What has gone wrong at Chelsea – and why all hope is not lost

Chelsea players - What has gone wrong at Chelsea – and why all hope is not lost

Chelsea have made a terrible start to the season, collecting just five points from six Premier League games and being booed off in each of their last two home defeats.

Here, Telegraph Sport examines why Mauricio Pochettino’s team are suffering so badly and why angry fans should not give up hope just yet.

Naivety over know-how

Chelsea, led by co-controlling owner Behdad Eghbali and sporting directors Paul Winstanley and Laurence Stewart, set a 25-and-under rule on their incoming summer business as the club looked to build a squad that could see them through the next decade.

The rule meant players like James Maddison and James Ward-Prowse, who have flourished at Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United respectively, were never really considered, while they also backed away from paying what they felt to be an English premium placed on Declan Rice, who had been a top target of former head coach Graham Potter.

Chelsea ended up paying more for 21-year-old Cole Palmer than Spurs spent on Maddison and paid an initial £53 million for 19-year-old Romeo Lavia, which is roughly £20 million more than Ward-Prowse cost West Ham. Rice became the most expensive British player by joining Arsenal and yet Chelsea trumped that by signing Moises Caicedo in a £115 million deal.

The strategy may yet pay off in the long-term, but Chelsea are having to accept some serious short-term pain. Striker Nicolas Jackson perhaps best illustrates how that naivety has cost Chelsea, having been booked five times in his first six games and he will now serve a suspension.

Mixed messages

Chelsea players could be forgiven for not knowing whether they are coming or going, following a summer in which the messaging from the top has not always been clear.

Conor Gallagher spent the entire summer, right up until the final day of the transfer window, under the impression he could be sold but has started every game this season and has captained the team when Reece James and Ben Chilwell have been out.

Chilwell was made vice-captain, but is yet to start in his favoured left-back role and has started the last two games on the substitutes’ bench. Ian Maatsen received encouragement over his prospects for the season from head coach Mauricio Pochettino only to find that the club accepted a deadline-day bid from Burnley for him.

This has all contributed to a sense of confusion, with Trevoh Chalobah also at a loss over why Chelsea have seemingly been so keen to sell him and January signing Noni Madueke falling down the pecking order after being given a key role towards the end of last season.


It cannot be overstated just how debilitating Chelsea’s injury crisis, which has seen 12 players ruled out, has been over the opening weeks of the season.

Pochettino has already had to rip up two attacking tactical plans, following the injuries to Christopher Nkunku and Carney Chukwuemeka.

Summer arrival Nkunku was seen as Chelsea’s attacking game-changer and his link-up play with Nicolas Jackson had been incredibly encouraging during the tour of the United States before his pre-season knee injury ruled him out for around 16 weeks.

The former RB Leipzig star had been primed for a number 10 role and his injury prompted Pochettino to give an opportunity to teenage talent Carney Chukwuemeka, who performed well against Liverpool and then scored a good goal in the defeat to West Ham United before being forced off.

Since Chukwuemeka’s injury, Pochettino has tried Enzo Fernandez in a more advanced role, but it has not worked. Reece James, who offers so much attacking threat from right-back, has also been a huge miss.

Chelsea have been hampered by injuries to key players such as right-back Reece James
Chelsea have been hampered by injuries to key players such as right-back Reece James - Getty Images/Manuel Reino Berengui

‌The revolving door

It has been hard to keep up with the Chelsea ins and outs, so much so that not even all senior staff members were aware that Bruno Saltor had left the club, as revealed by Telegraph Sport.

Saltor’s secret departure comes just four months after Chelsea had announced he would be part of Pochettino’s back-room staff. Potter lasted just seven months before he was sacked, with Thomas Tuchel working for just a month of last season under the current owners before being replaced.

It has not just been the coaches and their staff who have come and gone over the past year, either. Christopher Vivell was hired as a technical director and left within a year of his appointment, while there has also been a huge overhaul to the medical department. Remember Gilbert Enoka, who was employed as a mental skills coach to try to help create a winning culture in February? You will do well to find anybody who can tell you what he did or how long he spent at the club. What’s certain is that the only culture at Chelsea over the past 12 months has been one of constant change.

Reasons to be optimistic

Pochettino and his staff believe his team have been unfairly punished in almost every match they have played this season and the data they rely on so heavily would back up that theory.

Chelsea’s expected goals rate has outperformed the number of goals they have, or have not, scored in all-but one of their six Premier League games. Against Nottingham Forest, for instance, Chelsea had an xG of 2.30 and yet failed to score, while their xG against was 0.76 but they lost the game 1-0.

The defeat against Aston Villa, when Chelsea were reduced to 10 men, was the first game in which they have not averaged well over 60 per cent of possession and their 28 Premier League shots on target have yielded just five goals.

In four of their six games, Chelsea have created three or more big chances, but of those only three have been taken. If fans and the owners can stay patient, then there is enough to suggest Chelsea will eventually start to make the data count.