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Are Chelsea’s wheels coming off? Thomas Tuchel must rediscover his zeal to stop them going into freefall

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  • Thomas Tuchel
    German association football manager and former player

Thomas Tuchel has not been the type to complain in his near-12 months at Chelsea – that is until now.

The German looks and sounds like a man who believes the world is against him. And with Sunday’s clash with Liverpool an absolute must-win for the European champions, he desperately needs to rediscover the zeal that was so refreshing when he first turned up at Stamford Bridge.

Back then he gave the impression of a man who had been given a second chance – after his Christmas sacking at Paris Saint-German.

Roman Abramovich was only prepared to give him an 18-month contract?

Fine, he’ll just have to convince the Russian that he’s worth a longer one.

So what if Chelsea demanded immediate success despite the mid-season collapse that led to Frank Lampard being shown the door?

He’ll just go ahead and win the Champions League.

Tuchel walked in with his eyes wide open, embraced the challenge and swept all before him.

But four months into the season – and with Chelsea suffering another mid-term slump – his tune has changed.

He has no issue with the Christmas schedule, he says… but did want the game against Wolves postponed despite being able to field a team of internationals and opting against naming any of the club’s emerging talents from their world-famous academy.

In terms of depth of talent, Chelsea have superior resources to the vast majority of Premier League clubs - yet Tuchel wants a rule change that allows him five substitutes to add to their advantage.

After Wednesday’s 1-1 draw with Brighton, he complained about Mike Dean’s “joke” decision not to award Christian Pulisic a second-half penalty, yet there was no mention of Toni Rudiger escaping a red card for a two-footed lunge on Tariq Lamptey.

Brighton were also aggrieved when Neal Maupay was left with a cut nose after tussling with Romelu Lukaku in the build-up to Chelsea’s goal.

It is not that Tuchel’s complaints are without merit – rather that they are sending out the wrong message at precisely the time his players are looking for inspiration.

What they do not need is another reason to feel sorry for themselves – even if the sight of Reece James and Andreas Christensen joining an ever-lengthening injury list only compounded their misery.

Tuchel has been at his most impressive in the face of adversity.

He had no right to conquer Europe within the space of four months – but he only went and did it.

By the time Chelsea moved six points clear at the top of the table with victory at Leicester in November, he’d had to cope without Mason Mount, Lukaku, N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner for extended periods.

There were no complaints – Chelsea just got on with the job.

Maybe it is a case of the straw that broke the camel’s back. In the very next game – the 4-0 win against Juventus – Kante limped out with a twisted knee and Ben Chilwell ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament, which means he will miss the rest of the season.

That was the moment Chelsea’s season went into freefall.

Since then they have won only three of eight in the league and dropped from first to third.

The draw against Brighton moved them a point clear of Liverpool in second – but Jurgen Klopp’s side have a game in hand, which victory against the Merseysiders on Sunday even more vital.

The loss of James with a hamstring injury is potentially devastating – meaning Chelsea are now without both first choice wingbacks, who are two of the principle sources of creativity in Tuchel’s system.

No wonder he is so downbeat right now – but sulking will not do him or Chelsea any favours.

True, the title looks a distant prospect – particularly with City in the kind of mood they are in – but Chelsea are in a vastly healthier position than they were when Tuchel was parachuted in back in January and he managed to transform that into one of the greatest season’s in the history of the club.

Things may feel despondent at this moment, but they are still competing on all fronts, with the Club World Cup coming up in February and, before that, a double-header against Tottenham in the semi-final of the Carabao Cup.

Chelsea need to be heading into those challenges with enthusiasm and confidence. They need Tuchel to rediscover that glint in his eye that we saw when he first arrived on these shores as a man with something to prove.

The simple truth is that Tuchel does not have the luxury of bemoaning his current plight – not when there is a season to be salvaged.

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