Ecstasy to Agony in Madrid – but Blues can be Prouder than Ever

Football, bloody hell.

These were the thoughts of legendary Manchester United custodian Alex Ferguson, following his side’s dramatic injury time triumph over Bayern Munich in the 1999 European Cup final. The same sentiment could be used to describe Chelsea’s trip to Madrid last night, but perhaps from a place of slightly less jubilation.

It’s not often that a side comes to the home of the 13-time European Cup winners and comprehensively outplay them, but that is exactly what Chelsea managed to do. Aiming to maintain their 100% record against Real Madrid in knockout ties, the Blues were 11 minutes from securing the most unlikely of comebacks. It seemed for all the world that London’s finest had booked their place in the semi-finals of Europe’s elite competition when Timo Werner calmly slotted home late on – something in itself that seemed a minor miracle. We all know what happened next: the timeless Modric curling a peach of a ball into the box with his other-worldly right boot, which was dutifully finished by the young Rodrygo, followed by a stooping Benzema header in extra time to consign Chelsea to a gut-wrenching exit. This game went beyond score lines and stats though, and in these most uncertain of times for the Blues, this was a reminder of exactly what it is to be a part of the Chelsea family.

The first half went exactly to plan for Tuchel’s charges. Back in a more familiar 3-4-3 formation following the ill-advised switch to a back four for the Brentford game and parts of the first leg of this quarter-final tie, there were a couple of surprising inclusions for Chelsea. Timo Werner kept his place on the left side of the front line following his impressive performance against Southampton at the weekend, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek did the same, putting in an incredible shift at right wing-back, with Reece James monstrous yet again in his role as the right-sided centre back in a back three. The Blues choked the home side with their aggressive pressing patterns, so often forcing the ball back to Courtois, who in turn would hurriedly clear and present possession back to the away side. It took only until the 15th minute for Chelsea to capitalise on their over-whelming dominance. Following good build-up play by Kovacic and Loftus-Cheek, the ball fortuitously dropped to Mount off Werner’s thigh. The Cobham academy graduate needed no second invitation, exquisitely bending a bouncing ball first-time past the helpless dive of Courtois. It was the perfect start.

Tuchel got his tactics spot on as his side dominated throughout. Photo credit: The Telegraph

Chelsea continued to dominate proceedings without carving too many clear-cut chances for themselves, as the Londoner’s exited the pitch for half-time with their aggregate deficit halved to just the one goal. The second period got off to the perfect start with a towering Rudiger header from a delightful Mount corner evening the scores. The equaliser temporarily sparked Madrid into life, satisfying the baying home crowd with a couple of opportunities, first for Benzema then for Kroos from a free-kick. However, it looked as though Chelsea had completed a memorable comeback when flying left wing-back Marcos Alonso rocketed a dropping ball into the top right of Courtois’ goal with his weaker right foot, only for VAR to chalk off the effort due to the tiniest contact between ball and the Spaniard’s tucked-in hand. 5 minutes later it looked like that decision could have haunted Chelsea as Benzema had yet another free header, however this time the 2022 Balon d’Or favourite could only guide his effort onto Mendy’s upright.

Cut to the 75th minute and the most unlikely of heroes for Chelsea. A perfectly weighted through-ball from the imperious Kovacic (96 passes at a 96% accuracy to go with his two darting dribbles) slipped Timo Werner past Casemiro and Carvajal. Now to the tricky part. The German is infamous for slapping any chance he gets wide of the mark, or for being offside, or a combination of the two. However, on the grandest of occasions he was able to maintain the clarity of thought to cut past a sliding Casemiro, and then a well-placed David Alaba, before firing beyond Courtois. It looked as though the much-maligned forward had finally come good with a winner, following his impressive brace at the weekend. Much like the rest of the German’s Chelsea career however, upset was soon to follow. Five minutes later Modric picked out the perfect pass and that was the beginning of the end for an inspired Chelsea. Substitute Pulisic spurned two huge opportunities from perfect knockdowns from teammates and so this epic was to go to an additional half an hour of extra time.

Werner stepped up on the biggest occasion with a calmly-taken goal. Photo credit: The Telegraph

96 minutes in, Chelsea had made only one change (Pulisic for Werner) and the fatigue from battling for every ball for an hour and a half was beginning to set in. Vinicius Junior was away on the left-hand side, possibly the only time he had been free of a relentless Reece James since the early minutes of the game. The Brazilian once again demonstrated his almost telepathic relationship with Benzema, hanging a perfect ball into the box for the French forward to convert, with Rudiger slipping at the vital moment. The game was far from over. Havertz had bustled with industry and intensity from the very first whistle, and almost caught out former Chelsea man Courtois (which would have delighted his numerous detractors in the fan-base), sprinting and straining to block what he thought would be an up-field punt from the goalkeeper following a heavy touch. However, the Belgian proved his class with a calm Cruyff turn to get himself out of what could have been a very high-profile blunder. Havertz had a much better chance to earn his side a deserved equaliser just minutes later, failing to bury a free header from a magnificent Reece James delivery from the right flank. Finally, it was Jorginho’s turn to snatch at a guild-edged chance at the death, failing to finish a ball from Ziyech from all of ten yards out and under little pressure. The final whistle went, with La Liga leaders Real Madrid clinching a place in the semi-finals.

However, as I wrote at the start of this article: this game was about so much more than the result – despite the fact that the Blues did actually win this match 3-1 after 90 minutes! The perfect story to sum up this game was embodied by Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Forever the nearly-man, talked up by a seemingly endless procession of Chelsea managers as the future of their midfield (despite never being given a consistent run outside of the Europa League), the Englishman put in an incredible performance, little over 12 months since being relegated as part of a poor Fulham side – offering a single goal contribution over his season there. Throw in the horrific ACL injury sustained in a charity match at the end of his first season of regular minutes at Chelsea, which forced him to miss out on a Europa League final as well as the academy revolution of the Frank Lampard era, it looked as though the Englishman was finished at Stamford Bridge, another sad story of wasted potential at the London side. However, given a run of games over winter following injuries to Kovacic and Jorginho, Ruben grew into his role as a deep-lying playmaker and excelled there for a month. His resultant downturn in form coincided with the general December malaise at the club and gametime has been hard to come by since. But following a majestic performance in an unusual right wing-back position on the South Coast on Saturday, Tuchel put his faith in him to thrive in the most intimidating of atmospheres. Seemingly assured by the immense defensive presence of Reece James on his inside, Loftus-Cheek ruled the right-flank with 4 crosses and 2 key passes, as well as playing a key part in Chelsea’s first goal and performing to a high level throughout both on and off the ball, his driving runs from deep a reminder of the dynamic presence he can be.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek was a dynamic presence down Chelsea’s right. Photo credit: football.london

 Mason Mount again silenced his doubters, with his 23rd and 24th goal contributions of the season (far and away the side’s most prolific player in this regard). The tireless midfielder put in a pressing performance for the ages, whilst finding the time to lay on a match-high 4 key passes and continued his impressive record against Spain’s most successful side, following on from his semi-final goal at the Bridge against the same opposition last year – so much for flat track bully! Reece James completed the triumvirate of academy players starting on such a huge stage. Following a yellow card for a professional foul on Vinicius Junior after getting beaten far too easily, the 22-year-old prevented the in-form winger from creating anything of note until extra time. This was summed up by his astonishing 8 tackles, three more than the next best on the pitch. Once again the Cobham graduate proved his world-class ability at right centre back, as well as bombing forwards to provide precise crosses and a thunderbolt effort which led to the corner from which Rudiger bagged Chelsea’s second.

Finally, there were a couple of stories of redemption on an extraordinary night for Chelsea. Coming into April it seemed as though Timo Werner’s head was fixed solely on his new club (thought to be Borussia Dortmund), as he shirked challenges all over the field and failed to impress during a six-month league goal-drought. However, the German seemed a man reborn following his confidence boosting double against the Saints, and he made threatening runs all night. Loftus-Cheek failed to release Werner on a couple of occasions, but when he was finally given his chance by Kovacic, he took it with both hands, briefly becoming a Chelsea cult-hero. There could yet be time for Werner to save his Chelsea career! Marcos Alonso is another potential summer departure for the Blues, following many questions over his pace and defensive abilities. The Spaniard was even dropped from his left wing-back berth for countryman Azpilicueta for the first leg against Madrid, despite it being the captain’s weaker flank. Alonso was back with a point to prove, and on top of his harshly disallowed goal he was a calming figure for the away side throughout. His joint match-leading 4 key passes illustrated his offensive contribution, as well as his 9 crosses, and he was switched on defensively, helping Rudiger shore up the left flank and preventing Carvajal and Llorente overloading that side.

If there are any Chelsea fans out there feeling awful today I can more than understand why: we were 11 minutes from a well-deserved Champions League semi-final spot and who knows what could have happened from there. But hopefully with a bit of perspective we can all see a bright future for Chelsea, regardless of who takes over. In Thomas Tuchel we have a tactical genius who once again proved he is one of the best coaches in the world. We have a young and hungry squad: Chilwell, Mount, Havertz, Chalobah, James and Hudson-Odoi are all 25 and under. And on top of these crucial factors, we have an innate fighting spirit and a passionate fanbase who will stick by the side through thick and thin.

The away fans at the Santiago Bernabeu put it best as they serenaded their heroes after the full-time whistle: ‘Champions of Europe, we’ll sing that ‘till May’.

One more thing to add: imagine not being Chelsea!

By Daniel New

Are Chelsea’s Centre-Back’s The Key To Unlocking Romelu Lukaku ?

It is definitely safe to say that Romelu Lukaku’s time at Chelsea has been underwhelming at best and not only his goal scoring has been sub-par but it is his general play that is the most worrying. Everyone has seen the graphic about Lukaku having just 7 touches vs Crystal Palace and it is alarming for him as an individual player and the team itself. Countless times you will see our attackers look up directly at Lukaku when he is in a position to receive it and just turn out and play sideways or backwards. If you focus solely on Lukaku throughout a match, he does often raise his hand indicating he wants the ball and will usually follow this with a slight run in behind before the player with the ball does the aforementioned turn out and play elsewhere. This then results in the classic Lukaku sulk that usually sees him just standing offside for at least a few seconds as he trots back towards the last defender.

In recent weeks our centre-backs have begun following this trend of not playing the ball to Lukaku when he is a favourable option. Below is a kind of example that I speak of. If you don’t go to games you unfortunately don’t have the ability to see most of the actions Lukaku does but trust me, he does actually make smart runs and clearly indicates when he wants the ball.

Image Source : The Athletic

Obviously I have no inkling as to what passes and patterns of play that our centre-backs are stipulated to play but it really looks like they avoid playing passes to our front players religiously. This snapshot was taken in the 7th minute and I do understand the famous tactic of keep it simple for the first 10 or so. However, in a stalemate game like this one as it was for so long, you have to make a few risks here and there. Rudiger is a man that lives by calculated risks, the infamous Rudiger run that opens up passing lanes and space and his long shots from outside the box are synonymous with his play style. I would love for Rudiger to try more chipped balls in behind the defence and passes into Lukaku’s feet as he attempts to hold it up.

One of the main issues with our centre-backs playing passes in behind is the low-block style that nearly every team implements when we play them. Chelsea’s main nemesis this year has been teams we should wipe the floor with, implementing a low-block that stifles our attack. If I was an opposition manager setting up in a low-block 4-4-2 or 5-4-1 would be an easy option and many managers in the League have thought this way also. The low-block system limits the space in behind and makes the game more centrally. Meaning no space in behind for runs and more players centrally in the way between Rudiger, Silva or Christensen getting the ball into the feet of Lukaku.

Image Source : The Athletic

The picture above is a perfect example of where a calculated risk should be taken by Rudiger. Toni is certainly skilled enough to attempt this pass and pull it off and I feel that more risks taken like this will greatly increase our chances to score.

In games like the Crystal Palace one, the time the centre-backs have on the ball is heavily evident and I would love to see the statistics on how much time our centre-backs are actually in possession of the ball. A few more risks sprinkled into the style of Rudiger and Christensen would be ideal.

Havertz and Lukaku utilised together upfront is an option that has become available in the last few games for Tuchel and having a bigger man to make runs off of could elevate Havertz to an even further level. Havertz is the first choice number 9 for Chelsea at the moment and in the game vs Burnley we could see a few more longer range passes coming into play. Burnley played with a higher line than usual and especially in the first half looked to go toe-to-toe with Chelsea. Lukaku could have had a field day in behind that defence but has a long way to go before solidifying his place over an in-form Kai Havertz.

Written by Frankie

Chelsea Have A Serious Issue With Its Forwards.

At this point in the season, Chelsea’s top scorer is still Jorginho with nine goals scored. The predicament from last season still stands as even with the arrival of Romelu Lukaku, one of the best strikers in the world last season, nothing has changed with who stands in the top of the scoresheets for the club. Besides goal and assist output, consistency in performances has been nearly impossible to manage for any of our forwards this season, as the goalscoring output of this team has been incredibly up and down since the start of the season. It might be even funnier to add that the goalscoring output from our team has mostly come from the defenders, notably from our full-backs, Ben Chilwell and Reece James. With Chelsea having almost completely dropped out the Premier League title race with a heartbreaking loss at Man City, I wanted to look at what exactly went wrong with our forward line, possible solutions we can implement in the now to possibly salvage other competition, and also look at long term options beyond this season.

What went wrong?

Well, that depends on how far you want to go back. The issue with Chelsea’s attack stems from a long line of poorly scouted transfer decisions that start from 2019, ever since Chelsea signed Christian Pulisic, the first player to be incorporated into this team in this current generation of Chelsea forwards. Over the course of the past few transfer windows, the strategy has been to secure the top talent in the market, without recognizing the fit those targets would play in the Chelsea squad. Essentially, players who could, in theory, perform multiple roles and be efficient in multiple systems, but as it turns out, in order to get the best out of them in the Premier League level, they would need to be played in niche roles and niche positions. Timo Werner and Kai Havertz are great examples of the latter situation as both players were advertised to be players who could excel in any position, any role, any system, but in fact had limited versatility when trying to get the very best out of them. The failure to recognize profiles that fit the squad is a big reason as to why we are stuck in the predicament that we find ourselves in. However, it is futile to cry over spoiled milk at this point and it is not completely fair to put the entire weight of blame on the decisions made by the club.

The team’s formation and system have shown to be a big reason as to why our forwards are misfiring. Too often this team has dropped points from a lack of goal scoring, or lack of chance creation and a big part of that could be attributed to system Thomas Tuchel outfits. In our 3-4-3, the wing-backs often act as the main source of creativity and energy, performing the roles of chance creators, goal scorers, full-backs and midfielders all at once. Although there is no doubt it has gotten a great deal out of this squad and has yielded immense results (refer: Champions League Final 2021), it also almost definitely limits the roles of the forwards to poachers who occasionally link up the play to set up the midfielders or the full-backs to create chances. Limiting our forwards to poachers could probably explain a great deal of the shortcomings of the forward line, but when we were able to outfit our best XI every game, the shortcomings were masked as the rest of the team could fire in all cylinders. However, with the loss of Ben Chilwell and Reece James, we also lost their dynamism and versatility with them, which in a lot of ways made this team a boring, predictable and underwhelming outfit, further highlighting the vast number of issues with all of our forwards.Individuals also have to be held to blame for their own issues and that is no different to the case of our forwards. As mentioned earlier, bar the exception of Mason Mount, consistency has not been a factor maintained by any of our forwards over the past two and a half years. Callum Hudson-Odoi, who has arguably been the best performing and most creative Chelsea forward this season, still cannot maintain consistency and fails to influence a lot of games significantly, as even after his great showings, struggles to nail down a position in that front three. In Mason Mount’s case, since his debut he has certainly been one of, if not the best player at the club. As it stands however, whether it be to fatigue, burnout or some other reason, Mason Mount has been awfully inconsistent this season and is currently going through a very bad patch of form. Yet, Mount, a natural midfielder made to play in that front line, still poses the highest statistical output of any Chelsea forward! That is the season’s story of one of the best players at the club; the cases of Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, Christian Pulisic, Kai Havertz have looked even more bleak when not only compared with the performances of Mason Mount, but also when compared with the forward options posed by other clubs in Europe and the Premier League alike. Every club at every level in the Premier League have had atleast one player that is performing in an extremely high level at the moment and that cannot be said about any of our forward options.

With Timo Werner, the issue is one you cannot seem to ignore no matter how hard you try. With 6 goals in 18 appearances, the extreme lack of clinical chance conversion is an absolute trainwreck to watch when it happens right in front of your eyes every week. However, there is a lot that Werner can add to this team even without goalscoring. His pace allows him to stretch defenses, exploit high lines, and since he’s also extremely hard-working out of possession, he becomes a valuable tool in the team press and winning back the ball. The same statement is a stretch when talking about Kai Havertz. After one year and six months at Chelsea, it is not unreasonable to say that there is not a single trait that stands out with Havertz. He can add a differece to the dynamism of the forward line, like Timo Werner, but otherwise almost never poses a tangible effect on the team. He ranks considerably low in every single progressive action stat (dribbles completed, progressive passes, progressive carries) and ranks in the 14th percentile for Shot-Creating Actions amongst other attacking midfielders and wingers (source: fbref), often leading to the question: what is he good at? Christian Pulisic another forward who has been horribly inconsistent, who I have already analyzed in an earlier piece (link). Too often he has seemed a moments player that heavily relies on momentum and confidence, and when he’s not scoring or creating (which he rarely does anyway), he does not add anything to the team.

With Havertz and Pulisic, a benefit of doubt can be given as they are still both under 24 years of age and if you believe in their potential, that is enough reason to keep holding faith and let them ride out their slumps. In the case of Hakim Ziyech however, it is not quite as simple. Hakim Ziyech was brought in in the start of the 20/21 season and his transfer move was one that was supposed to bring instant impact. It was widely known that Ziyech was a very hit-or-miss player but before every hit in his Chelsea career, we have had to witness atleast 10 misses which has sparked a serious debate among the possibility of his outgoing rather soon. Though I believe it may be both in Chelsea’s and Ziyech’s best interests to let him leave in the summer, I do believe that Ziyech has been the biggest victim of Tuchel’s system. Ziyech’s best quality is receiving the ball from deeper areas and finding creative solutions to defensive set-ups, but with the poaching role assigned to him, he rarely has had the ability to exert himself akin to how he used to at Ajax. Romelu Lukaku is another player who could also reason his shortcomings this season with the Tuchel’s system and it would be completely true. That does not, however, exempt him from criticism as he has played a big part in his own underwhelming season, being a static, non-influening, non-exerting striker in most games he has played so far. Lukaku has displayed glimpses of a 100 million pound striker at certain times though, and since he has only been at Chelsea for only six months, there is still hope that he can become the clinical, consistent forward we need, provided he still wants to stay at Chelsea that is.

How can Chelsea fix this?

The priority for the remainder of this season has to be to get the existing players to start firing again and the solution that seems the most obvious is to switch the formation, even if for only certain games. The loss of Chilwell and James were massive as they made this entire team tick in this formation, and Azpilicueta and Alonso simply cannot fulfill the roles of the wing-backs to remotely the same level. Fortunately, Tuchel has though of this already, fielding a 4-2-2-2 in both legs of the Carabao Cup semi-final against Tottenham, yielding great results and showing great potential for the future. The 4-2-2-2 formation was discussed in more detail in an earlier article written by Tom Driver (link), which I would heavily recommend reading as the article gives a great description of the formation’s potential, along with who it can benefit and hinder.

If the forwards fail to tick in this formation too in either the roles of the dual-strikers or the attacking midfielders, then a conscious decision has to be made by Thomas Tuchel to bring players from the academy into the fold. Harvey Vale and Jude Soonsup-Bell have already had their debuts this season against Chesterfield in the FA Cup and both had a great showing, the former certainly looking like the best player among a team that featured a few senior players in the squad. There is no doubt in my mind that Vale is absolutely ready to be given a real spot in this squad as even in his short glimpses, he has looked like a great spark we could absolutely use to strengthen our attack, and with a few chances, Soonsup-Bell could also be the goalscoring spark we need. With the likes of Joe Gerhaldt and Jarrad Branthwaite scoring against Chelsea in their senior debuts, and the emergence of the likes of Cole Palmer, Jacob Ramsey, Carney Chukwuemeka, and many other young talents in the Premier League, there is no reason we shouldn’t look to Cobham to bring a creative spark in this team.

It seems evident that long term, Thomas Tuchel wants to pivot to a more familiar 4-2-2-2 or 4-1-4-1 formation that he fielded multiple times in Mainz, Dortmund and PSG as one of the main targets Chelsea have put an emphasis on through multiple reports has been the possible signing of Declan Rice or Aurelian Tchouameni in the summer transfer window. This would certainly allow Thomas Tuchel to play another attacker and allow us to open low blocks, or in theory at least. The harsh reality may be however that a fair amount of our forwards have to be let go. With the investments the club has made into the forward line, the output has been drastically subpar and the ambitions of the club do not leave much time for the persistent shortcomings of our forwards. In that case however, it is incredibly important that the club do not fall into the same patterns of terrible decisions again and perform the proper diligence when it comes to scouting and making decision about signings. There is also no reason the club cannot rely on Cobham to bring in players for the future as well, as the best performing and highest ceiling forwards of the past few seasons; Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Callum Hudson-Odoi; have all come from Cobham. The likes of Armando Broja and even Connor Gallagher have been remarkable this season with Southampton and Crystal Palace, and with the likes of Harvey Vale and Jude Sunsoop-Bell showing great potential, it is about time Chelsea realize that our very own Cobham lads often have the most upside and the least downside as the future of the club.

4-2-2-2: a formation we could see more of?

Thomas Tuchel surprised us all on Wednesday evening in the 2-0 victory against Tottenham in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final at Stamford Bridge. Having been previously reluctant to veer too far from his tried and tested back-three system, Tuchel lined up with a back-four for (almost) the first time in his reign as Chelsea boss. A Kai Havertz opener followed by an unfortunate Ben Davies own goal saw Chelsea cruise to victory, in a game that really could have ended four or five goals to nil. Antonio Conte had no answer to Tuchel’s setup, one which may well be a glimpse of the future for Chelsea fans. 

Hakim Ziyech was the key man for Chelsea’s system on Wednesday, filling in at right-wing-back as the team maintained its back-three shape off the ball. He pushed high up the field when Chelsea pressed Tottenham’s block and tucked in as the right-sided number 10 once Chelsea regained possession. This is very similar to how Christian Pulisic was used when Chelsea played Leeds at Elland Road last season, an indicator that the setup had been in Tuchel’s mind long before Wednesday’s game. Mason Mount, meanwhile, dropped in to form a midfield-three out of possession, and pushed forward into the left-sided 10 position when Chelsea had the ball, as illustrated below. Essentially; 3-5-2 off the ball, 4-2-2-2 on it. This meant that our defensive solidity was maintained, whilst, in attack, Tottenham’s midfield two was overwhelmed by the combination of Chelsea’s four midfielders and Havertz, who dropped deep to help link play. A masterstroke from Tuchel. 

The evolution of Tuchel’s hybrid setup (Source: Twitter – @AliRadhi)

We should, however, consider the fact that Conte and Spurs will not have been prepared for this, setting up to deal with the back-three formation Chelsea had used in every game so far this season rather than the new-look back-four. With time to mount an adequate game plan, teams might use more central midfielders, or target the right-hand-side of Chelsea’s defence with overloads in order to expose Ziyech’s defensive weaknesses, for instance. For this reason, I think Chelsea fans may have to wait until next season to see this setup used more consistently. As links to West Ham’s Declan Rice and AS Monaco’s Aurélien Tchouaméni persist, it is looking ever more likely that Chelsea will sign an athletic defensive midfielder in the coming summer transfer window. This would allow Tuchel to use a similar system, but without the necessity for either of the number 10s to fill in at wing-back, as the defensive cover provided by a physical midfield signing would prevent Chelsea from being exposed on the counter.

Given that the 4-2-2-2 seems a realistic possibility for Chelsea next season, it’s worth considering some potential winners and losers that would come out of this formation change. 

Winners:

Romelu Lukaku – The best spell in Lukaku’s career came at Inter Milan under Antonio Conte, where the Belgian rose from being a ridiculed flop at Manchester United to being widely accepted as one of the world’s best strikers. Paired with Lautaro Martinez, he was extremely influential on the right side of the front two, using his speed and power to dominate the right channel. Much of this season, he has been used as a lone striker, a static reference point, constantly with his back to goal. We didn’t need Romelu to tell us for us to realise this clearly doesn’t suit him, as many began to claim, “we play better without him”. Using him this way is reminiscent of his time at Manchester United, where José Mourinho struggled to maximise his potential. As seen in the first half against Spurs, the 4-2-2-2 allows Lukaku to return to his favoured right channel, where he is more able to impact the game, by both hovering on the last line of defence and finding the runs of his strike partner.

Havertz’ movement in behind for his goal v Spurs (Source: Twitter – @PremLeaguePanel)

Kai Havertz – Though Havertz also favours this right channel, he is very comfortable playing on the left of the front two, something he proved in Wednesday night’s game. Since Tuchel was appointed, it has become clear that Havertz should be played high up the pitch, and this split striker formation allows Chelsea to make the most of his intelligent movement in the box. The small matter of dealing with Lukaku means that defences leave more space for him to drift into, just as we saw with his early goal against Spurs. Equally, when he’s not the lone striker there is less of a need for him to be a presence on the last line of the defence, meaning he can use his ability to drop deep and link play. This constitutes a new dynamic in Chelsea’s build up, making the most of his understanding with the likes of Mason Mount, amongst others.

Timo Werner – Werner is yet another example of a player who is less comfortable when played as a lone striker. Much like Kai, Timo’s quality movement is most effective when he is joined by a strike-partner, preventing him from being marked out the game. Like Lukaku, his most successful days came playing in a front two overseas, off the left of Yussuf Poulsen at RB Leipzig, scoring 34 goals in all competitions in the 2019-20 season. Having either been played either too wide, deep, or central so far in his Chelsea career, the 4-2-2-2 could be the key to him rediscovering his goal-scoring form.

Timo Werner celebrates a hat-trick against Borussia Mönchengladbach (Source: Trivela)

Christian Pulisic – Despite the recent equaliser against Liverpool, Pulisic’s time under Tuchel so far can only be described as inconsistent, bordering on disappointing. The 3-4-3 used by the Chelsea manager has often seen Pulisic stuck dribbling in between the lines, exposing his lack of creativity, and leaving him too far from goal. Playing in the front two of the 4-2-2-2 would favour his goal-scoring instincts and movement in the box, without leaving him as isolated as he has been when used as a lone striker in recent games. 

Mason Mount – Although Mason has had an excellent year, finishing in the top 20 of the 2021 Ballon d’Or and playing a pivotal role in Chelsea’s Champions League success, it’s important to remember he has not been playing in his favoured position. His skillset is perfect for the 8 role and, like Pulisic, playing on either side of the front 3 leaves him with too much responsibility to create between the lines. Playing a 4-2-2-2 wouldn’t have him as an 8, but it does allow him to occupy deeper areas and play a greater role in the build-up, whilst still being able to arrive late in the box and finish off Chelsea attacks. He would not be the primary creator in this system.  

Mason Mount with the Chunkz Frankenstein celebration v Liverpool (Source: Goal)

Hakim Ziyech – Ziyech is another on Chelsea’s list of forwards who haven’t thrived in Tuchel’s 3-4-3. He is a player who likes to remain wide on the right side of the pitch, finding the runs of those inside the box with in-swinging crosses from his infamous left foot. Reece James’s ability to come infield would facilitate Ziyech remaining wide, their connection something to look out for if Ziyech remains at Stamford Bridge next season. With an extra striker in the box, the chances are Ziyech’s assist count would benefit. The same can be said for Callum Hudson-Odoi, who has displayed a fantastic understanding with both Kai Havertz and Romelu Lukaku so far in his Chelsea career. 

Losers:

Jorginho – Jorginho is a player who divides opinion. Tuchel’s back-three system has seen the holding midfielder’s strengths maximised and his weaknesses masked, so much so that he managed a top 3 finish in the 2021 Ballon d’Or. The combination of the three centre backs and two holding midfielders means that, in the first phase of the build-up, a passing option is always available, allowing him to circulate possession and orchestrate passing moves out from the back. This structure also protects him on the counter, rarely leaving him isolated in transition. Given his inability to cover ground quickly, a move to a more expansive system could leave Jorginho out of sorts, especially with the potential arrival of a new defensive midfielder. 

Antonio Rüdiger – Also benefitting from Tuchel’s arrival, Rüdiger’s aggressive style of defending is very well suited to playing in a back-three. The German’s form has earnt him much praise, now seen as one of Europe’s best defenders. His raw speed means he is comfortable defending out wide, knowing the central areas are covered by the other centre backs. Toni’s drives into the opposition half have become a fixture in Tuchel’s Chelsea team, often igniting both the crowd and the team during tough periods of games. Unfortunately, a move to a back-four would restrict his ability to charge out from the back, there being less defensive cover for him in this shape. It’s still yet to be seen whether he could adapt his game to suit the 4-2-2-2, but it’s certainly a formation that plays less to his strengths. 

Jorginho and Rüdiger (Source: Twitter – @Mohxmmad)

Cesar Azpilicueta – After last year’s Champions League success, Azpilicueta is now regarded amongst many Chelsea fans as a club legend. His loyalty to the club is unquestionable, but so are the signs of his impending decline. He was given a new lease of life by Tuchel, returning to the same RCB position which saw him widely accepted as one of the league’s best defenders during Chelsea’s 2016-17 title-winning campaign under Conte. On the right of a back-four, Reece James would be the clear first-choice option, leaving Dave with a seat on the bench. 

Thiago Silva – Thiago Silva has been nothing short of a world class signing for Chelsea. Joining on a free transfer from PSG, he has defied the odds by performing as a top 3 CB in the league at the ripe old age of 37. Despite proving under Frank Lampard that he is perfectly capable in a back-four, the older he gets the less confident you’d feel leaving him with less protection. As his speed declines, his inability to defend the wide areas would be a worry for Tuchel. 

Tuchel and Thiago Silva (Source: Sportbuzz)

Of course, a formation change would impact the whole squad in various ways, but these are the players who stood out to me as the ones who would either benefit or suffer most from a move to the 4-2-2-2. 

Notably, every winner is under the age of 30, and every loser, apart from Rudiger, is over the age of 30. Make of that what you will, but it seems that with every day that passes, the squad becomes more suited to a back-four system. To me, the catalyst needed for Tuchel to consider leaving the back-three behind will be the signing of an athletic defensive midfielder. Regardless, Tuchel’s semi-final line up was just one of many examples of his impressive tactical flexibility, having made many in-game tweaks throughout his tenure, most valuably on route to the Champions League final. This adaptability should leave Chelsea fans with no doubts as to the capabilities of the German, as he continues to show he has what it takes to be at Stamford Bridge for years to come. 

Written by Tom Driver

Chelsea’s season so far

It’s been approximately three months since the season began and Chelsea have done quite well so far. Top of the Premier League, 2nd in the Champions league group, last eight of the Carabao Cup. We’ve completed some tough games as well. Away to Liverpool, Arsenal and Spurs completed and we got 7 points out of that. Let’s take a look at the season so far and see what we’ve found.

In’s

Chelsea sold talent worth £130m and spent £98m on Lukaku making a healthy profit in the window. There was also the loan deal for Saul Niguez and a free transfer of third choice keeper Bettinelli. Lukaku has admirably led the line and automatically starts when fit. A return of 4 goals isn’t bad while he still adjusts to the club and his new teammates. Niguez has been a disappointment when featured. He might be limited to cup games when our best players need a break.

Figure 1: Lukaku against Arsenal (Courtesy Getty images)

Surprisingly though, we had a few returning loanees as well. Trevoh Chalobah has been the brightest among them all. He has contributed with two goals and while still not an automatic starter when everyone else is fit, he has made six appearances. Malang Sarr couldn’t find a club to go on loan, but he also started a premier league game and played in a couple of cup games.

Further up, the resurgence of Ruben Loftus-Cheek is the biggest plus. Playing in a deeper than usual role, he has more space to glide past opponents and isn’t measured on scoring metrics anymore. As Ngolo Kante works through fitness issues, he has taken his chance with both hands.

Ross Barkley also didn’t find a club willing to take him with his high wages. He knows that he won’t start 90% of the games. But he has shown a positive attitude, come on against Villa and played the killer pass for the winner, played a cup game and came on when we had the game sealed against Norwich.

Overall, there was one statement signing in Lukaku, one loan signing in Saul which I’m glad there wasn’t an obligation on and one failed signing in Kounde which may be revisited. 4 loanees returned to the team which was not expected but been a breath of fresh air.

Figure 2: Loftus Cheek back at Chelsea (Courtesy Getty images)

Out’s

Chelsea sold a lot this year. They had the maximum incomings of all premier league clubs. Marina Granovskaia is unmatched in generating revenues for players in the fringes of the team. While more and more clubs are loaning out players, Chelsea have transitioned from loan to selling with buy back clauses. This is based on expectations from FIFA to limit the number of loanees allowed. Staying ahead of the curve in the transfer market is what helps Chelsea remain competitive against clubs like Liverpool and Manchester United who have more revenue.

Notable first team players who left were Zouma, Abraham, Emerson, Gilmour and Giroud for a combined £80m. While these players were valued and helped us achieve our goal, none was in the best Chelsea XI.  

Some loaned out players from last season was also sold. Tomori, Guehi, Zappacosta and Moses generated about £57m in sales.

There were some notable academy graduates who were also sold. Bates and Livramento stand out amongst them.

Chelsea were smart to insert buy back / first refusal clauses in some promising sold players. Abraham at 80m is a lot of money but if he performs over the next two years and develops his overall game, it might be worth considering. Livramento at £25m in 2023 already seems like a steal when he could potentially replace Azpilicueta in the team.

Figure 3: Chelsea academy boy sporting Southampton’s colors (Courtesy SI)

Formation and players used

While there has been some chatter about going to a four in the back, Tuchel has mainly stuck with a three. Our defense is the best in the league conceding on 3 goals and two of them were penalties.

Mendy has been a rock at the back. His performance against Brentford isn’t spoken about enough. While Kepa is an admirable deputy, we will certainly miss Mendy in January when he goes for AFCON.

In defence, Rudiger has been ever present, Chalobah has got more minutes than all of us expected and performing well. Thiago Silva has played in the important games and Christensen has grown into a reliable ball playing defender we all expected.

Reece and Azpilicueta have rotated on the right to good effect providing width, assists and goals. Alonso started the season in great form, scoring goals and getting assists but he had a couple of poor performances especially against Juventus and Chilwell has taken over since. He has scored 3 goals in consecutive games and it was notable how he gets in the left half space close to or inside the penalty box.

Figure 4: Chilwell popping up in the edge of the penalty box (Courtesy Yahoo Sports)

Further up the field, Chelsea have switched between a two in midfield or a three occasionally (3-4-3 and 3-5-2). Mason Mount is usually the connection between the two, but he was given some rest and used sparingly over the past month before Norwich. The 3-5-2 against Manchester City really struggled to create opportunities or connect with Lukaku. Last season, Chelsea were almost exclusively a 3-4-3 with two tens’ as Tuchel calls them.

Kovacic has been the standout performer adding assists to his play that was previously missing. Jorginho has done his thing and continues to be a great conductor of the game from his deep midfield role. Kante was great against Spurs but been injured more than usual. We will need him in the second half of the season, and he seems to step up in important games. Just got to keep him fit. Ruben Loftus Cheek has started deeper than normal which has given him space to glide past players. It places further emphasis on his defensive attributes, but he has done well without making glaring mistakes. Saul had a poor half against Aston Villa. Not sure when we will see him again in the league.

Chelsea’s forward line have had a mixed performance even though we are second in goals scored. Lukaku bullied Arsenal’s defense scored quality goals against Villa and broke the deadlock against Zenit. He has also missed some quality chances though. He has made some great runs but hasn’t been found, tried to build some chemistry with Werner on the top but that’s still a work in progress. Chelsea started with a 3-4-3 with Havertz and Mount around Lukaku but then switched to 2 up front with Werner as the above two lost form. The others have largely been rotated. Ziyech was amazing in pre-season but got an injury and tailed off, Pulisic started the first game and then got injured, every coach at Chelsea seems to want more from Hudson Odoi.

Goals, Expected Goals (xG) and Expected Goals Against (xGA)

Every good team and title winner outperforms their xG. Chelsea so far are no different. In the Premier League, our xG is 15.1 but we have scored 23 so far. Our xGA is 10.3 but we’ve let in only 1 goal from open play and 3 goals in total. This is one of the reasons why Chelsea are top of the league.

Figure 5: Mendy ensuring another clean sheet (Courtesy Getty Images)

To a certain degree, this is not sustainable. Our defense will make mistakes, our attackers will miss chances. However, it seems like the team still has to click into gear. This was especially true against Brentford, Manchester City and Aston Villa where things didn’t click into place. It is an ominous thought on where this team would be when Lukaku gets more involved, and things start clicking further.

We have had 17 different scorers. I’m sure that’s some sort of record for this early in the season. The defense is scoring goals for fun. Major credit goes to Anthony Barry who has worked primarily on set pieces. In tight cagey games, like when Spurs were locked 0-0, a set piece goal is the difference between a win and a draw.

Conclusion

It’s been a good season so far, but Chelsea have a couple of gears to go up to. Considering we are top of the league with some tricky fixtures completed, the Norwich game can be used as a kickstart for other players like Havertz and Mount. As we approach the busy festive period, we will need the full depth of the squad with players like Ziyech and Pulisic returning from injuries. Lots to look forward from this amazing group of players and elite coaching staff.

Declan Rice – The missing piece in Chelsea’s squad

It’s been quite the year for Declan Rice. From captaining West Ham to their highest league finish in over 20 years, to starting in the final of the Euros at Wembley in July and now scoring for the Hammers in Europe, the 22-year-old just keeps progressing. Despite West Ham’s dubious £100m valuation, reports suggest Rice does want to leave, and there’s very little doubt in my mind that he’ll end up at one of the Premier League giants. With Chelsea and Manchester United seemingly the most interested, his signing could well be the missing piece in either squad, converting title challengers into clear favourites. So, what’s all the fuss about? Isn’t he just another Eric Dier?

Rice celebrates after England’s historic Euro 2020 win against Germany (Source: Getty Images via Evening Standard)

What makes Rice special is that he carries out the basics of defensive midfield play to a very, very high level. He’s an excellent ball-winner and can cover a lot of ground rapidly, meaning he is very effective in transition, where he’s relied upon to break up opponents’ counter attacks. Rice’s athleticism, tenacity and ability to defend on either side all contribute to his high success rate in one-on-one duels, acting as a shield to West Ham’s back-four. Notably, much of the work he does off the ball is often overlooked, positioning himself to cut off passing lanes and force the play out wide. Rice is also an efficient counter-presser, winning the ball back quickly when it’s given away and shifting it straight to a nearby teammate. In fact, constant counter pressing is a key part of a certain Thomas Tuchel’s footballing philosophy, but we’ll get onto him later. The truth is that physicality and intensity are the hallmarks of any Premier League title-winning midfield, as proven by the presence of a strong base in all the greatest league-winning sides. Most recently, we’ve seen the likes of Fabinho, Fernandinho and Matic, but the trend dates all the way back to guys like Mikel, Essien, Makelele and Vieira. This season will be no different, and Chelsea can only rely on the protection provided by its back-three system for so long. 

I should say now that Jorginho was fantastic in the club’s Champions League success and Mateo Kovačić has started the season very well, it’s just that Rice is a different profile of player. Jorginho, for example, is brilliant in the first phase of build-up in Chelsea’s current system, allowing them to play out with ease. However, we’ve seen many times that he gets crucified in transition, simply because he lacks athleticism. Similarly, Kovačić has a habit of not picking up runners and of being out of position, meaning that when he’s paired with Jorginho, the midfield can be bypassed very easily. Of course, Tuchel recognises this, hence why he chooses to play with the added security of a back-three. Yet, as shown last season following Thiago Silva’s red card in the collapse against West Brom, when the system is disrupted, the protection goes, as well as any sense of midfield control. Pointing this out is a matter of fact, not an agenda against either Jorginho or Kovačić, who would both (particularly Kovačić) benefit very much from having Rice alongside them. As for Kanté, well, he’d finally have his Matic replacement. 

Matic and Rice go head to head at the London Stadium (Source: Getty Images via Hammers News)

Needless to say, it’s not very often that Chelsea are on the wrong end of a first half red card, but playing a back-three has its own negatives, negatives which became more apparent in recent games against Tottenham (1st half) and Juventus. Yes, it is the system that won Chelsea the Champions League, but it’s important to recognise that these were high entropy games, end to end encounters, full of space to drive into after containing opposition pressure. Naturally, therefore, fewer attackers are needed as attacks require less careful construction and more exploitation of space and in-the-moment decision making. The problem arises when teams sit in deep against Chelsea, who tend to suffer from a painful lack of creativity. Side-to-side football, no penetration, 40-yard shots from Rudiger, it gets rough. In all honesty, this is not a new issue in Tuchel’s reign, and his league form last season was not as good as many suggest, with points dropped against Wolves, Southampton, Leeds, West Brom, Brighton and Aston Villa. The common theme? Low blocks. The solution? Simple. More attackers on the pitch. Rice’s sweeping presence would facilitate a four-at-the-back system, allowing Chelsea to attack less predictably, more dynamically and far more expansively, knowing that in the case of a turnover of possession, Rice will be there to win back the ball.

It is no coincidence that Tuchel, as stated by many reports, is a big fan of Rice, with the German always having played a back-four at his previous clubs. Despite the credibility of these reports, some fans have jumped to dismiss them amidst suggestions that Rice is unable to play in a possession-based setup. While these concerns are understandable, and there were times during the Euros where he looked uncomfortable on the ball, I would say they are overstated. Unlike Eric Dier (sorry Eric), Rice has very good technical ability, and during his time at West Ham he has displayed a wide range of high-level passing, in particular the long-range diagonal to the wings, a pass he is able to hit with precision. He has shown he is able to play in tight spaces, acting as the link between defence and midfield, but this is an area in which he can improve. We mustn’t forget he’s still 22 years old, and he can most certainly be coached into becoming more comfortable in possession, working on things such as his body orientation when receiving the ball under pressure. Considering the defensive presence he brings, as well as aspects not even mentioned yet (including his aerial ability and powerful drives through the opposition midfield), reservations about Rice with the ball at his feet shouldn’t be enough to discourage Chelsea fans from wanting to sign the midfielder. Besides, Tuchel clearly isn’t put off. 

Mason Mount and Declan Rice have been best friends since the age of 8 (Source: Getty Images via TalkSport)

Signing Rice would not only return the defensive power and athleticism Chelsea’s midfield has been starved of for so long, but also a young, hungry England international with everything to prove, having been released from Chelsea’s academy all those years ago. His leadership qualities and personal connection with many of Chelsea’s XI, such as Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell, would certainly help to reinforce an already-confident Chelsea dressing room. Having the option to play both the well-oiled back-three system (against possession-based sides) and a new-look, fluid back-four system (against deeper defences) would surely see Chelsea as favourites for the Premier League title. Equally, there’s no doubt that Rice would fill the gaping, title-preventing hole in United’s midfield. So, Marina, is it going to be us or them?

Written by Tom Driver

Chelsea 2-1 Bournemouth Match Review:

Preseason gives eager fans around the world chance to see talent – both young and old – given the rare opportunity to impress before the campaign gets underway. With the European Championships and Copa America delaying the return of the bulk of Chelsea’s regular playing squad (17 players were present at these competitions: the most of any European club!), fans would be forgiven for struggling to recognise a few faces!

The line-up featured the unusual midfield pivot of Danny Drinkwater and Connor Gallagher, ahead of a back three of Dujon Sterling, Lewis Baker (now 26 years old!) and Malang Sarr (back from a season-long loan at Porto). The more familiar faces of Callum Hudson-Odoi, Hakim Ziyech, Christian Pulisic, Kepa Arrizabalaga, Marcos Alonso and – to the excitement of this writer – Tammy Abraham also appeared from the start. This mix of established international stars, youngsters trying to force their way into Thomas Tuchel’s thinking and Danny Drinkwater got off to an excellent start, dominating their Championship opponents in the first half.

As early on as the seventh minute Hudson-Odoi was able to confirm that he was – as speculated in training – back to his very best, playing a beautiful ball over the top for Pulisic, who would have been in on goal were it not for a poor touch. As the game wore on we were given a glimpse of the ball of energy that is Connor Gallagher, as he made a lovely sliding interception as well as an important, bustling challenge on the edge of his own box. Marcos Alonso was also twice involved in the game’s early incidents: first making a crucial sliding block to deny former Blue Dominic Solanke when through on goal, then blasting a free kick into the wall from his favoured position.

Plenty of fringe players were hoping to impress the new German manager of the year. Photo credit: football.london

The first half featured a wide-ranging display of the often forgotten about Danny Drinkwater’s passing ability, as the £40 million flop sprayed 40 yard cross field balls at will, one of which found Hudson-Odoi who collected brilliantly and beat his man before finding Abraham with a beautiful cut-back. Abraham’s finish, however, was straight at the keeper. Hudson-Odoi was a continual thorn in Bournemouth’s side as he later linked up well with Ziyech as the Moroccan picked out an excellent Abraham run in behind, with the England international’s tame shot saved. Shortly after this Ziyech found Abraham’s head with a lovely, clipped ball from the right but the effort was just wide. This capped an excellent first half for the Blues, with the intensity of pressing and the sharp linkup between attackers a real positive, as well as the industry and distribution of Sarr and Baker standing out.

The second half naturally brought with it a raft of changes as Tuchel gave everyone a chance to impress. Early on in the half Gallagher was sloppy in possession and was punished by David Brooks, who tackled him and fired his shot wide as the intimidating presence of substitute Eduoard Mendy bore down on him. Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek – two international midfielders desperate to regain their places in this Chelsea side – shone after coming on, full of sharp turns (from the former) and surging runs forwards (from the latter) as the Blues commanded the middle of the park.

Chelsea’s dominance could not stop them falling behind in the 66th minute however, as Zappacosta was caught sleeping by a sharp cutback which was converted by the head of Marcondes. There had been warning signs: two corners that were not dealt with as well as a phenomenal Mendy save, and now Chelsea had work to do. However, just six minutes later Baba-Rahman galloped down the left flank, and despite losing possession after a heavy touch he was able to win the ball back and exchange passes with Loftus-Cheek before whipping in a delightful cross which Broja had time to chest down and finish into the roof of the net. This was an exciting sight for Chelsea fans keen to see their youngsters progress and following his debut senior season – where he netted a fantastic 10 goals from 21 starts in the Eredivisie for Vitesse Arnhem – there is optimism amongst some that the Albanian could be an option up front next season.

Broja lit up the second half with his energetic pressing and was rewarded with a well-taken goal. Photo credit: We Ain’t Got No History

Four minutes after Broja levelled it was the turn of another exciting, young Chelsea number 9 to score what proved to be the winner. Ike Ugbo met Barkley’s excellent in-swinging corner at the front post to seal a brilliant preseason win for the Blues. Ugbo has attracted a wide range of suitors after his amazing stint at Cercle Bruges last season, where he netted 16 times in 32 starts in Belgium’s top-flight. During a tricky time for the academy, it was fitting that two young stars who have risen through the ranks at Cobham were the scorers today and hopefully they are both given a chance by their parent club to shine on a bigger stage.

There was a lot to take away from this game. Positives included Abraham’s intelligent movement despite a lack of gametime since the turn of the year, Loftus-Cheek’s sharpness following a difficult spell at Fulham and the link-up between Ziyech and Hudson-Odoi down Chelsea’s right. The team pressed excellently – as demonstrated in the 75th minute as Broja showed his incredible speed to shut down the Bournemouth keeper and nearly deflect his long ball into the back of his own net – and were well organised (except from set pieces!) throughout.

It is difficult to draw anything from preseason games – especially ones where half of the squad are absent – but the players on the fringes of the first team performed brilliantly and players with a point to prove really stepped up. Next up: Arsenal….

Written by Daniel New

Chelsea Tactical Analysis vs Atletico Madrid 17/03/2021

In Possession:

Chelsea continued to build in their 3-2-5 shape and were taking advantage of Atleticos narrow press by keeping Azpilicueta and Rudiger wide, so they have space to progress the ball.

Havertz would often come wide left to drag one of Koke or Saul wide to open up space in the central areas.

This would then allow Werner to drop deep to drag Savic out of shape and Alonso would occupy the space he vacated centrally. This would then lead to Havertz being unmarked out wide with the opportunity and time to pick out a cross.

Below is an example of Azpilicueta in space out wide due to the narrow press from Atleti.

When Reece James and Marcos Alonso were being pushed back when building up, Hakim Ziyech or Kai Havertz would go out wide and exploit the space left by the Atleti full backs, who had pressed high, to offer an outlet to bypass the press.

In the 2nd half Atleti switched to a 5-4-1 formation to try and cover more ground horizontally when pressing. They also pressed higher up the pitch which made it difficult for Chelsea to build up through Rudiger and Azplicueta. Chelsea were now looking to exploit the gap between the Atleti wing backs and the outside CB and trying to get Werner in behind.

With Carrasco coming off, Atleti switched Saul out wide on the left and Chelsea looked to exploit this with most of the play coming down the right hand side through Reece James.

Image Credit: BetweenThePosts.com

Out of Possession:

Chelsea started off pressing aggressively and high up the pitch, trying to box Atleti in out wide and cut off the other side of the pitch. Kovacic would often stay back to create an overload to combat the long balls.

When Atleti were on the counter attack they would look to make runs between Zouma and the outside centre backs. Chelsea did well to control these counter attacks with Zouma being the one who engages with the ball carrier (most often was Felix) and Azpilicueta and Rudiger facing inside. This allows them to engage with Felix if they need to, allows them to block a shot as well as allows them to keep momentum if the ball is played in behind.

Below you see another example of Atleti looking to play through the gaps between Zouma and the outside centre backs. This time Azpilicueta being dragged out of position and opening space for Carrasco to make the run in behind.

Atleti now had numerical superiority when building up due to the switch to 3 at the back.

As Azpilicueta was not stepping up to press Felix this meant Kante was being overloaded and this allowed Atleti to have a free man in the middle which made it easier for them to progress the ball. This continued throughout the game as Felix was given more of a free role and he constantley dropped deep to create overloads.

Atleti were pushing Hermoso up the pitch to try and advance the ball but were unable to create any real chances due to poor crosses and Sauls lacks of attacking threat down the left. This did push Chelsea deeper as Hermoso would often be unmarked.

Jovacic vs Atletico Madrid – Not Convincing

I am not really sure how we’re still having this conversation. People get carried away like nothing and it seems as if some Chelsea fans had done when Jorginho and Kovacic were putting up sound performances again under Thomas Tuchel in the three at the back formation. Admittedly, the partnership worked well and they were moving the ball a lot quicker than we’ve seen them do before, but it really shouldn’t be a surprise that they were able to do so against the weaker teams.

Yes, Spurs are a good team, but they didn’t press us in midfield, and not many other teams did. But, our first opposition who expected to give us problems in midfield was Southampton, and they certainly did. Kovacic gave the ball away a few times in bad positions, and Jorginho’s 10 minute substitute cameo was shocking. Kante lacked the final pass, but at least looked extremely comfortable defensively, making multiple tackles and interceptions.

After Southampton, we had Atletico Madrid last night, again another obvious challenge for Jovacic. I tweeted at 18:40 yesterday that not starting the French midfielder was pretty criminal, as I simply do not think this Jorginho-Kovacic partnership is good enough for the big games. They do not have any positional awareness, and even though we had a lot of possession yesterday we failed to create much through the centre. I understand that Kante’s not amazing in progressing the ball but even Jorginho struggled to make some simple passes yesterday, and N’Golo is better defensively, so he really should’ve started, right?

Anyway, here’s a tactical analysis of some of the moments in our Champions League game which got me screaming at the TV and *specifically at Jorginho*, but Kovacic can take the responsibility with him because why not. At the end of this article I’ll try and give my solution to what I’d do in midfield, but if I’m being honest, I never have and never will be convinced by Jovacic. (Sarri Twitter please don’t come for me). All images via hdmatches.net.

30 seconds in…

Half a minute into the game, and it started off terribly. Kovacic picked up the ball on the left hand side which is fine, and had Alonso and Mount in front of him. For some reason, Jorginho runs all the way over to Kovacic. Mateo attempts to pass it to the Italian midfielder, who gets muscled off the ball like nothing, and, as you can see in the image, leaves so much space in behind him. Mason Mount had to track back and pick up a yellow card to stop their counter which is normally ruthless, and now he misses the second leg. This pretty much summed up the next 5 minutes, where we on another day may have found ourselves 2-0 down.

Another counter attack…

We lose the ball high up the pitch, which is fine. If there’s one place you want to lose the ball it’s high up, so you still have your midfielders back to track back. Oh nevermind, not with Jovacic. For some reason, Jorginho follows his man who drops deep into Atletico’s half, and obviously he was never going to win the ball when chasing someone (mainly because it’s Jorginho but I won’t let my agenda be clear too much). He gets easily turned, and the opposition had the chance to break with a lot of space. In this case, Kovacic did well and forced them to the right hand side which slowed them down, but it’s still another example of the gap between the midfielders being way too big.

We got lucky…

8 minutes in, and I’m already on three screenshots, yikes. That distance between Kovacic and Jorginho isn’t actually that bad, but when they have 4 quite narrow as they do here, that’s a problem. Ideally, Jorginho takes a touch and passes it to Kovacic, but instead he misplaces a pass to Mount which is easily intercepted and once again they break on the counter, this time almost creating a huge chance at the back post. Kovacic is too high up the pitch to come back in time and fortunately our defence bailed us out this time.

Too slow…

In this image, Jorginho gets caught in two minds once again. Saul pushed forward a bit from his deeper position, and Jorginho had to choose between pressing him or sitting back and waiting for him to come. Jorginho decides to try and tackle their midfielder, but chooses 2 seconds too late and he plays a simple 1-2 with Joao Felix to go past the Italian very easily. Space is easily found behind Jovacic and they create another chance, which this time was cleared by Rudiger after some lovely football.

My stream has paused and I think I should probably leave it there as I’ve posted 4 images in 12 minutes, so I’m sure there’s a lot more in the other 80 minutes of the game which I’ll leave you to find. Next time they play together, just have a look at them, and you’ll see the amount of space they leave behind them. Here’s a clip of Jorginho getting skimmed which backs my point, and to be honest, it’s quite funny.

I’d also like to make this clear: this is not Jorginho or Kovacic slander. This is simply my opinion and I actually quite like both – I think Jorginho seems like a great presence in the dressing room and that Kovacic is a brilliant squad player to have. But are they able to take us to the next level? And while playing together? I really don’t think so.

So what would I do? It’s difficult, for sure. First of all I’d definitely start Kante – that’s a must for me. He runs around so much and is brilliant defensively – and people act as if he’s much worse than the others on the ball. He really isn’t. Then, it’s not easy, but I do want to see Mount next to him. Our good friend Konark got quite a lot of hate for suggesting this, but I really do think this could be our future. Mount mastered the #8 role under Frank Lampard, and next to Kante could show some real balance. He’s played a very similar role next to Declan Rice for England, and I have no doubts he could do the same in Blue. He’s also taking up one of the front three positions at the moment, meaning Pulisic, Havertz, and Ziyech all find themselves on the bench, but by dropping back he could open up some space for one more of our attacking threats. My next option would be Billy Gilmour by preference, but that’s not happenning, so probably Kovacic, who definitely can put in a brilliant performance when he wants. In other words, no Jorginho please. I repeat – Sarri fans please do not come for me.

Do you agree with me? Let us know on our social media platforms or contact us!

Written by Paree

Chelsea 2-1 Sheffield United Tactical Analysis

Chelsea used a 3-2-5 to build up from the back, with Azpilicueta often stepping up in line with Kovacic and Jorginho to carry the ball and progress Chelsea up the pitch. However, Sheffield United tried to combat this by using Fleck to press Azpilicueta and stop him from doing so, with the two strikers focused on Christensen and Rudiger.

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Chelsea tried to surpass the man orientated press from Sheffield by dropping Jorginho into the RCB position to push Azpilicueta further up and try to drag on of the Sheffield midfielders and break their shape to open a passing lane into one of the forwards.

Sheffield made it difficult for Chelsea to play through the thirds early on due to the front 5 being organised in the press. Below you can see how Sheffield blocked Rudigers passing lane to Mendy while setting pressing traps for Kovacic and Jorginho.

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Chelsea then tried to look for the long ball, they did this by dropping one of the front 3 deeper to drag one of the Sheffield defenders out of their shape to allow one of the other forwards or wing backs to make a run in behind. Below you can see an example of Giroud dropping deep with Mount and Werner about to make a run in behind.

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Chelsea were switching between a 3-4-2-1 and a 3-4-1-2, with Mason Mount drifting into a number 10 position with Giroud and Werner acting as split strikers. This allowed a Chelsea player to receive the ball between the lines forcing a Sheffield defender out of their shape to create space for the forwards to run into. Chelsea were able to do this quite easily due to the distance between the Sheffield midfield and defence. Mount would make a run on Flecks blindside when going central to receive the ball in between the lines.

Above you can see where Mount starts his run with Fleck focused on Azplicueta, Mount makes a blindside run into the central area unmarked. Below you can see where he receives the ball. This is an impressive play as Mount is now unmarked and is able to run directly at the Sheffield defence as Kovacic’s vertical pass has taken 5 Sheffield players out of the game.

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Chelsea were also looking for the ball in behind to the wing backs with Werner or Mount dropping deeper to open up the space for the wing back to run into. Below you see an example of Chilwell making this run in behind after Werner drops deep.

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Chelsea’s first goal came from similar movement from Werner however the German was the one who made the run in behind after dropping deep and playing the ball out wide to Ben Chilwell. This caught the Blades defence by surprise as the Sheffield defender stepped up leaving the space in behind for Werner, as seen below.

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Chelsea were using Kovacic slightly wider on the left to create a 3v3 with Mount and Chilwell, this forced the Sheffield midfield to shuffle over which opened up space on the opposite side for Azpilicueta to push up into. This is something which he couldn’t do much of in the first half due to Fleck pressing him well.

Below you can see the 3v3 created with Kovacic going wide.

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Below you can see the space Azpilicueta has which allows Chelsea to switch the play and progress up the pitch.

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In the second half as the Sheffield midfield tired Chelsea would try and stretch them to open up a gap to play into Mason Mount who was dropping deeper. Below you can see Rudiger in possession but with no passing option forwards, so Chelsea would continue with horizontal passes along the back line.

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Below you can now see Lundstram (Number 7) is slow to shuffle across which opens up a gap for Azpilicueta to play a vertical forwards pass into Mason Mount, taking 5 players out the game and beating the Sheffield press.

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Sheffield was currently 2-1 down and needed to get on the front foot if they wanted a chance of getting anything from the game. Chris Wilder brought on a forward and switched the formation to a 4-3-3, with Norwood as the deeper midfielder. This was to try and get 3 forwards on the pitch to go man for man with the Chelsea defence, as well as giving Norwood the responsibility of marking Mason Mount who was now play as a 10 behind two strikers.

Below you can see Norwood in front of the two centre backs as well as the two CM who were staying in the halfspaces to try and stretch Kovacic and Jorginho and open up gaps and passing lanes into the front 3.

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Thomas Tuchel combated this by bringing on Kante and switch to a 3-5-2 and make sure the distances between the midfielders were tight and stopping Sheffield United playing through them. Hudson-Odoi and Mount were now the front 2 and they drifted into half spaces to link with the outside midfielder and the wing backs. This would force one of the CB’s to come out of their shape.

Conclusion

Thomas Tuchels side held possession well however they struggled for the first 30 mins to play through the Sheffield press but were able to use rotations between the front 3 well to create space in behind for the ball over the top. They were able to contain Sheffields counter attacks well and were not threatened too much in the game in regard to pressure on the back line. In the second half as the Sheffield midfield tired Chelsea were able to exploit the gaps between the front 5 thanks to Mason Mounts movement off the ball and his positioning.