The jeers inside Stamford Bridge at full time told the story. Chelsea fans have seen this story all too often.
An attacking display which engineered enough chances to win two games of football ended in bitter disappointment, with Everton stinging the Blues from a late set piece.
Matches such as these can quickly be dismissed as bad luck, highlighting the beauty of such a low margin sport like football. But for Chelsea these scenarios are becoming a sport in itself. And their fans are being forced to pay for the luxury of watching it.
It was only just over a month ago when Burnley rocked up to Stamford Bridge and stole a point deep into the second half. In remarkably similar circumstances to this evening, Chelsea fashioned 20+ shots on goal, totalled up an xG threatening 3 and had to settle for a point after paying the ultimate price from just the fourth shot they had conceded all game.
A common denominator in both of these draws has been the absence of Chelsea’s €100+ million summer acquisition, Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian was signed to address this exact problem – his side’s inability to turn territory into the currency of goals.
Lukaku’s second spell in west London has been disrupted by injury – he missed out tonight through Covid-19 – and many will rightfully ponder whether Chelsea’s grip in the upper reaches of the Premier League would be diminishing as quickly as it is currently he had been available.
But it is equally true that Lukaku hasn’t fulfilled his potential during his time on the pitch.
The blame for that could predominantly be laid Tuchel’s door who has been guilty of deploying the Belgian as a back-to-goal No.9 which made him a figure of derision during his spell at Man Utd. And when Lukaku’s all-round performances are suffering – and chances are few and far between – he tends to snatch at opportunities out of desperation.
As evidenced tonight, it can often feel as if Chelsea function better without a central presence. Mason Mount is the Blues’ top scorer with seven goals this term, consistently making the difference with clever link-up play and movement in the attacking third,
Man City have turned the absence of a central striker into a weapon in recent years. However, Pep Guardiola’s football is conducive to consistently high chance creation, whereas Tuchel can deliberately set Chelsea up with an overemphasis on restricting the opposition.
In the end, the Everton result leaves Chelsea five points behind Man City at the summit of the Premier League table. Not an insurmountable deficit by any stretch, but the nature of the Blues’ recent disappointments is making the argument for a title triumph less convincing by the day.
City responded to their shock 2-0 home defeat by Crystal Palace with seven straight league victories. In the same period Chelsea have been held at home on three separate occasions and contrived to lose a London derby to West Ham after leading 2-1 at the interval.
The Blues’ situation isn’t terminal, but nights like this are becoming alarmingly familiar for Tuchel.