Chelsea’s blockbuster signing of Romelu Lukaku for £98 million ($136m) is set to transform Thomas Tuchel’s attack and shake up the Premier League ahead of a new season.
The 28-year-old boasts excellent movement, speed and strength, and also possesses the ability to transition quickly on the counterattack.
Having won Serie A with Inter – earning the league’s player of the year award in the process – Lukaku gives Chelsea renewed hope that they can win the title for the first time since 2017.
The Blues followed up last season’s Champions League win with a UEFA Super Cup victory over Villarreal on Wednesday and there is an expectation that the Blues will be the closest challengers to champions Manchester City this time around.
While Lukaku has been lured away from San Siro, there have been precious few other additions to the squad ahead of Saturday’s season-opener against Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge.
However, Chelsea spent big last summer – clinching the signings of Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Edouard Mendy, Ben Chilwell and Thiago Silva – meaning there is a stability to Tuchel’s squad and Lukaku will add a cutting edge to a side that struggled at times last term without a prolific goalscorer.
But how will Tuchel’s team line up in 2021-22? Goal analyses the possibilities below…
What pre-season proved is that Chelsea are not on the verge of a radical tactical overhaul, with Tuchel set to stick to his guns.
That means that they will continue to play with the three-at-the-back system which was rock solid for the second half of last season after Frank Lampard was sacked.
As well as defeating Villarreal on penalties, Chelsea drew with Tottenham, and beat Arsenal and Bournemouth primarily using this shape.
However, at times in the Super Cup, Villarreal were able to cause problems and show that this formation isn’t infallible.
But if there are difficulties in certain matches, then Tuchel has more options at his disposal than practically any other manager in world football, maybe Mauricio Pochettino at Paris Saint-Germain aside.
Players like Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech will have to work hard to impress and find their way into the preferred XI.
Tuchel has at times in pre-season used two strikers but said it was in response to his squad being unbalanced.
Also, the forward line usually involved players from the loan group like Armando Broja and Ike Ugbo, who have left or will leave the club in this transfer window.
This system might mean that split strikers are used, with a single No.10 in behind, instead of a classic 3-4-3, which has two No.10s and a central striker.
Although a back four has been experimented with in a behind-closed-doors friendly during pre-season, it is unlikely that Chelsea will begin the season using one.
Chelsea’s embarrassment of riches means that squad players such as Reece James and Callum Hudson-Odoi should get plenty of opportunities to start matches too.
Having spent £220 million ($304m) last season, Chelsea have followed that up by specifically backing Tuchel, a coach who now holds much clout internally after winning Europe’s most-prized competition.
There is huge optimism around the club and Chelsea could yet make further transfers to strengthen their defence. They have Sevilla’s Jules Kounde at the top of their shortlist but the La Liga side are asking for £68m ($94m).
Chelsea also need to offload players in a host of positions, including one of their two back-up left-backs: Emerson Palmieri and Marcos Alonso.
Tammy Abraham will likely be sold following the arrival of Lukaku. Chelsea have already accepted a £34m ($47m) bid from Roma for Abraham and Kurt Zouma could make way for Kounde.
Furthermore, Chelsea have a spot for a midfielder in the squad up for grabs, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek pushing to be recalled after a loan season with Fulham.
The Blues also have West Ham’s Declan Rice, Monaco’s Aurelien Tchouameni and Rennes’s Eduardo Camavinga on their shortlist for the position too.
Trevoh Chalobah’s excellent pre-season under Tuchel is giving the German food for thought to drop his pursuit of Kounde.
One concern is that Tuchel faces a tough early run of fixtures and hasn’t been able to give certain players a run out in pre-season.
The likes of Mason Mount, Jorginho and Thiago Silva reached the latter stages of their respective international tournaments over the summer.