And so ends the honeymoon period of Thomas Tuchel, his 14 match unbeaten start at Chelsea ended by West Brom, in some fashion. Five goals conceded, double the amount conceded in his first 14 games.
Chelsea’s second half capitulation was what they deserved after riding their luck for most of a first half that they scraped through after an international break. There are reasons for the sloppier performance, there is logic behind the team selection, but on a dark day at Stamford Bridge there was a hideous realisation that emerged from beneath the cracks.
Loss to West Brom proves the fight for the top four is on
This result doesn’t condemn the blues to anything other than a deeply embarrassing weekend in the short term. They pick up zero points, the same amount that Leicester City also got who sit a reachable five points above Chelsea.
There are still eight games to go this season, Chelsea will still see their next four games as hugely winnable and there won’t be any immediate worry from the club. Yes, with other teams able to go above Chelsea it might not look good but the league doesn’t end in April, just like it didn’t end two weeks ago with the Blues in fourth.
Every team above and below Chelsea will drop points, maybe not by conceding five to a West Brom side that had won just three games all season, but teams will lose games. It is still in Chelsea’s hands, much like it is also in a lot of teams’.
The reality is that nothing is decided yet. Losing to West Brom hasn’t helped Tuchel’s cause and brought up a lot of lingering long term issues with the squad. It was never his job to sort this in his first four months in charge, it was all about results and that is exactly what Chelsea have been getting.
Boring football, poor attacking and not enough youth aside, when Chelsea are getting results under a new manager when results are the only thing driving you forward, why complain?
Long term problems rear again
As for what we actually saw on the pitch, an ugly head reared itself once more. It came in the shape of an expensively but inefficiently assembled, largely average squad with a weak mentality. A Chelsea issue for nearly seven years.
The success of a hire and fire method at Chelsea has worked wonders, in the short term. But Roman Abramovich is changing. Chelsea will still be relentless in their workings, just ask Frank Lampard, but the club has a much clearer path forward than they did before.
Play a fluid, progressive, energetic style of football. Buy the best young prospects available and fill the squad with youth from the best academy in the world. No matter how many managers are parted with, sticking with a club vision is vital.
Against West Brom, there were signings by Antonio Conte (Antonio Rudiger and Marcos Alonso), Maurizio Sarri (Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic*, Christian Pulisic**) and Frank Lampard (Edouard Mendy, Thiago Silva, Kovacic*, Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, Pulisic**).
*, **-Players that were signed permanently or on loan and then used under another manager
Now, this alone is not a problem, managers and players come and go and they must settle. But when players are signed for certain systems (Conte’s 3-4-3 or Sarriball) and are then used with players that suit another way of playing, it starts to go pear shaped.
Tuchel has a mixture of players signed for defensively pragmatic and offensive coaches and a new manager with a range of fluidly free attacking ideas. This is no way to build a squad. Because of the boards long term failure to seal a proper defensive midfielder post Nemanja Matic, Tuchel has no out and out DM.
West Brom defeat highlights where Chelsea need to spend big
Tuchel also doesn’t have a world class centre back, especially when it comes to a back four and there is the glaring issue of no 20 goal a season centre forward. Over a period of 6 years, the long term failures of the board have pigeon holed Tuchel’s options down to a back three. Using average players to cover for other average players.
Lampard tried to solve this a different way and was let down, Tuchel is attempting his own way now and only the next eight league games will determine if he succeeds.
It is worth remembering that next season could and should look very different, until then, reserving judgement on a manager in this situation is advised.
Was it too soon for Thiago Silva?
Now we move to those who were present at Stamford Bridge. Being given the early fixture after an international break is the graveyard shift. Picking players based off of fitness, time at the training ground and health above their tactical profile limits managers. Tuchel had all of this to juggle.
Thiago Silva had two weeks to continue his build up of fitness. Before digging out the Brazilian for this rash red card against West Brom it’s worth remembering that there were people who would have disrupted the Blue’s defence earlier in his path to fitness to shoehorn him into the side.
Although no Premier League game can be taken easily, it shouldn’t have been a huge risk to try one of Chelsea’s most consistent performers against the side 19th in the table. Elsewhere, Mason Mount was understandably rested due to starting all three England games, though his rest lasted only 45 minutes. Once again, if Tuchel can’t afford to give his most important player one half off without descending to anarchy then serious questions need to be asked.
With a packed schedule full of European travels to come, this was a wise game to give Mount off, as it happened, those that took the pitch manager and Mount down.
Again, there are no easy games in this league, Tuchel knew that. There’s no need to say it was a ‘learning curve’, the German and the Chelsea fans know the problems at the club and Tuchel is no novice to competition.
His worry will be that the implosion of his rotated side was so uncharacteristic of recent times that there will have to be a quick bounce back with the Blue’s first Champions League quarter final tie since 2014 on Wednesday.
What next for Jorginho and Kovacic
There is no point chucking the blame for a result like this around. Everything went wrong.
As covered before, Chelsea’s inept actions in the transfer market have left them without a defensive midfielder. With no N’Golo Kante they are forced to use two players to cover that middle ground. However, neither Jorginho or Kovacic have a defensively solid bone in their body.
Occasionally that can be excused. The pair bring an extremely unique set of skills on the ball, their passing, build up and link up will help to dictate entire games and control possession. When things go wrong and they are required as backbone, it seems Chelsea lose 5-2 to West Brom.
This was once again a calling for the midfield spine needed at Stamford Bridge. Joringho’s passing radar was skewed, not helping Thiago Silva’s need for a quiet return to action with wayward passes leading up to both yellow cards. When it came to standing strong and seeing out a half at 1-0 or even 1-1 his defensive faults were put on centre stage, slow to react and unhelpful out of possession.
As for Kovacic, he was largely just as poor in the first half though without the high profile action coming from his mistakes. The Croatian did improve and showed some of the little fight put up in a weak and tepid Chelsea performance, but his laziness and seemingly oblivious nature to sense any sort of danger cost his team dearly.
Billy Gilmour might not bring the desired defensive characteristics that this team needs, but after a performance that ‘would have been shouted about at the pub’, the Scot now has a very reasonable argument that he would offer more going forward.
Written and edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)
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