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Assessing Tuchel's possible vision for Chelsea's attack should Sterling and Dembele join

Posted on June 22, 2022

Chelsea are close to making one of their statement summer signings if reports are to be believed. With Romelu Lukaku expected to return to Inter before too long, the Belgian ending a disappointing second stint with the Blues with a whimper rather than a bang, Chelsea will be looking to secure a replacement for the 29-year-old.

Raheem Sterling seems the likely successor for Lukaku at Stamford Bridge. By moving to Chelsea, it would mark a return to west London for Sterling, who departed QPR for Liverpool back in 2010 before moving on to Manchester City in 2015.

Sterling has enjoyed plenty of success during his time at City, yet having registered just 2127 minutes of league action last season, a figure that will drop following the arrival of Erling Haaland and culmination of January arrival Julian Alvarez's loan, he needs a move if he is to enjoy more time on the pitch next season.

With Lukaku moving on, there is space in the Chelsea squad for a forward of Sterling's calibre and, crucially, versatility. Able to play on either flank and through the middle, the England international would be able to operate as the main man in a team, which has been a rarity in his career, but is there more to Chelsea's push to sign Sterling than meets the eye?

Yes, he'd improve their current crop of attacking options, that goes without saying, but coupled with the push to sign Ousmane Dembele on a free transfer from Barcelona, could it be that Thomas Tuchel is looking to recreate a similar partnership he saw blossom in the past?

In Tuchel's second full season as Borussia Dortmund boss, he had the luxury of working with both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Dembele and the duo forged a potent attacking relationship. Dortmund ultimately finished third that season, yet the pair excelled on the frontline.

Aubameyang ended the season with 31 league goals, more than any other player, while only Emil Forsberg (19) registered more assists than Dembele (12) in Germany's top tier that term. Of those 12 assists by the Frenchman, 10 were for Aubameyang to score, that the best assist-to-goalscorer combination in Europe's top five leagues in 2016/17.

The duo linked up once more with Barcelona last season with Dembele, who registered more assists (13) than any other La Liga player, assisting four of Aubameyang's 11 league goals for the Blaugrana. Barcelona boss Xavi is reportedly making one final play to keep Dembele at Camp Nou, yet if Chelsea do succeed in convincing the 25-year-old to swap Spain for England, then it may be that Tuchel is seeking to see the winger and Sterling strike up a similar partnership in west London.

Ultimately, much of this depends on the system that Tuchel will implement at Chelsea next season, but if he does opt for a 3-4-2-1 formation with Mason Mount and potentially Dembele behind Sterling, there is the makings of a potent attacking partnership in west London next season.

Sterling does like to receive the ball from out wide before driving for the 18-yard box, yet he is also an adept performer when it comes to hanging off the shoulder of the last defender before being played in on goal. Despite a drop of game time for City last season, only Phil Foden (14) was flagged offside more times than Sterling (10) for the champions in the 2021/22 Premier League campaign. Of those 10 times, four came in three starts as the leading frontman for Pep Guardiola's side.

Admittedly, Sterling did fail to score in those three starts, yet with a lack of minutes in the role, he was unable to build up the necessary consistency to test the opposition with great regularlity. If Chelsea do see him as the ideal replacement for Lukaku, then he'd have plenty of opportunities to build up the time as the lead forward. And with a player of Dembele's calibre operating in reserve, then the winger would have a speedy forward capable of playing off the shoulder of the last defender to thread balls to.

Only four players made more accurate through balls than Dembele (7) despite a lack of game time in La Liga last season, while a through ball success rate of 63.6% was the sixth best in Spain's top tier. Looking back to the 2016/17 Bundesliga season, and Dembele again made seven accurate through balls, that the second best in the division, while a through ball success rate of 77.8% also ranked high.

Evidently, Dembele thrives when playing in support of a rapid striker, where his eye for a defence splitting pass can be maximised. What's more, were Tuchel to seek to use the winger in one of two number 10 roles in a 3-4-2-1, Dembele has experience in operating in such a role as the Blues boss experimented in this setup with Dortmund in 2016/17.

Provided Dembele is able to remain fit, then both he and Sterling have the potential to forge a partnership as effective as the one Borussia Dortmund fans witnessed in the 2016/17 Bundesliga campaign. They'd be two forward additions that would transform Chelsea's frontline for the better.