Thomas Tuchel must repeat £71m decision to unlock true Chelsea potential and stun Pep Guardiola

 

It was shortly after the hour mark at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, with Chelsea three goals clear of Spurs and heading for the Carabao Cup final, that Thomas Tuchel decided to turn to his substitutes' bench. With more than £200million worth of talent from which to choose, the Blues' head coach wasn't short of options. He decided upon Thiago Silva , Marcos Alonso and Hakim Ziyech .

N'Golo Kante was introduced later in the half before Ruben Loftus-Cheek replaced Jorginho for the final eight minutes. These alterations not only helped Chelsea over the line but also ensured those who started weren't pushed to the maximum ahead of the Blues' most difficult Premier League game of the season. On Saturday, Tuchel's side face Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. It is a repeat of last season's Champions League final which Chelsea, of course, won 1-0 in Porto. The stakes won't be quite as high this time around; the grandest prize in European club football isn't on the line. Yet it's a game the Blues have to win to keep their slim title hopes alive. Since being appointed Chelsea head coach, Tuchel has enjoyed three wins over City and Pep Guardiola in four matches. It is a run of results that is understood to have altered the dynamic between the pair.

Tuchel has never hidden his admiration for Guardiola and the football played by his great Barcelona side. He was enthralled and watched every game possible in an effort to improve as a coach and gain a greater understanding of the game. Then when Guardiola came to Germany to coach Bayern Munich, the two enjoyed a dinner together during which football was the only topic.

"We started to speak about football and it gets deeper and deeper very quickly. We had a very lively debate," Tuchel reflected ahead of last year's Champions League final. "When I meet with Pep I go home and write everything down to not forget it. "It's in my book like the craziest ideas and thoughts he gave me about how you approach certain games. I'm not trying to be him and the second-best Pep, I try to be myself. He's a huge influence and a super nice guy."

There will be no post-match dinner between the pair at the Etihad Stadium, though. Tuchel is now a genuine threat to Guardiola and Manchester City so he can't gain insight into the complex mind of the 50-year-old. In September, when the two sides faced each other at Stamford Bridge, it was Manchester City who stormed to victory. On that occasion, Guardiola kept it simple: 4-3-3 with an intense press that focused on taking Jorginho out of the game. How Guardiola must regret his decision not to do that in the Champions League final. On that balmy May evening in Porto, he opted against including a defensively-minded midfielder – something which football.london understands shocked Tuchel on the team coach – and paid the ultimate price.

It was Tuchel who tinkered too much at Stamford Bridge, however. He decided to play with a three- man midfield of N'Golo Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic and a two-man attack that consisted of Timo Werner and Romelu Lukaku. It did not work and Chelsea failed to register a single shot on target. It's why Tuchel faces a big decision ahead of the trip to Manchester. Does he go with Lukaku and an attack around the striker or does he return to what proved so successful last season and go without a true number nine? The answer to that question may have come during the second half of last night's game at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Lukaku played the full 90 minutes of the second leg and has started the last three matches in all competitions.

Meanwhile, Kai Havertz, scorer of Chelsea's winner in the Champions League final, was an unused substitute and only featured in the second half against Chesterfield at the weekend. The 22-year-old, signed from Bayer Leverkusen for £71million in the summer of 2020, hasn't had an easy campaign thus far. Form was hard to come by during the early weeks of the season while a positive Covid test impacted his December. Yet what Havertz offers Tuchel is exactly what Chelsea will need against City: hard running off the ball and subtly on it in the final third. That he also has a habit of producing big moments in key games – something which is often held against Lukaku, who has scored only 18 times in 82 matches against other members of the 'big six' Premier League sides – may also be an important factor.

Lukaku can bring the latter in addition to his physical prowess, but he does not press anywhere near as effectively as the German forward nor does he reclaim the ball as often. Per FBRef , Havertz has attempted 16.9 pressures per 90 minutes in the Premier League this term and has averaged 1.73 defensive actions (tackles and interceptions) per 90. In contrast, Lukaku has attempted just 7.93 pressures per 90 and has registered 0.33 defensive actions per 90, the lowest of Chelsea's outfield players. It would be remiss of us not to point out that Lukaku is the better goalscorer; he is averaging 0.54 goals per 90 to Havertz's 0.19 this season.

However, Tuchel may opt to go for the strength of the collective rather than the individual. The Chelsea head coach found a formula to frustrate and defeat Guardiola's City side last term. But he moved away from that earlier in the campaign and paid the price. Tuchel is a smart coach, one of the very best in world football. You doubt he will make the same mistake again.

No comments

Powered by Blogger.