Chessy Special: Sound Progress, Long Way to Go

It has now been a month since Thomas Tuchel took charge of the Blues, succeeding club legend Frank Lampard at the helm. With seven victories, three draws and zero defeats, from a results perspective it has been a pretty good start to life in London for the German coach. It is a run that has seen the blues take 18 points from a possible 24 lifting them back into close contention for a top 4 place after spending the best part of two months lingering in and around mid-table towards the end of Lampard’s tenure. It is a run that has also seen the Blue progress to the quarter finals of the FA Cup and overcome a tricky last 16 first-leg tie against Spanish giants Atletico Madrid. From a birds eye view, all is well for Tuchel’s team which actually isn’t too far from the truth. But upon the scratching of the surface, the enormous way Chelsea have to go in order to reach the staggering levels we are seeing from would-be champions, Manchester City and 2018-20 Liverpool are revealed. 

Progression

The bright side is that Tuchel looks to be showing some type of direction and plan to beat opponents. While this has not always led to a free flowing, perfect result, it is certainly a move away from the lack of tactical planning we saw under Lampard going into a lot of games. With little time to work on a solid philosophy and identity, Tuchel has allowed the team to build solid defensive foundations reinstalling the three at the back used so successfully under former boss Antonio Conte. This has so far worked as The Blues have only conceded one goal from an opposition player in the ten games since Tuchel took over, the other an own goal by Antonio Rudiger. With the reliable pairings we have seen in the “double six” positions in midfield, Chelsea have looked a stubborn outfit to break down thus far. Out of possession, there is a much more solid team shape to The Blues along with relentless counter-pressing when possible. Jorginho and Kovacic have provided elements of good control most notably away at Spurs and Liverpool, whilst Kante has contributed from a defensive transitional standpoint when used also, which has overall provided a solid base in and out of possession.

From an attacking perspective whilst we have not seen a flurry of goals, there are definitely more signs of a team that is being coach to create specific situations. Tuchel’s 3-4-2-1 formation has seen the return of wing-backs at The Bridge which were so pivotal in the 16/17 title winning season but with a twist. Callum Hudson-Odoi to many’s initial surprise has been used in the right wing-back role but not in the same way as many people thought. Tuchel has given license for the England international to spend the vast majority of his time in the middle to attacking third of the pitch, essentially operating in his normal role of a winger. This has allowed for overloads to be created close to goal especially against teams who line up with a traditional back four and has allowed Hudson-Odoi to flourish at what he is best at which is attacking space, taking on defenders 1v1 and getting crosses in the box.

The opening goal against Burnley demonstrated this situation perfectly where Hudson-Odoi was able to set up Azpilicueta and in Tuchel’s first game in charge against Wolves where the winger produced a man of the match performance, as he was a constant threat on the outside. CHO is often the fifth man in attack in this formation left unmarked as the other three attackers and the left wing-back have occupied the oppositional defenders, and Tuchel looks to have coached the players to find the spare man.

Creativity

Although this set-up and coaching has translated into Chelsea getting into good positions on multiple occasions in many of their games, conversation and creativity in the form of an incisive pass seems to be holding Tuchel’s men back. Chelsea lack a real creator in the slots behind the striker in this formation, which have often been occupied by Werner (a forward), Mount (an attacking 8) and Ziyech who’s game seems to rely a lot upon crossing. Although Ziyech does have great passing ability in his locker, we have yet to see him creating chances consistently from the inside position which has left Chelsea lacking. Recently in the game against Man Utd – a game lacking many chances, Chelsea were crying out for a creator in the form of passing or dribbling as their brightest spark Hudson-Odoi went off with injury. Mount who has been used most in that role provides a different type of threat through his link-up play and counter pressing, Werner is used mainly for penetrating runs in support of Giroud, whilst Havertz has had his issues with injuries. This leaves The Blues with personnel issues and for all their summer spending, it is still a gaping whole in the team.

Solution 

Chelsea could do with another dribbler who can commit defenders in areas close to goal, but also has an eye to play that final ball to team mates left in space to lead to a chance. Good examples of players within this mould are the likes of Jack Grealish or Jadon Sancho, both of which are very good a creating chance from either inside or wide left/right positions. Chelsea also lack a real goal scorer, the last player to hit 20 in the league was Diego Costa in 2017. It remains to be seen whether Werner will be trusted with this responsibility but if not, more investment is needed in these areas to see Chelsea challenge at the top again.

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