The dust has barely settled on Chelsea’s inconceivable Champions League triumph, but the meticulous mind of Thomas Tuchel will already be ticking over to next season.
When the German took up the managerial baton at Stamford Bridge in January it seemed he would have plenty of work to do come the summer, with almost every member of the squad underperforming bar the epitome of consistency, Mason Mount.
However, Tuchel oversaw a momentous upturn in form that carried the Blues from mid-table to fourth in the Premier League, to the FA Cup final and, of course, to a deserved second Champions League crown.
The suggestion of such an end to the season for Chelsea six months ago? Very, very funny.
Now the task at hand for Tuchel is fine-tuning his European champions as he aims to launch a legitimate challenge on multiple fronts next season. They don’t need many additions, but smart recruitment will shape the club’s destiny in 2021/22; a wing-back, centre midfielder and striker are said to be on his shopping list.
The question of what formation he will use is also an interesting one, with the boss having previously intimated a reluctance to change if he is finding success with a certain shape.
Of course, a recurring theme of Tuchel’s tenure is the unpredictability of his team selections, but here’s how Chelsea could line up next season.
Edouard Mendy (GK)
Rumours linking Chelsea with various top goalkeepers are certain to swirl this summer, but the formerly little-known Senegalese stopper has done more than enough to justify being the club’s number one going forward.
In a mightily impressive debut season, Mendy has kept 25 clean sheets and conceded just 29 goals in 44 appearances – including that all-important shutout in Porto.
His journey from obscurity to the highest heights of the club game has been a fantastic one, and it should not end now.
Cesar Azpilicueta (CB)
At the start of the 2020/21 campaign it felt as though Azpilicueta’s days as a regular starter were over as his powers waned, with Frank Lampard blooding Reece James into the starting 11 in his place.
However, the club captain has come roaring back, and following Tuchel’s switch to three at the back he finished the season in the form of his life, getting his hands on that famous old Champions League trophy.
It was a hugely significant night in so many ways, and one that crystallised Azpilicueta’s importance to this Chelsea team. While Andreas Christensen will certainly rotate in on occasion, the Spaniard should not be doubted again.
Thiago Silva (CB)
An instant fan favourite and arguably on his way to becoming a club legend already having lifted the Champions League at the end of an imperious debut campaign.
As soon as the referee sent one last lungful of air blasting through his whistle in Porto, rumours were rife that a contract renewal was imminent for the veteran Brazilian.
You cannot put a price on experience, and the covering pace of Reece James and Antonio Rudiger mean the former Paris Saint-Germain star should continue to feature regularly alongside fellow seasoned campaigner Azpilicueta next term.
Antonio Rudiger (CB)
Formerly a defender prone to the occasional costly error, Rudiger is another Chelsea defender who took his game to new heights during the second half of the season.
The German was immense during the latter stages of the glorious Champions League campaign and has emerged as a key member of the Blues’ back line.
At 28, he is at his peak and is the perfect foil to Thiago Silva and Azpilicueta on the left side of a back three.
Reece James (RWB)
Reece James came of age in 2020/21, but he is another one of those for whom it feels as though the Champions League victory will have a monumental effect.
His staunch display in the final has elevated his status, and he should now be considered among the best attacking right-sided defenders on the planet.
It would be a huge shock not to see the England international in Chelsea’s strongest starting XI next term.
Declan Rice (CM)
While Jorginho finished the season in impressive fashion, his inconsistency and occasional lapses on the biggest stage will be a bone of contention for Tuchel and Chelsea supporters alike.
Given the German’s rotation policy, the likes of Jorginho and Kovacic will surely still be given plenty of opportunities, but should this transfer come to fruition then Rice would slot in perfectly.
It is a bit of a misconception that he is a defensive midfielder, too, with his passing range, tackling ability and shuttles from box-to-box meaning he combines the key attributes of his would-be teammates.
N’Golo Kanté (CM)
What more is there to be written or said about N’Golo Kanté? Well, in this instance he starts – without a doubt.
The superlative Frenchman is simply untouchable, and another stellar season has led to several calls for him to land the Ballon d’Or at the end of the year.
Who could begrudge him that, especially if he enjoys a successful Euro 2020 campaign.
Ben Chilwell (LWB)
The England international was arguably Chelsea’s best-performing new signing last season, and after initially having to stake his claim to the left wing-back slot under Tuchel he has ousted the competition and made the berth his own.
Accomplished at both ends of the pitch, he will likely be Chelsea’s starting left-sided defender for years to come.
Seven assists and four goals from the back is not bad going.
Mason Mount (RF)
While many of his teammates excelled in the second half of 2020/21, Mount was the picture of consistency throughout the good times and the bad.
His versatility isn’t spoken about enough – he could drop deeper to form a midfield three if required – and the threat he poses as a roaming forward is substantial.
While he may be looking to add more goals to his game, Mount was one of the only players Tuchel didn’t rotate out of his starting side – don’t expect that to change next season.
Kai Havertz (LF)
Havertz’s debut season struggles are well documented, but having already etched his name into the club’s folklore with the winning goal against Man City in Porto, expect the young German to kick on.
The confidence that single stroke of the football will give him should not be underestimated, and Tuchel will be hoping he truly announces himself to the Premier League next time around.
The arrival of a brand new striker will likely see Havertz play deeper alongside Mount, while the luckless Timo Werner becomes more of a rotation option. However, a formational tweak to 4-3-3, with Mount in centre-midfield, could accommodate Havertz’s compatriot on the left flank. Time will tell.
Romelu Lukaku (ST)
So, who will that brand new striker be?
In the circumstances, Chelsea should look no further than Serie A’s MVP: Romelu Lukaku.
90min understands that Thomas Tuchel and Roman Abramovich are in agreement that bringing the Belgian back to Stamford Bridge should be a priority this summer, and he could well be available for under £100m given Inter’s financial woes – well within Chelsea’s budget.
Lukaku’s 40 goal involvements last term speak for themselves, and this is the single piece of business could propel the Blues to becoming serious challengers on all fronts.