Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea appointment was always going to vastly change the direction of the team. The German coach has a tactically diverse acumen that he has shown in his previous stops. And after the simplicity in tactics of Frank Lampard, Tuchel was always going to make a massive difference to the players in the team.
Heading into a huge Champions League clash against Atletico Madrid, its time to look at what Tuchel has changed about Chelsea. Who has benefitted the most from his appointment and how it all leads into this huge game.
Tuchel’s Chelsea Taking Shape
Tuchel’s First Tasks
Thomas Tuchel’s appointment came with a few mandates his predecessor was keen to ignore. The first was to improve the play of high priced players Chelsea had bought. Lampard had been completely uninterested in rehabbing the career of the likes of Kepa Arrizabalaga, and Werner and Havertz had been awful during Lampard’s last two months in charge.
It’s going to take some time for him to rehab Kepa, and Havertz picked up a muscle injury in his first game, but there are signs of progress. Werner scored his first goal since November against Newcastle last Sunday. And Kepa even played very well and earned a clean sheet in the same game.
Tuchel’s Chelsea Changes
Since Tuchel took over at Chelsea, there have been players who’ve seen they’re playing time both increase and decrease. Let’s start with the winners and there are none bigger than Marcos Alonso and Antonio Rudiger. The pair, who were brought in to play in a back three under Antonio Conte have become vital assets as Tuchel’s Chelsea takes shape.
Alonso has always been a great wing-back and is already putting up decent progressive passing numbers since his return to the Chelsea lineup. However, it’s Rudiger who has been much more impressive. The German international has hopped off the bench straight into four clean sheets and two goals allowed in five games that Tuchel has been in charge.
In the midfield, Tuchel has worked in a strong rotation of Chelsea’s three defensive midfielders. It seems like Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic is the pair he wants to rely on, with N’Golo Kante as the third option either in rotation or off the bench.
How They’re Working
You can see in the numbers from the Southampton game what Tuchel wants from the three of them. Kovacic and Jorginho are there to play progressive passes and move the ball forward. Meanwhile, Kante is on the field to clean up the midfield play, all of which sounds rather obvious. But in a game like the one at Southampton, Tuchel might’ve made the wrong choices.
Southampton came out and pressed Chelsea, as you would expect from Ralph Hassenhuttl. The Austrian coach loves to press opponents, especially ones with slow build-up. With Kante and Kovacic in midfield, it was hard for Chelsea to break that first line. Each of their centre-backs attempted 100 passes, and not a single player beyond that position attempted 70.
It’s clear that Tuchel wants to keep a lot of possession with Chelsea, maybe even more than his previous stops. That style has always had a hit or miss quality against pressing Premier League teams. But against Atletico Madrid in the Champions Leauge, Tuchel will need his attacking players to make use of all of their possession.
The Atletico Madrid Game
Most coaches know what they’re going to get going up against a Diego Simone coached Atletico Madrid side. Defensively stout, tough as nails; a team that won’t give Chelsea an inch of the pitch. But this Atletico Madrid is a little different and a lot more flexible than past teams.
This season they have been playing with a back three, allowing two wing-backs to stretch the pitch and Koke in the middle to link everything together. Chelsea will have to be focused on keeping Koke from unlocking them while keeping Luis Suarez from bullying them. The Uruguayan is as clinical as ever in this Atletico team, fitting in seamlessly.
It’s easy to expect Chelsea to have plenty of possession. But they’ll need to work hard to break down this Atletico team. And that’s where Hakim Ziyech could be crucial. The Morrocan international has been Chelsea’s best playmaker this season when healthy but hasn’t seen a ton of playing time since Tuchel took over. If he’s been saving him for a game like this then it’ll be smart management.
But keeping Ziyech on the bench could be a costly mistake for Chelsea. The starting eleven from the weekend had a hard time breaking down Southampton, meaning breaking down Atletico Madrid will be an impossible task.
The Biggest Question for Tuchel
Now come the really important questions; How does Tuchel set up his attack? There are so many attacking options; Tammy Abraham, Olivier Giroud, Timo Werner, Christian Pulisic, Ziyech, Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Kai Havertz. If three of them are going to start with one being Ziyech, the other two become crucial.
Luckily for Tuchel, one of those will certainly be Mason Mount. The subject of many Lampard related jokes, Mount has continued his ascension under Tuchel and continues to show his importance time and again. Which leaves one very important spot left.
Conventional wisdom would say this spot has to belong to Timo Werner. However, Werner is not a lone striker and more importantly against a side like Atletico Madrid his skillset will not be as valuable. Chelsea will need a strong linkup striker who is comfortable under pressure which translates to Olivier Giroud.
The big French World Cup winner is at that age where he is saved for moments like this. His experience and skillset will be incredibly valuable if Thomas Tuchel chooses to deploy it.
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