38 games. That is how many games Thomas Tuchel lost as manager of Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund over a period of five years. That is a crazy statistic for any manager; he averages almost 8 defeats every year.
Thomas Tuchel, famously recognized for being Klopp’s successor at Dortmund and posing a threat to Bayerns inevitable dominance in the Bundesliga. Tuchel has been in management over 20 years, some of his feats include: qualifying for the Europa League with Mainz in 2014, winning the German Cup in 2017 and leading Paris Saint Germain to their first ever Champions League final.
The question on everyone’s lips however is: How will he fare at Chelsea? From Chelsea’s game against Wolves, there are a few cues of how the German will setup his Chelsea team during his tenure.
Formation and Systems
From the lineup graphic, Chelsea setup in a 4-2-3-1 while Wolves setup in their usual 3-4-3. During the match there would be shifts and rotations in the system from both managers.
Rudiger and Azpilicueta returned to the lineup along with Jorginho, and Wolves continued to find a solution to their striker problems with Raul Jiminez out indefinitely.
Initially the Chelsea lineup was confusing as Tuchel opted to start both Hudson Odoi and Hakim Ziyech, we would find out the reason why as the match went on.
Rather than the 4-2-3-1 on the graphic, Tuchel set Chelsea up in more of a 3-4-3 akin to the Wolves team; with Azpilicueta as the 3rd center back, Hudson Odoi as the Right Wingback and a pivot of Jorginho and Kovacic with Kai Havertz and Ziyech flanking Giroud up top.
Managers often play variations of the back three as it naturally provides more angles and options during the build up and has enough men in the rest defence to prevent turnovers.
The 3-4-3 provided a natural 3-2 shape in the build up, with the main aim of circulating the ball to find one of the advanced midfielders (Ziyech/Havertz) or the wingbacks (Hudson Odoi/Chilwell) to advance the ball up field.
Chelsea also tried to use long switches of play with the far side wingback to advance the ball. As such most of the touches during the game came from Hudson Odoi and Chilwell.
Tuchel implemented a sort of ‘box’ midfield (2-2 shape) with a Jorginho-Kovacic pivot behind the roaming pair of Havertz and Ziyech, this is where most of the attacks were initiated for Chelsea, the quick passing of Ziyech and the movement between the lines from Havertz were key during the game.
Hudson Odoi and Chilwell were high and wide up the pitch, Odoi especially was very high up the field as the game went on.
Chelsea’s attacks came from combination play between the advanced midfielders and the wingbacks, with Ziyech and Odoi especially causing constant threats down the right, a typical move in the game would see Havertz run beyond the Wolves defence, drawing a defender with him as Chilwell receives the ball and cuts it back for a midfielder running from deep.
The passage of play above shows the same combination down the right hand side, with Pulisic making the run, cutting it back to Ziyech who finds Kovacic in space but the shot was just wide of the mark.
The Ziyech-Odoi pairing
I personally thought it was a great move for Tuchel to start the pair as their contrasting styles of play down one flank would often confuse opponents as to who to track and who to pick up. Odoi and Ziyech are very capable dribblers, but the difference in style comes from how they move; Odoi often goes wide on 1v1s while Ziyech cuts inside onto his preferred left foot.
During the Wolves game they often switched positions with Odoi spending parts of the game between the line as Ziyech hugged the touchline. In situations like this their markers would not know who to pick up as leaving Ziyech out wide to put in crosses is not ideal and Odoi has the pace to get in behind the defence too. One to look out for under Tuchel.
Chelsea pressed Wolves during the build up; one aspect they were missing during this season under Lampard (even though they were great at it last season). They pressed Wolves almost man to man with the front three picking up Wolves center backs, the midfield pivot covering Neves and Dendoncker with the Wingbacks on both sides marking their counter parts
Wolves set up in a 5-3-2 defensive shape, funneling Chelsea’s attacks out wide and preventing them from penetrating through the middle. Adama and Neto up top covered the passing lanes to the midfield pivot of Chelsea and the midfield trio of Podence, Neves and Dendoncker did their part to shut down the duo of Havertz and Ziyech
Nuno Santos’ men were passive for most of the game, primarily looking to pounce on turnovers before releasing Adama and Neto on the fast breaks. It worked for the most part as Chelsea resorted to fouling Neto especially during counter attacks.
After around 50 minutes during the game, Nuno switched Semedo and Ait Nouri with the Portuguese fullback moving over to the left to combat the threat of Hudson Odoi and Ziyech. Playing a defender on his wrong foot is a defensive move rather than an offensive move as it allows them to use their natural body angles to defend against wingers that love to cut inside. The move was a bit successful as it stifled Chelsea’s attacks down the right enough for Tuchel to take off Chilwell for Pulisic and swap Odoi over to Left Wingback.
Is the back 3 the way to go for Chelsea?[ft Conte, Lampard, Dortmund]
A lot of people have mentioned that the back 3 is the best for Chelsea moving forward; Antonio Conte was successful with it, Azpilicueta playing an exceptional role at RCB, Lampard had a lot of success deploying the back 3 during games against tougher opponents and Tuchel himself has often experimented with a back 3 at both Dortmund and PSG.
The back 3 has a lot of positives; allows Tuchel to play multiple forwards at the same time, since Chelsea’s squad is a bit unbalanced with more attackers and less midfield options, its understandable why the German would opt to play a back 3 as it allows him to field at least 3 of Chelsea’s attacking talents.
It will provide a bit of security and solidity during pressing; an issue Lampard had this season was the team’s sudden inability to be effective during the press. The 3-4-3 provides a natural press shape with the 3 forwards up top, providing options during the press.
The system also allows Chelsea to plug their midfield issues this season. Deploying Kante and two advanced midfielders did not work particularly well in the earlier parts of the season. But with a back 3/5 it allows Tuchel to play advanced midfielders without a lot of issues on the defensive end.
The most concerning issue about the system so far would be the ‘Jovacic’ pivot. Playing Jorginho and Kovacic together in midfield is the equivalent of putting two cinder blocks in front of car tyres; they both offer the same qualities on the ball and one could argue that dropping Jorginho for Kante would be the way forward as Kante and Kovacic formed a pretty solid midfield pairing under Lampard.
During the Wolves game, this pivot produced only two key passes, Kovacic supplying both from deep showcasing his passing range. This meant there were long stretches of the game where the two advanced midfielders were often frustrated at the lack of service and had to drop deep to receive the ball.
In the passage of play above, Jorginho ignores the open passing lane and rather gives the easy pass out wide. If he had a little courage to break the line, Chelsea would have had an advantage going forward.
Defensive effort up top
One thing Tuchel spoke about after the game was the fact that Chelsea were able to make 16 recoveries in the attacking third of the pitch, which hints to the style he wants to implement going forward. The issue here is the commitment of the players, Havertz, Ziyech and Jorginho are sluggish defensively and barely have the athleticism to maintain an organized press over 90 minutes.
During the Wolves game, the front three of Giroud, Havertz and Ziyech completed 0 tackles between them. A huge red flag considering the manager is one who loves to set his team up to fight for the ball up top.
When asked why he started the players on Wednesday night, Tuchel mentioned that he chose ‘experience’, with the selection of Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Giroud and Jorginho. Which means he has not settled on his best XI of players yet. If he wants to succeed, finding his best system and best set of players is key; this was Frank Lampard’s undoing at the Bridge.
If Tuchel does persist with this system, a few changes should be made; Kante for Jorginho to give more mobility and solidity in midfield, Mason Mount in one of the advanced midfield spots for his pressing ability and intensity and the introduction of Timo Werner will be key as he has thrived in similar systems at RB Leipzig, playing off one or two attackers instead of leading the front line by himself.
The image below is what i assume Thomas Tuchel will set up his Chelsea side till the end of the season: