Chelsea are yet to fully hit their stride this season – and that is a daunting prospect for their title rivals

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·5-min read
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 (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
(Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Thomas Tuchel was in a sarcastic mood when explaining away Chelsea’s failure to kill off a Burnley side that had enjoyed just 30 per cent of possession and withstood 24 of 25 attempts on goal.

“Sure, there is something going wrong in training,” he responded. “We will now change everything. It is unacceptable the points we have, the way we play – it cannot stay like this!”

Tuchel has every right to be defensive of Chelsea’s record this season, which is outstanding and sees them top the Premier League after a quarter of the campaign.

But it is also a reasonable question to ask – just how much better can they get?

Have they hit anywhere near their potential considering a lack of cutting edge that dates back to last season, as well as a host of injuries to key players that have not been allowed to significantly impact on their progress?

It is a daunting prospect for their rivals if there is still room for the European champions to improve.

Rather than a criticism of Tuchel, a run of eight wins from 11 in the league and just one defeat is a measure of his ability to come up with answers in the face of adversity. Chelsea are also still competing on all fronts.

Dig down into that run and it has been achieved despite injuries to star players Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner, N’Golo Kante, Mason Mount, Mateo Kovacic and Christian Pulisic.

Lukaku, Mount, Jorginho and Ben Chilwell have also felt the effects of mental and/or physical fatigue following exhausting campaigns and the Euros. Still Chelsea have rolled on.

And while their levels of consistency are a testament to the strength in depth of Tuchel’s squad, the German’s ability to integrate fringe players like Trevoh Chalobah, Ruben Loftus Cheek, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ross Barkley has also been a key factor.

The names and faces change, but the performances remain largely the same.

On only three occasions in all competitions this season has Tuchel started Toni Rudiger, Kante, Jorginho, Mount and Lukaku in the same team to underline how frequently he has had to shuffle his options.

There have been a number of key figures in his success since taking over in January – not least Edouard Mendy – but in terms of outfield players that quintet would make up the basis of his strongest team. And getting them all on the pitch together on a more regular basis will be a target as the season progresses.

In the meantime, Chelsea’s numbers have been remarkable.

Matej Vydra’s sucker punch in the 1-1 draw with Burnley was only the second goal they have conceded from open play in the league this season. The other was Gabriel Jesus’ deflected strike in defeat to Manchester City.

Other than that, they have conceded two penalties – against Liverpool and Southampton.

It is why Vydra’s goal – one of only two shots on target Burnley registered – came as such a shock. Chelsea’s rise under Tuchel has been based on the foundation of a defence that is so hard to breach.

Yet it is overly-simplistic to characterise them as a negative team. In the vast majority of games they dominate in terms of possession and chances created.

Only Liverpool and City have had the better of the possession statistics, with the game at Anfield skewed by the fact Chelsea were reduced to 10-men just before half time.

Only Liverpool have scored more than them in the league this season – but their level of dominance still is not being reflected in their results.

The 4-0 win against Malmo and the 7-0 rout of Norwich still remain outliers under Tuchel. Numerous games stand out for the chances that are wasted.

Tuchel was prickly after Burnley – but Kai Havertz, Hudson-Odoi and Barkley were guilty of wasting golden opportunities.

Havertz failed twice when in one-on-one situations in the 1-0 win against Malmo four days earlier.

Werner has scored twice since May and £97.5million Lukaku was on a seven-game run without a goal when suffering an ankle injury last month.

It has been a familiar story for Tuchel, who is yet to find the most effective balance in attack.

By his own admission, he wants one striker to take the pressure off the rest of the rest of the team – even if he has welcomed the manner in which full backs Reece James and Ben Chilwell have contributed to the goals.

But he did not spend a club record fee on Lukaku to have James as his joint-leading scorer, with four goals this season.

In nine of Chelsea’s 17 games in all competitions, they have scored one or fewer, which points to the area in which improvement can still be made.

Tuchel knows this. It is why he made a top-class striker his priority in the summer and why he continues to rotate his forwards in search of the most effective combination.

Given his success in just about every department since walking through the door at Stamford Bridge, it is remarkable that it has taken him so long to get it right in such a key area.

But, given his record over the last 10 months, the expectation would be on him coming up with the solution sooner, rather than later.

When he does, we really will see the best of Chelsea, which will be precisely what their title rivals must dread.

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