Thomas Tuchel’s tactical tweaks give air to Chelsea’s wings

Hakim Ziyech and Callum Hudson-Odoi breathed new life into an attack that has laboured in recent weeks

Tom Kershaw
Tuesday 25 January 2022 13:14
Comments
<p>Hakim Ziyech celebrates scoring with Callum Hudson-Odoi </p>

Hakim Ziyech celebrates scoring with Callum Hudson-Odoi

It is customary for any great trilogy to feature some sort of redemption, revenge or at least a fitting finale. In truth, the clinical nature of Chelsea’s three victories over Tottenham this month left no room for such drama. It has been a course of unerring superiority, requiring just five minutes for Thomas Tuchel’s side to assert their dominance in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final and culminating in Sunday’s clinical 2-0 victory at Stamford Bridge.

After what has been the most exacting period of Tuchel’s tenure, even if Chelsea’s title hopes are still all but redundant, it felt somewhat like natural order had been restored. And although victory offered few great revelations for the months ahead, as a fatigued squad now welcome a much-needed winter break, it did illustrate Tuchel’s continued attempts to evolve a tactical system that had turned a little stagnant.

The Chelsea coach described his side’s set-up on Sunday as a 4-1-4-1, with Malang Sarr and Cesar Azpilicueta playing as more traditional conservative full-backs. And while it is no secret how sorely Chelsea have missed the threat of Reece James and Ben Chilwell down the wings in a back-five, the new formation did give considerably more licence to Callum Hudson-Odoi and Hakim Ziyech to attack – as Mateo Kovacic and Mason Mount overloaded central midfield – without such an urgency to track back. The result, in terms of the opening goal, was the sort of firework that can help to pierce through and alleviate so much of the gloom that has encumbered Chelsea of late.

Of course, the highest praise was reserved for Ziyech’s breathtaking strike from the edge of the box, curling into the top corner with such precision that Hugo Lloris remained rooted to the spot. It was a cathartic moment for a player who for the vast majority of his time at Chelsea has blown hot and cold, often through various expressions of sulk and strop. “Maybe it was his best game, it was a very good game overall,” Tuchel said afterwards. “It’s probably the best position for him, we don’t normally have this position in a 4-3-3. The overlap gave him the space and the strike was brilliant.”

Ziyech scores against Tottenham

But almost as impressive was Hudson-Odoi’s run in the build-up. Those who watched the 21-year-old at youth level were regularly amazed by his ability to stand players up and take them on. It was a skilful and combative arrogance, so direct it would paralyse defenders. Whether it has been through a lack of confidence, instruction or a lasting consequence of his achilles injury, Hudson-Odoi seemed to have somewhat lost that instinctive threat. The manner in which he tore down the wing at the beginning of the second half better resembled those brazen days of old.

After what has felt like such a repetitive cycle of Chelsea dominating possession but lacking the imagination to make it count, the sense of urgency added underneath each wing felt like a breath of fresh air. The biggest and most obvious conundrum that remains unsolved for Tuchel, though, still centres on Romelu Lukaku. He had some bright moments against Spurs and should have scored in the first half, but still looked lost in the system for long stretches. And for all Tuchel’s expert tweaking against Spurs, his clash of styles with Lukaku remains without a simple solution. Unlike a few weeks ago, though, when Tuchel lamented Lukaku’s “service” to the team, the head coach was more effusive with his summary on Sunday. “Very good performance, very good team performance,” he said. “He was absolutely reliable and put in a huge effort. It was a good match for him.”

Hudson-Odoi goes past Japhet Tanganga

It will be the one-year anniversary of Tuchel’s tenure at Chelsea on Wednesday, and such a landmark provides a good point for perspective. The longer course of a Premier League season is likely to prove that Chelsea remain well adrift of Manchester City. But despite the immediate high of Chelsea’s Champions League glory, crafting something closer to a finished article like Pep Guardiola’s side is a meticulous process of tinkering and tweaking. Three efficient victories over a beleaguered Spurs might not have elicited huge excitement, but there was plenty of evidence Tuchel can continue to fine-tune his system away from its slump.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in