Tuchel slams poor first half from Chelsea in win at Watford
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Thomas Tuchel’s 1000-yard glare proceeding Mason Mount’s goal in Chelsea’s 2-1 away victory against Watford told you everything you needed to know about his side’s performance. The England midfielder enacted a devastating counterstrike against the Hornets who had forced the reigning Champions League holders to man the barricades in front of their goal. The win also proved to Tuchel that his next priority in the transfer window has to be to reinforce his wing-back options.
Mount’s finish was ruthless, clinical, and everything missing in Chelsea’s draws against Manchester United and Burnley, while it came during a performance that was sloppy, disjointed, and everything that Chelsea were not against Manchester United and Burnley.
But this sweet moment of irony did little to please a possibly still seething Tuchel. He wrung the changes against the Hornets by introducing Andreas Christensen, Cesar Azpilicueta, Mount, Christian Pulisic, Kai Havertz, and the struggling Saul Niguez.
Saul, almost mercifully, was hooked off at half-time after he was bullied my Moussa Sissoko and Tom Cleverly for 45 minutes. By the end of the match, Mount was protecting the back four from defensive midfield, Havertz was only just in front of him, and Pulisic finished the contest at right-wing-back.
Tuchel deployed a team bursting with attacking dynamism and guile yet his side looked like they were attacking against the an overly fast treadmill. As Chelsea, slowly and awkwardly, tried to progress up the pitch, the Hornets buzzed around them and forced the ball back to Edouard Mendy.
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Claudio Ranieri’s side threw caution to the wind against the Blues with a press as powerful and fast as any Storm Arwen itself. Perhaps the former Chelsea manager sensed a weakness in the side who were missing two hurricanes in Reece James and Ben Chilwell.
James was an injury doubt just 24 hours previously, and was therefore not missed; while Chilwell will be absent for at least six weeks – there is every possibility he will miss the rest of the season, if his Anterior Cruciate Ligament injury is as bad as the Blues are fearing.
Azpilicueta, the tenacious veteran he is, charged up and down the wing like Zlatan Ibrahimovic had pushed him up the pitch, while Alonso’s excellent first touch created the angle for him to cut-back to Havertz, who then fed Mount for the opener.
However, they do not carry anywhere near the same level of thrust, penetration, and quite frankly, terror as James and Chilwell. They spectacularly quenched Chelsea’s goalscoring thirst during Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner’s injury absence.
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But their injuries were arguably more noticeable than that of the £143m striking duo, as Chelsea’s threat was spectacularly subdued without the two English internationals. Kiko Femenia and Danny Rose both had the freedom to attack down their respective flanks when they otherwise would not have dared cross their halfway line if they were against James and Chilwell.
Tuchel demonstrated his, and that of Chelsea’s, tactical malleability when he shifted Pulisic into right-wing-back to carve a space for match winner Hakim Ziyech. He also said he considered moving Saul into left-wing-back if something was to happen to Alonso.
It proved to be an inspired move, but with his recent empowering of Callum Hudson-Odoi, whose shafting into the right flank was Tuchel’s first big decision at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea are without a natural right back.
They tried and failed to sign Achraf Hakimi who eventually moved to Paris Saint-Germain for £52m. Unfortunately for Tuchel, there is a shortage of marauding right-backs who can both attack and defend without either attribute infringing upon the other.
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And if he was to enter either the January or summer transfer window to solve this dilemma, he may need to enact his tactical malleability once more, Chelsea won the Champions League with James operating as the right-sided central defender of their three-man backline, while Azpilicueta employed the attacking gusto.
It appeared Tuchel wanted to proceed with James in the defence, as reports from the Telegraph said he was interested in signing Wolves winger Adama Traore. With his terrifying pace, impeccable dribbling ability, and biceps the size of the ears on the Champions League trophy, Traore appears to carry all the intrinsic benefits needed in a right-wing-back.
He was not the first Chelsea boss to come up with this idea, as Antonio Conte was also keen on the Spanish international in his final season at Stamford Bridge.
The 25-year-old’s contract at the Molineux expires in 2023, and Bruno Lage’s side are against the clock, if they ever want to cash in on his services.
He would likely need time to be ingratiated within the squad, and most importantly, the position itself. Yet, this would not be an issue for Tuchel who has deployed more wingers at wing-back than he has orthodox defenders.
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