The new Blues head coach has managed to kickstart Timo Werner’s debut season at Stamford Bridge but that may come at a cost
The mood around Stamford Bridge has changed drastically in the space of only three weeks. And that’s down to Thomas Tuchel.
Chelsea’s fanbase was very much split after the club’s decision to sack Frank Lampard. Many were bitterly disappointed and the subsequent appointment of Tuchel was met by apathy. Others felt it was a change the Blues had to make to ensure the season didn’t collapse.
Tuchel had no time to discuss what had gone before. His first match in charge came against Wolverhampton Wanderers, 24 hours after his appointment was confirmed. It ended in a 0-0 draw but there were positive signs, indications the German coach would have an immediate impact.
So that has proved. Chelsea have won their last five games in all competitions, four of which have come in the Premier League. They’ve risen from ninth in the top flight to fourth and have advanced into the FA Cup quarter-finals. The squad appears united.
And he’s also got Timo Werner back on the scoresheet.
The forward struck his first goal in 15 Premier League matches against Newcastle United on Monday night. An important moment. But Werner’s upturn in form under Tuchel was clear prior to his close-range finish against the Magpies.
The 24-year-old won back-to-back penalties, which proved decisive, against Tottenham and Sheffield United and also fashioned Mason Mount’s goal at Bramall Lane. Werner is once again heavily involved in Chelsea’s attacks and, as explained here, that is vitally important.
He’s done so, however, without playing as an orthodox striker. Werner has, in his own words, been used as a “left ten” under Tuchel, with either Olivier Giroud or Tammy Abraham spearheading the attack. And that is something unlikely to change going forward given comments made by Chelsea’s head coach after the win against Newcastle.
“We know he likes to drift out a little bit to the wing, between the full-back and centre-back,” Tuchel told Sky Sports. “So we try to bring him into these positions he likes to play next to a guy who is a reference in the middle like Tammy and Oli.
“We wanted to escape the pressure in the half positions today so we played Mason on the right and Marcos (Alonso) more inside to keep Timo stay in a high position and use his speed. It worked well in the first half, the second half lacked precision.”
Tuchel added: “I do think he can also play as another striker, maybe sometimes as a number nine if he is clever enough with his speed and his runs. But his favourite position and his biggest strengths are maybe if he can drift out a little to the left side.”
A comfortable and confident Werner is vital for Chelsea going forward. After this weekend’s trip to Southampton, the Blues face a run of fixtures in the Premier League and Champions League that may define their season. The German international will likely be key to ensuring the outcome is positive.
In order for Werner to thrive – as Tuchel has admitted – he will need another striker in support to occupy centre-backs and create space. That in turn means there is only one other position in the attacking line available.
It’s currently occupied by Mount, who has performed well under Tuchel.
In the queue behind the England international is Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz. Callum Hudson-Odoi would also be vying for the position had he not been repackaged as a wing-back by the new Blues head coach.
Chelsea’s lavish spending in the summer window was certainly exciting but it did leave the squad overstocked with attacking talent. Lampard didn’t find that easy to juggle. Tuchel has encountered the same issue.
In his six matches at the helm, Ziyech and Havertz have played just twice, although the latter has missed the last four games with a somewhat mysterious injury suffered in training.
Pulisic, meanwhile, has made four appearances under Tuchel. However, only one of those was a start, and it was against Barnsley in the FA Cup.
“Christian was a very tight decision over whether starts after the cup game or if he comes on from the bench,” the German coach said in his post-match press conference after the victory over Newcastle.
“We decided on another eleven. Unfortunately, we only had three changes and that makes it very difficult to give time to the players, to let everybody play.”
Tuchel added: “He deserves to start or to come in, but I could only use three guys [from the bench]. I hope he keeps on going and he will make an important impact for us in the future.”
Those comments are undoubtedly encouraging for Pulisic and he may be included in the side to face Southampton on Saturday. But the wider issue still remains for the American and Chelsea’s raft of attacking talent going forward.
If Werner is in the starting XI then it’s likely one of Giroud or Abraham will also be – it’s the right tactical choice as Tuchel has highlighted.
Yet for Mount, Pulisic, Ziyech and Havertz it creates an intense battle for the final attacking role. Disappointment among those who miss out is inevitable. It will be down to Tuchel to ensure that doesn’t become a problem.
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