In 83 days as Chelsea manager, Thomas Tuchel had removed their continued susceptibility on the counter and at set-pieces.
He eliminated their habit of making more errors leading to goals than any other side in the division.
Tuchel had outwitted Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho, Diego Simeone and Carlo Ancelotti, overcoming their teams without conceding once during those fixtures.
It has been quite the transformation at Stamford Bridge that Tuchel has overseen almost perfectly in taxing circumstances, without ever seeming out of his depth.
That was until Monday afternoon when he became the first manager in the division to be interrogated about the Super League, with Chelsea joining Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham in the breakaway tournament.
The first four questions of his pre-Brighton media briefing focused on this development.
Tuchel clearly didn’t know how to answer them and Chelsea didn’t want him to. Journalists were being cut off and implored to ask about the match instead.
But that’s the whole point: the Super League renders such games insignificant. Such a landscape-shifting situation can’t be sidelined.
“There are a lot of comments, arguments and opinions out there,” Tuchel said. “I absolutely don’t want to get involved in it because I don’t know the details.’
“Clearly I was not involved, and my players were not involved in this decision-making.”
Tuchel had only been made aware of the news on Sunday, shortly before it was officially announced.
He was not the right person to field the Super League probing on Chelsea’s behalf, but Roman Abramovich and Bruce Buck were never going to avail themselves.
The owners and highest-ranking officials of the Big Six have cowardly fallen silent, leaving their managers and players to take the hits for a hyper-capitalist house they weren’t the ones to build.
Klopp was up next to face the scrutiny, with the stakes considerably higher in his case. Tuchel is new to Chelsea, to the league, to having to take a solid position with wider ramifications.
The Liverpool manager, meanwhile, has always been forthright about his feelings – “I believe in the welfare state” and “Brexit makes no sense at all” – to pick just two.
He aggressively slid in on the Super League in 2019 too, hoping “it will never happen.” Naturally, there was interest in whether Klopp would water down that take and align with the club’s owners, Fenway Sports Group.
“My feelings didn’t change. My opinion didn’t change,” he said. “People are not happy with it, I can understand it. I can’t say a lot more because we were not involved in the process – not the players, not me – we didn’t know about it.
“I like the competitive aspect of football. I like that West Ham might play in the Champions League. I don’t want them to, because we want to, but I like they have the chance.
“I’ve heard a few things but what I really don’t like, Liverpool Football Club is much more than some decisions.
“The most important part of football are the supporters and the team. We have to make sure nothing gets between that.”
It is FSG creating the gap in that bond, Jurgen. The owners knew there would be a sharp backlash to Liverpool’s involvement, but didn’t care.
Money and the chance to milk new, tech-savvy and cash-heavy fans have been carefully prioritised over the lifelong supporters.
The ones that have created the identity and history they happily market as special to sell, sell, sell.
This, the Super League, Means More.
Klopp was forced to speak about these issues just before Liverpool lined up against Leeds in a pivotal fixture for their top-four hopes.
Or… just another meaningless match if FSG and the other billionaires get their way.
Following the 1-1 draw, Liverpool’s captain for the night James Milner was asked for his thoughts. “My personal opinion is I don’t like it and hopefully it doesn’t happen,” he offered. I agree with most of what has been said about it.”
It was Klopp and the players that broke the club’s 30-year title drought who were the ones facing up to Leeds’ banners and T-shirts that read ‘Earn it on the pitch. Football is for the fans.’
They were booed and heckled as ‘scum’ and ‘greedy bastards’ by fans upon entry to Elland Road.
The decision-makers, meanwhile, remain shielded and saying nothing at all.
“The team has nothing to do with it, I have nothing to do with it, but people treat us like we do,” said Klopp.
“We are employees of the club. I feel responsible for a lot of things at this club. When I am involved in things, I take the criticism easily; when the boys are involved, they take criticism as well. But we are not involved in the process or the decision making.
“The Leeds fans were shouting at us like I’d said, ‘Let’s go to the Super League’. We are talking about human beings. With all the things that are written, people should not forget that. It’s an emotional situation.”
It’s the owners who should remember that. They are the ones that have dropped you and the team in this situation.
Liverpool’s chief executive Billy Hogan had emailed the club’s staff on Monday morning to say that they couldn’t be left behind – “we should absolutely be part of that process and have a seat at the table rather than outside that group.”
This painted the club as helpless in negotiations: join or financially fall even further away than their rivals.
Pure nonsense. If the Super League was a no-go for Liverpool and Manchester United, it wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. This is a fact many in the sport, including Arsene Wenger, have voiced.
It was these benchmarks of English football that were the betrayers, pressuring Manchester City and co to board the gravy train.
“The fundamental problem is the rich always aspire to be more rich without considering the consequences for the rest,” Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa accurately noted.
“As they gain more power they start demanding more privilege over the rest.”
And they do so in the shadows, in the quiet. Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl labelled this manoeuvring “a big threat. What I see coming up is war from the big clubs.”
The owners are letting their managers and players go mercilessly into a battle they weren’t privy to, didn’t want and still don’t understand.
Remember that when they spin the ‘best interests of the game’ line – they aren’t even protecting their own employees let alone the pyramid.