Chelsea arrived at the door of the 2021/22 season after a typically chaotic 2020/21 which saw them go from top of the league in December, to club legend Frank Lampard being sacked before Thomas Tuchel came in and won the club its second Champions League title.
Consequently, hopes were high amongst the players and fans heading into this season with them being boosted further by the return of Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku. But with Christmas beckoning, how have Chelsea really fared in the first half of the 2021/22 season?
The final month of summer traditionally kicks off the new season and Chelsea did so under the lights in Belfast as they picked up their second trophy in a matter of months with a penalty victory against Europa League winners Villareal. Kepa Arrizabalaga was the unlikely hero as he was specifically brought on for the shootout and pulled off two saves.
Attention quickly shifted to the Premier League opener a few days later and on a sun drenched afternoon in West London it was all about Trevoh Chalobah. Having only made his competitive first team debut in the Super Cup, he followed that up with his league debut and memorably drove in his first ever senior goal from 25 yards to seal a 3-0 victory.
To conclude the month were matches against two old foes in Arsenal and Liverpool. The North London side were easily beaten 2-0 with Lukaku marking his return in Chelsea blue with a goal. However, the 100% start in the league would end at Anfield as a Reece James red card was followed up by a determined defensive display to leave the home of the 2019/20 champions with a point.
Lukaku had already shown what he could bring to the side against Arsenal, and he further exaggerated that at the start of September. His homecoming at Stamford Bridge, the same day as Cristiano Ronaldo’s at Old Trafford, saw him bag a brace against then Dean Smith’s Aston Villa with influential Croatian Mateo Kovacic chipping in with a goal and assist. This would then be backed up by the Belgian with the all-important goal in the Champions League opener against Zenit St Petersburg.
In a recent interview with Gary Neville, Frank Lampard revealed that the team used to call White Hart Lane ‘Three Point Lane’ and Tuchel’s side not only stayed true to that promise in their next game but also made it ‘Three Goal Lane’ as the half time substitution of N’golo Kante spurred the Blues into three second half goals and an easy victory.
Next on the agenda was a home tie in the third round of the Carabao Cup against Aston Villa, a competition Chelsea haven’t won since 2015. Despite a rather sluggish display a James assist and crucially the winning penalty ensured the hopes of another trophy didn’t end at the first hurdle.
The first signs of a stumble followed after the win in the cup as the reigning Premier League champions, Manchester City, arrived in town and laid down a marker to the rest of the league with a dominant 1-0 win. Then as the old saying “You wait ages for a bus and then two come along at once” became apparent as one loss quickly became two after a toothless performance in Turin against Juventus.
It was pivotal Chelsea got back to winning ways before the October international break and they did just that against an out of form Southampton side. They didn’t make it easy for themselves though as a James Ward-Prowse penalty levelled things up before his red card triggered late goals from Timo Werner and Ben Chilwell. This was a result that sent them to the summit of the league.
Sir Alex Ferguson once said, “Attacks win you games, defences win you titles” and this couldn’t have rung any truer than at the Brentford Community Stadium. A second goal in as many games for Chilwell put Chelsea ahead but that lead only remained intact thanks to Edouard Mendy’s heroics in goal. Six saves he made in total including one with his face and one from a close range overhead kick.
The floodgates well and truly opened in the week after the tight win against Brentford. Swedish Champions League opponents Malmö were swiftly dispatched 4-0 with Andreas Christensen scoring his first Chelsea goal. Then in the troublesome Saturday lunchtime kick off, Mason Mount registered his first Chelsea hat trick in a 7-0 thrashing of lowly Norwich, a game in which Cobham graduates accounted for five of the goals.
The games continued to come thick and fast in the approach to Halloween and Chelsea once again needed penalties in the Carabao Cup to see off the Saints and once again it was James who scored the winning penalty.
The same man would steal the headlines up in the north east of England the following Saturday. Newcastle has always been a place of mixed results for Chelsea but after a goalless first half, two James thunderbolts ensured the travelling supporters somewhere up in the sky were rewarded for the long journey and saw Tuchel win Premier League Manager of the Month.
November arrived and temperatures started to drop but Chelsea’s winning momentum wasn’t to be stopped initially as a second victory against Malmö was recorded, this time around being far closer as Hakim Ziyech’s confidence boosting goal separated them.
At the mention of Burnley, fans minds immediately cast back to the dramatic 3-2 home defeat on the opening day of the 2017/18 season that saw Chelsea end the game with nine men. This time around the drama was less but Sean Dyche’s resilient side put an end to their opponent’s four game Premier League winning run as a late Matej Vydra goal saw the game end 1-1.
Post international break and normal service was quickly resumed as the FA Cup final defeat was avenged with a 3-0 victory where it never felt like Chelsea left second gear as Kante popped up with one of his rare and special goals.
However, a few days later, Chelsea found the full throttle setting against Juventus and goals from three Cobham graduates Chalobah, James and Callum Hudson-Odoi, Werner ensured the Blues went back to top of the group in emphatic fashion. The only downside on a special European night was seeing Chilwell limping off injured.
Just as it seemed Tuchel’s side were back on track and in the best possible place to tackle December, another poor performance at home with missed chances aplenty saw them drop points. Manchester United arrived in horrible form and having just sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjær but Jadon Sancho capitalised on Jorginho’s error in the middle of the pitch before the Italian levelled things up from the spot.
The busiest month in the calendar. The one which fans love but causes players and managers lots of headaches and for Chelsea it has been dominated by one man in particular. Mason Tony Mount.
First up was a trip to Watford on a Wednesday evening. A sloppy all round display was lit up by Mount scoring to put Chelsea ahead before assisting the crucial winner to hang on to top spot.
The next assignment was away to West Ham, who had already beaten Liverpool this season and would go on to add Chelsea to their list of scalps. Something that was starting to become more and more common was individual defensive errors and that’s what ultimately cost Chelsea as they fell to a second league defeat of the season and meant Mount’s first time volley was in vain.
The defensive problems continued as six goals were conceded in the next three games, something that a few months ago would’ve been seen as impossible. A 94th minute goal in a 3-3 draw with Zenit denied Chelsea top spot. Before two Jorginho penalties along with another Mount goal were needed to beat Leeds 3-2. Then more dropped points followed at Stanford Bridge as a Jarrad Branthwaite goal ruled out Mount’s fourth game in four Premier League games.
A welcome clean sheet would come in the Black Country in a rather uneventful 0-0 draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers. But the game would be remembered for the fact Chelsea’s request to postpone the game was rejected despite having seven out with Covid.
Finally, in the last game before Christmas a place in the Carabao Cup semi finals was earnt as a mixture of first team starters, backups and academy youngsters saw off Brentford 2-0 as Tuchel juggled the busy fixture list with all the absentees.
Christmas is now upon us. Whilst uncertainty still looms over what the football landscape will look like in the coming weeks and months, Chelsea will be boosted by players returning to fitness and with them well placed on all fronts, anything is possible between now and the end of May.
Written by Harrison Burridge (@indepthfandc)
Edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)
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