With exactly a week to go before the summer transfer window closes, Thomas Tuchel has declared himself happy with both the size and quality of his Chelsea squad, as well as the team spirit within it.
The Blues have made an excellent start to the 2021/22 campaign, claiming victory in the UEFA Super Cup before recording back-to-back wins in the Premier League without conceding a goal.
The latest of those victories came at the Emirates on Sunday as Romelu Lukaku, our latest signing, opened his account 15 minutes into his second debut for the club. The Belgian is the only high-profile arrival so far this window but Tuchel has indicated that he is more than content with the options currently available to him.
‘I’m absolutely happy with our squad and the alternatives we have,’ he said. ‘It’s not too big a squad so when we were missing Christian Pulisic against Arsenal, it meant that everybody else was straight in, with 18 outfielders plus the goalkeepers.
‘It means we have not the biggest squad but we have a very competitive squad in all positions and that is necessary because we play a lot of competitions this season.
‘We have the Club World Cup coming up in December and we have a pretty unique situation where we played very long in the Euros and Copa America so if we want to compete we need this kind of level.’
Our German boss places great importance on the rapport and spirit within the dressing room, citing it as a major factor in our Champions League triumph last term. The mix of talented young players hungry for success with seasoned veterans passing on their experience and know-how has stood the Blues in good stead in recent seasons.
For that reason, Tuchel believes the key is to protect the group dynamic and ensure the togetherness of the team remains the priority.
‘It’s also about building a strong group because this was maybe the key in the last half a year, that we played with a strong bond and a great team spirit,’ he explained.
‘This will be the challenge for me and for the team that we create this atmosphere again and that everybody is ready to take hard decisions and to keep pushing the team. If we do this, we can achieve more than if we don’t.’
If the mantra is quality over quantity of signings this summer, Lukaku illustrates that point perfectly. His goalscoring start to life back in Chelsea blue told only half the story in north London, that close-range finish combined with an all-round performance that left Arsenal’s defenders battered, bruised and well-beaten.
Tuchel was delighted with his new centre-forward's individual display, praising the different dimension he provides to the team’s attack. The boss’s next focus is on maintaining the pressing game out of possession that defined much of last season’s success.
‘His profile gives us something that we did not have so much,’ he added. ‘He has some depth in his game, he can help overcome pressing with long balls and get close to the box, but we can also play into him when there are defenders in his back because he’s a very physical player.
‘We still don’t lose our strength from counter-attacks because he likes to run into open spaces. He was always involved and that was very good to see. I certainly think that nobody likes to play against him.
‘Everybody is aware of his physicality but also of his link-up play and qualities to attack the space so he gives another dimension to our game. Now it’s our job not to lose our other strengths, which is the work-rate and team effort with intensity against the ball. We have to bring everything together.’
That there is an even higher ceiling for the champions of Europe to reach offers huge excitement to Blues supporters, of which Lukaku of course is one.
The 28-year-old has returned to south-west London 10 years on as a completely different player and person, a footballer Tuchel now believes is the full package and one who could fire us to even greater success this season.
‘It’s not only about the qualities and skills from Romelu,’ added Tuchel. ‘It’s the package that made him so promising for us - the age, experience, that he’s a Chelsea fan and he was always a Chelsea fan whose dream was to make it at this club.
‘This is what we have felt from day one with his personality. He’s played for big clubs before and I hope that it takes pressure off the shoulders of our young guys. It’s not the time now for too much praise or celebration. We just have to keep on going.’