In less than a month, Chelsea will kick off their 2021/22 Premier League campaign at home to Crystal Palace. The hunt for a first top-flight title since 2017 will very much be on.
Thomas Tuchel will spend the next four weeks working with his squad. It will not be a simple pre-season for the German coach, however, with several of his first-team stars not expected back at Chelsea until the end of the month after their involvement in the European Championship and Copa America respectively.
At Cobham this week, Tuchel is overseeing a group of around 28 players made up of a few first-team stars, returning loanees and the likes of Dujon Sterling and Charly Musonda, who have both returned to the senior fold after overcoming injuries and illness.
Some of these players will continue with the squad for the majority of pre-season. Others will drop out and their immediate or long-term futures may be away from Stamford Bridge.
Tuchel will expect the highest of standards to be maintained no matter who is involved with the group. “Let’s still try when we are on the pitch out here,” Tuchel told the squad on Monday. “Try to focus, try to enjoy it, try to be positive because this is what we need. So welcome on the pitch and let’s go.”
Chelsea’s players will go into the new season with the cache of European champions after defeating Manchester City in the Champions League final in Porto in May.
Yet for four players in particular, despite their success in football’s biggest club competition last term, there are still big points to prove to Tuchel during the 2021/22 season.
The 28-year-old’s first campaign as a Chelsea player wasn’t easy. Ziyech suffered a knee injury in a pre-season friendly against Brighton and Hove Albion which delayed his debut, but he then quickly produced a string of impressive displays.
Unfortunately for the Morrocan international, a hamstring problem suffered against Leeds United at the start of December halted his momentum. He missed a month and struggled to recapture his early form after making something of a rushed return.
Tuchel’s appointment didn’t signal a dramatic improvement in Ziyech’s fortunes. He started only ten of the 30 games overseen by the German coach, although did score important goals against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League and Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final and Premier League.
There were reports going into this summer transfer window that Ziyech could be sold. But he is back at Cobham and will hope to prove to Tuchel in the weeks ahead he is deserving of a starring role in the side once the 2021/22 campaign gets underway.
When Tuchel replaced Lampard at Stamford Bridge, the expectation was that the American winger would become a key figure in the side given the two had worked together at Borussia Dortmund. That didn’t happen.
Instead, Pulisic was largely confined to the substitutes’ bench during the first six weeks of the Tuchel era – his only start came in the FA Cup fifth-round clash against Championship side Barnsley.
It wasn’t until mid-March that he started in the Premier League for Tuchel. But he then played nine out of the final top-flight games, held onto his spot for the Champions League semi-final tie against Real Madrid, and scored the opener in the first leg.
Yet it was perhaps telling that Pulisic didn’t start the FA Cup or Champions League final. He was only introduced from the bench in the second period.
The USMNT star ended the season with just six goals in all competitions, a significant drop on his output from his first campaign (11 goals). Pulisic is back at Cobham for pre-season and will hope to prove to Tuchel this term that he can again reach the heights displayed during the Project Restart fixtures last year.
The 2021/22 campaign will prove a big one in the Chelsea career of Hudson-Odoi. football.london understands the winger remains intent on proving himself at Stamford Bridge and is, as things stand, not interested in a move away.
Over the summer, Hudson-Odoi did plenty of gym work to ensure he could hit the ground running in pre-season. And the forthcoming weeks may prove hugely important in his bid to earn a regular starting role in his favoured position on the left of the attack.
Last term, the 20-year-old was used sporadically in the side by Lampard but was thrown into the starting XI by Tuchel as a right wing-back. Hudson-Odoi responded with impressive displays against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Burnley, he also caught the eye as a split striker in a victory against Tottenham Hotspur.
However, after a lacklustre substitute appearance against Southampton in February which drew the ire of Tuchel, Hudson-Odoi spent much of the remainder of the season as a substitute.
Some may feel the German forward’s inclusion on this list is a tad harsh given he reached double figures in goals and assists during his first season in English football. But the reality is that more was expected from Werner after Chelsea paid £49.5million to sign him from RB Leipzig.
The 25-year-old scored six Premier League goals during the 2020/21 campaign and only two of those came after November as he endured a crisis of confidence in the penalty area.
Fortunately, Werner’s raw speed meant he remained a menace for opposing defences and Tuchel managed to harness that to great effect during the latter stages of the campaign.
The Germany international teed up goals in the FA Cup semi-final and in the victory against Manchester City at the Etihad. He also found the back of the net with a close-range header in the Champions League semi-final second leg against Real Madrid.
Chelsea remain intent on bringing Erling Haaland to Stamford Bridge this summer but if a deal can’t be done for the Norwegian, or an alternative target, then the club will look to Werner – and Kai Havertz – to step up their output in the season ahead as the Blues launch a bid for the Premier League title.
Do you want an exclusive pre-season Chelsea preview – both in your inbox and through your letterbox? Head over here to find out more and secure your copy!