OPINION: The tactical change that Thomas Tuchel needs to revert back to if Chelsea want to attack like they did against Liverpool, Leicester and Juventus

Here we are after another tough Chelsea watch. To be honest, it’s starting to feel like some time since we had anything other than a tough Chelsea watch (against anyone other than Spurs). 

We have a top coach. Most Chelsea fans I know agree that with Covid breakouts, fixture congestion, persistent injuries and long-term losses of two of our best players in Ben Chilwell and Reece James, most coaches would’ve ‘lost the dressing room’ (or some other yearly nonsense at Chelsea) and been sacked by now. To his credit, Tuchel has at the very least kept us very difficult to beat through this spell and has found a way to grind results for now.

But, and it’s a huge one – we all know it isn’t good enough. We should grind out third this season and as I write this, I’m hoping we might turn up in the Carabao Cup final as we were actually good against Liverpool at the Bridge in a 3-4-2-1 (more on this later). But, if we are to turn a corner this season or before the next Tuchel must find a way for us to consistently create and score more chances and consistently win more games comfortably. 

Hakim Ziyech has led the Chelsea attack in recent week. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)
Hakim Ziyech has led the Chelsea attack in recent weeks. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)

Like many others have I’m sure, I thought back to some of our earlier games this season where we did look dominant, in control and progressive on the ball and tried to find what’s so different now. Arsenal away and Leicester Away, then the first half away at Liverpool (before the ridiculous red card), second half at Spurs, the 7-0 against Norwich and then Liverpool at home were our best performances I can remember.

In terms of what’s ‘gone wrong’ since then I know lots want it to be all Romelu Lukaku’s fault; clearly something isn’t quite right with him since the infamous interview. But I’d say, since he almost definitely isn’t going anywhere soon, instead of laying blame we should think back to earlier this season where he was scoring more and at least looked happy and enthusiastic. I know others say it’s mostly due to the loss of our wing backs – which is undoubtedly been a huge issue. But I suspect there’s more to it. So what did I find from those games I mentioned earlier? Well:

1) We played 3-4-2-1 in all of them. 

2) Alonso started most of those games, Azpi at wing back in others.

3) The midfield two rotated (so no conclusive proof of which combo is best)

4) Havertz and Mount were almost always starters.

5) Havertz started every one of them either as a forward in Lukaku’s absence or in behind with Mount.

So what does this tell us? Well, in my opinion it proves two things: The first, is that we can play relatively well with a 3-4-2-1 even without Chilwell or James. And it’s in that formation we have clearly performed better than with a back four. The second in my opinion, is that Kai Havertz must start centrally either as the forward, or ideally in behind Lukaku. 

Think back to those games – particularly Arsenal. Lukaku linked with Havertz and Mount time and again. Not just from crosses from which he is good too. But from short exchanges, one-twos and lay-offs. Over and over we played short passes into him looking for returns and the 10s and wingbacks had a great time. He’s a forward who needs players to work with, particularly when playing against low blocks.

Lately, probably to account for our lack of quality in the absence of both first choice wingbacks, Tuchel has instead opted to play a defensive flat back four with wide players like Callum Hudson Odoi and Hakim Ziyech and while that has clearly worked for those players it has rendered Lukaku less and less involved and we’ve looked a far worse team for it.

For me, even without first choice wing backs it makes much more sense to go back to the basics of the early part of Tuchel’s reign – with passing, movement, territory control and using our best technical attacking players than it does to entirely sacrifice the basis of our successes under him to account for injuries, lack of defensive pace and play only to Ziyech’s strengths.

If the Chelsea we all grew so excited about up until November are to find their way, it isn’t with wide wingers and defensive full backs (even if Ziyech does look good lately) but in the system Tuchel implemented and we practically mastered when he first came in.

Written by Joe Kenny

Edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)

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