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Sunday, May 22, 2022

Chelsea achieve final Roman Abramovich feat as Thomas Tuchel faces challenges in Todd Boehly era

  It was a day of farewells at Stamford Bridge – yet the most significant was barely mentioned. After nineteen years in which 19 trophies...

 

It was a day of farewells at Stamford Bridge – yet the most significant was barely mentioned. After nineteen years in which 19 trophies were won and countless joyous memories were created, Chelsea played their final game of the Roman Abramovich era.

The Russian billionaire's purchase of the club in the summer of 2003 altered European football and transformed Chelsea overnight from a cash- strapped Premier League side to one of the most dominant forces in the game. Legends were created; coaches came and went; silverware was lifted at an extraordinary rate.

Abramovich financed it all – and few questions were genuinely asked by Chelsea supporters as to where the money came from. But the moment Russia invaded Ukraine in February, things changed. Abramovich tried to place the club in the hands of its foundation's trustees yet that move failed. The eventual result was that Abramovich decided he had to sell.

A takeover by a consortium led by the U.S. billionaire Todd Boehly is expected to be finalised in the coming ten days. And life at Chelsea, for staff and supporters alike, will be different. But the hope is the unrelenting will to win, the desire to claim trophies, will not be diminished.

Thomas Tuchel is the head coach charged with ensuring that. He is the 13th of the Abramovich era and has won the hearts of supporters over the past 18 months. There is much work to be done over the summer, though. In Tuchel's own words, the squad has to be rebuilt, not simply improved.

That is partly because of the departures. Antonio Rudiger, who started this afternoon's 2-1 win over Watford, said his goodbyes to those at Stamford Bridge. Andreas Christensen too. The future of club captain Cesar Azpilicueta, who has an offer from Barcelona, is also uncertain. Marcos Alonso is in a similar situation.

Decisions need to be made over the futures of N'Golo Kante and Jorginho, both of whom have a year remaining on their contracts, while Chelsea may have to be ruthless with a number of attacking players who have not been able to deliver consistently this season – if not longer.

A lack of ruthlessness in the final third has been Chelsea's problem, especially at Stamford Bridge, throughout the campaign. It was evident once again against Watford. Kai Havertz missed a clear opportunity early on and Saul also had a couple of efforts wide. The deadlock was broken, though, by Havertz as he turned home a Kenedy cross.

That meant Chelsea went into half time ahead – and in the process, the Blues achieved a little piece of Premier League history and a final feat of the Abramovich era: no side had ever previously gone through an entire campaign without having been behind at the interval.

As the drama unfolded elsewhere across the Premier League – namely at the Etihad Stadium – there was little to get excited about at Stamford Bridge. Not until late in the game, anyway. Dan Gosling headed in an 87-minute equaliser for the visiting side and it appeared once again that home points would be dropped.

Yet in additional time, Reece James clipped a cross to the back post and Ross Barkley, who has barely featured in 2022, was able to guide a header beyond Watford goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann. There was a roar from the home supporters; a rare home win had been secured.

"It's a mood changer I have to say and we're happy to end it with a win," Tuchel said after the match. "It is in general a big step in the general direction in terms of consistency for us. If you look at the last year we have only been in the top three, this is very good. But there is always room for improvement. The level of consistency from Man City and Liverpool was too much for us, it was too high.

"It will not get easier to close this gap, because while we are forced to be passive they are improving their squads. But this is the challenge, and we need to be fast and smart when it's possible to have a competitive team."

For the first time in almost two decades, Chelsea will not have Abramovich to fund their summer spending. They will have to be more astute in their transfer market dealings, far less speculative with their big-money signings. But as one era ends, another begins. Only time will reveal if it is as successful.

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