement for his hopefully long future at the club. Additionally, defender Malang Sarr, whose appearances since coming back from loan have been few and far between, fit right in with Chelsea’s back four during their second EFL clash against Tottenham. His apparent confidence and hilarious success in antagonizing Tottenham’s Lo Celso will surely quell any worries fans may harbor about the absence of our wingbacks and may even relinquish Chelsea’s need to purchase a wingback in the January transfer window.
The magic instilled at Chelsea Football Club recently has also engendered stellar performances from even those whose reputations have in the past been consistently negative. Saul Niguez combined perfectly with Jorginho during the first leg against Tottenham, maintaining brilliant positioning and a high pass accuracy in what was perhaps the best game we’ve seen from him in a blue shirt. Finally, though Mendy is out on international duty, Kepa Arrizabalaga has sufficiently filled his shoes, as his audacious charges and calculated agility to deny Tottenham exuded a confidence that I’ve not seen from him since he joined the club.
The final and most celebrated accolade must go once again to the tactical genius in the captain’s seat, Thomas Tuchel. December saw a perpetual slew of injuries and the crumbling of the three in the back, wingback-reliant system that Tuchel had worked tirelessly to forge throughout much of the year. Most respectable managers would not be blamed for losing their wits in the face of such a catastrophe. And yet, the ingenuity of Thomas Tuchel has struck once more, as he has found a way to make things work by switching our experienced defenders into a back four, thus giving more focus to our talented and available midfielders Jorginho, Kante, Kovacic, and now Saul. The formation utilized in the second leg against Tottenham draws upon an even larger opportunity for our often toothless attack. Noticeable during that matchup was the coherent linkup and sparks between Lukaku and Werner, and this may be just what Chelsea need to erupt into the goal-scoring machine we all know they can be. The same phenomenon was arguably seen in their Champions League matchup against Zenit last November when the two were paired up front. In a sort of two-striker system that mimics Lukaku’s partnership with Lautaro Martinez at Inter Milan, Werner’s forward runs either drag defenders or leave them scrambling, providing an open door for the lethal Lukaku. Such an arrangement could counteract Lukaku’s expressed discontent with Thomas Tuchel’s current system.
Chelsea are clearly back to their winning ways, and yet the fallout from the December calamity leaves a specific question lingering in the minds of fans: have Chelsea effectively squandered their chances of winning the Premier League title? Sitting ten points behind the gargantuan Manchester City leaves much ground to cover, and in Chelsea’s vital matchup against City this weekend they will be forced to answer as to whether they are serious about being champions, or if they will simply settle for second.