After the highs of winning the Club World Cup in sunny Abu Dhabi, Chelsea were plunged back into reality a week later in cold and wet London against Crystal Palace.
The first half came and went without much action as Crystal Palace threatened through Michael Olise and Wilfred Zaha.
But as the sky started to get darker, Chelsea’s Moroccan star Hakim Ziyech shone brightest to score the pivotal goal and ensure the visitors left Selhurst Park with a crucial three points in the race for top four.
The Moroccan Wizard delivers again
Ziyech’s time at Chelsea has been one full of many ups and downs. He enjoyed early success under Frank Lampard but a combination of injuries, a new manager and a change in system saw his influence on the side dwindle. However, 2022 has been a fresh start for him and the player the club signed from Ajax is starting to shine through.
He has four goals this year including the all important winner against Crystal Palace on Saturday. His drifting run off the back of Tyrick Mitchell and cool side footed finish was the highlight of a turgid attacking display from the Blues. He had in fact seen a goal ruled out for offside by Romelu Lukaku in the build-up just minutes before, so the winner acted as redemption in a way.
Ziyech’s improvement in form has coincided with Thomas Tuchel trying out a back four system and the debate in the weeks to come will be whether to stick with the new system that gets the best out of the Moroccan or shift back to the tried and tested three at the back at his expense.
Attacking deficiencies clear for all to see again despite late winner at Crystal Palace
Chelsea’s card is well marked when it comes to big money forward signings and them not delivering. Fernando Torres and Alvaro Morata are just two to name a few. But in more recent times that spotlight falls onto the likes of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Lukaku and the same frustrations were evident on Saturday.
Lukaku’s performance stood out but for all the wrong reasons on Saturday, although it wasn’t all his own fault. The Belgian striker only had seven touches in the game and in the first half he only had one touch away from the kick off. Undoubtedly Tuchel would’ve wanted more from his man in terms of effort in and out of possession but on several times his runs were ignored by his colleagues and his annoyance was evident.
Away from him and in general the attacking play was too slow and passive allowing Crystal Palace to get into their defensive structure and keep their opponents at bay. The tentative nature has been one far too common in recent weeks. Unsurprisingly, when one of the backline played a diagonal long ball things opened up and that direct nature troubled the Eagles.
Ever since Ben Chilwell and Reece James haven’t been regular members of this side because of injury, attacking output has slowed down and despite trying several options, nothing has clicked on a regular basis for the Blues. James is likely to be back involved in the coming days but with crucial games in all competitions to come, an answer to the problem is needed now more than ever.
Did Tuchel pick the right team yesterday?
More often than not in his stint at Chelsea, Tuchel’s team selections have always been spot on regardless of who he has picked to fulfil each role. However, yesterday the general consensus was that he got a few key choices wrong.
Christian Pulisic starting seemed inevitable with his record against Crystal Palace and performance in the Club World Cup Final but not many envisioned him doing so in a mixture of a number eight and ten role. At the same time Havertz had earnt the right to start but he was shoehorned out on the left when a lot of his success for the London club has come in the central areas.
Pulisic’s nature to take players on was something that was missing from the wing play by Chelsea but instead he was often crowded out in the congested midfield.
Mateo Kovacic is having his best season in a Chelsea season in terms of attacking output and his tenacity and energy was something Chelsea definitely lacked yesterday. Kante and Jorginho looked lethargic and with neither known for their progressive play, they contributed to a poor attacking display. The Croatian, in his short time on the pitch, played the ball forward to Lukaku for his shot that was saved and showed what had been missing for the rest of the game.
Is Marcos Alonso’s time at the club nearing an end?
The Spaniard has been in and around the squad since Antonio Conte’s time at the club and away from a few moments here and there, he has struggled to reach a level on a consistent basis to earn a spot in the XI.
Tuchel’s frustration with him since Chilwell’s injury has been growing and clear to see in recent weeks with his touchline behaviour. The effect of that couldn’t have been any clearer than on Saturday when Tuchel chose to start Malang Sarr and Andreas Christensen, two centre backs, as his full backs whilst Alonso was on the bench.
He did make a telling contribution off the bench though with the cross for Ziyech’s winner reaffirming what he can bring to this side. This will get him back in Tuchel’s ‘good books’ but with a World Cup coming up, he will want to be playing consistently to get into that Spain squad and if all the signs are in fact pointing in the right direction, that won’t be at Chelsea.
Tuchel’s defensive press conference after beating Crystal Palace
Over the years the best managers in the business have always tried to shift the attention away from their players in the media and avoid blaming them for poor performances in public and in many ways, it felt like Tuchel was doing that on Saturday evening.
The effects of travelling from London to Abu Dhabi and back again amongst the change in temperatures was what Tuchel put the poor performance down to and stressed he wasn’t really expecting a lot from his players.
This would help to explain the sluggish nature of the performance but how those will hold up with the Chelsea fans remains to be seen as the same problems keep being encountered game after game.
Written by Harrison Burridge (@hburridge2)
Edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)
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