5 changes Tuchel will make learning from Chelsea’s FA Cup final defeat in 2020
Chelsea may be specialists in reaching the FA Cup final after three appearances in four years, but winning the competition is another matter.
Twice beaten by Arsenal in the last three years, and this year it is Brendan Rodgers’ plucky Leicester City side — into their first Cup final since 1969 — who stand in their way.
It was a 2-0 defeat to Leicester on January 19 that effectively sealed Frank Lampard’s fate. Now, 25 games under Thomas Tuchel and just two defeats later, the Blues have transformed from a naive outfit with a leaky defence into a tactically astute team.
Tuchel has outwitted Diego Simeone, Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Zinedine Zidane this season — and Rodgers is another tactical specialist who the German would relish getting the better of.
But this is the first of two finals Tuchel has guided Chelsea to this season and he will be eager to attach some silverware to his impressive reign at Stamford Bridge.
The 47-year-old is meticulous in every single area of his coaching philosophy and will no doubt prepare for Saturday’s showpiece event by watching hours of footage analysing how Chelsea ended up on the losing side in last year’s final.
But there’s no need to do that, Thomas, because here are the lessons to be learned in preparing his side for the showpiece event at Wembley…
Chelsea’s first chance came from high pressing as Mason Mount nicked the ball off Granit Xhaka and Tuchel will be instructing his side to play with a similar level of intensity off the ball.
It’s something they mastered in recent victories over Real Madrid and Manchester City, largely due to the deployment of N’Golo Kante and Mount in high areas to intercept passes.
The challenge will perhaps be more difficult this time around because of the quality that Wilfried Ndidi and Youri Tielemans bring in the central areas. The pair are so assured in possession and may welcome finding space in behind Kante to pass into.
But as Leicester showed in the 4-2 defeat against Newcastle, they become vulnerable once the opposition gets beyond their midfield — and game would have provided plenty of ammunition for Tuchel to use for the final.
Mateo Kovacic was sent off very harshly by referee Anthony Taylor for a second bookable offence after a foul on Granit Xhaka. But Chelsea could have no complaints about Cesar Azpilicueta’s foul on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for the penalty, which was crucial in bringing Arsenal back into the game.
Tuchel’s men hadn’t conceded a spot-kick during his short reign before Billy Gilmour’s adjudged challenge on Gabriel Jesus on Saturday. He also admitted he feared Kurt Zouma would be penalised for a foul on Raheem Sterling later on in the second half, which went unpunished.
While the Blues look far more comfortable defending in their own area, they must avoid shooting themselves in the foot this time around.
The goals conceded
The penalty came from one accurate long ball over the top from Kieran Tierney. But the Blues were playing with a four-man defence, which can leave you exposed if the full-backs are pushed high up the pitch.
With the 3-4-2-1 formation Tuchel favours, the three centre-backs will have a smaller area to cover and thus it eliminates the threat of balls into the channel. Mistakes can be made, as seen with Andreas Christensen against Man City, but with Tuchel's backline only conceding four goals in their last 10 matches,
As for the winning goal scored by Aubameyang, pitting a defender like Zouma against the Gabonese forward was a bit of a mismatch. The Frenchman is powerful but not as agile as Antonio Rudiger, who is the most mobile out of the three-man defence.
When it comes to handling the tricky striking duo of Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho, Tuchel will be looking for Rudiger to step out and win the ball to limit their influence on the edge of the box.
Naturally, Chelsea have a squad with several options in every area after spending £240 million last summer and that plays into Tuchel’s hands. Not only can he prepare several different tactical plans, he can switch around the personnel too.
Lampard chose to start Olivier Giroud in last year’s final and the 34-year-old played a key role in the opener, holding up the ball for Christian Pulisic and he slotted home the opener.
But taking into account the Frenchman's lack of match practice and Kai Havertz’s recent upturn in form, the German may be better suited for this game, even considering his fine goalscoring record at Wembley.
Another lingering question to answer is whether Pulisic deserves a start after making an impact in recent important matches and scoring in last year’s final, before being forced off with a hamstring injury.
The American forward will be desperate to right some wrongs, but Timo Werner is becoming increasingly pivotal to Tuchel’s attack, providing a key assist in the 2-1 win over Man City on Saturday.
It will be a tough call for Tuchel to make, but he may view Pulisic may be a better option to bring off the bench against a tired Leicester defence if they need some late magic.
Goalkeeper problems are no more
Willy Caballero is a decent goalkeeper but at 38 was never going to be a long-term solution for Chelsea and he is yet to feature under Tuchel. It was Kepa Arrizabalaga’s crisis of confidence that forced Caballero into goal under Lampard but a year on, things are looking up for the £71m goalkeeper.
It seems Kepa may get his FA Cup final chance after all, having kept a clean sheet in the semi-final and overseeing four shut-outs in five FA Cup matches this season.
First-choice Edouard Mendy has also been in fine form recently and is a huge presence at the back, bringing a calming presence to the defenders who know there’s a sturdy figure to provide support behind them.
Some Chelsea fans may feel uneasy at the sight of Kepa in goal in such a crucial fixture, but few could argue he doesn’t deserve a chance to prove himself.
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