Thomas Tuchel believes Romelu Lukaku is a “perfect” fit at Chelsea but is surprised his signing has prompted talk of the European champions being title favourites.
Only champions Manchester City (48) collected more Premier League points than Chelsea (38) following Tuchel’s appointment last season, while the Blues beat Pep Guardiola’s men in the Champions League final.
They have since added Lukaku, too, encouraging optimism Tuchel’s side could lead the way this year.
But the coach was eager to point out Chelsea only finished fourth last term, slipping below Liverpool as they lost two of their final three games – more than in their prior 16 league games under Tuchel.
Therefore, Tuchel suggests Chelsea have ground to make up, explaining ahead of Saturday’s game against Crystal Palace: “It surprises me.
“Everybody saw we came fourth. When you come fourth, you are not favourite the next season.
“We have gaps to close. We let Liverpool pass us, we have gaps to close to Manchester City. I don’t see why they should be any worse than last season.”
Indeed, the Blues boss does not believe Lukaku’s club-record signing from Inter puts them under any more pressure than their rivals, who have also splashed out.
“Man City is doing the same, improving, so are Man United,” Tuchel said. “I don’t see us as the only ones trying to close the gap by bringing in players. This will not be enough.
“Bringing quality, a mentality and personality, is always welcome. I don’t feel that it increases the pressure on me. It makes life more exciting as a coach.”
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) August 12, 2021
Chelsea will be without Hakim Ziyech – although his shoulder injury will not require surgery – and also have an “issue” with N’Golo Kante to deal with against Palace, where they will aim to avoid becoming the first Champions League winners to lose their first league game of the following campaign since Bayern Munich in 2001-02.
Despite talking down Chelsea’s chances, Tuchel hopes they will set the tone for a title tilt on the opening day.
“I hope we play with this mentality – we want to hunt them down and not from January on but from Saturday on,” he said.
“This is the mentality with which we approach this season. We see ourselves as hunters and challengers to the three teams who were in front of us.”
Returning star Lukaku will certainly help in that regard, having led Inter to the Serie A title last season with 24 goals.
“We’re very happy to have Romelu back in the club,” Tuchel said. “In terms of personality, speed, character, he will be an excellent addition for us.
“He has the power, the physique, the personality to help us and have a huge impact. At the same time, he is a humble guy, a team player who cares about Chelsea. We all have the feeling that he’s worth it.
“It was very important to us that it was his desire to rejoin Chelsea and finish his story at Chelsea the way he wanted to.
“We have a strong group, defined with a strong bond and with a certain attitude to help each other out. We think that Romelu, coming through here and having always Chelsea in his heart, is the perfect addition to our group.”
Chelsea, who also have Tammy Abraham available despite links to Roma, have won their past seven league meetings with Palace.