Speaking in general terms, phrases like “strange one” and “I don’t know” are not ones you want the manager of your football club to be using.
Yet those were just some of the words used by Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel after he watched his side lose 1-0 to Juventus in Turin on Wednesday evening. It follows a defeat by the same scoreline at home to Manchester City on Saturday. The consecutive losses mark the second time this has happened to Chelsea under Tuchel. The last time also saw two 1-0 defeats in a row, then to Arsenal at home in the Premier League and against Leicester City at Wembley in the FA Cup final.
That time Chelsea would respond by beating the Foxes in the league a few days later to more or less secure their position in the top four for next season. They then, of course, went on to beat City in the final of the Champions League.
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Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel gestures during the Uefa Champions League group stage football match n.2 JUVENTUS - CHELSEA on September 29, 2021 at the Allianz Stadium in Turin, Piedmont, Italy. (Photo by Matteo Bottanelli/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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Tuchel will be hoping for a similar response from his players after such a lacklustre couple of displays. After both matches most observers would agree that Chelsea’s opponents wanted it more, but there were also some key tactical tweaks that caught Tuchel out.
In both matches Chelsea found themselves pressed, but pressed intelligently. Teams have tried to press Tuchel’s team in the past but the defenders (notably Thiago Silva and Andreas Christensen) are good enough on the ball to play around the press and get it into the midfielders. Then those midfielders have ripped vulnerable teams on the counter in ruthless fashion.
But what Pep Guardiola and Max Allegri did so effectively was to press in segments, not as a unit. This is counter-intuitive to how the pressing tactic is supposed to work. You’re meant to press as a unit to prevent a way out for the opposition. But pressing in bunches, and in specific areas, allows teams to regroup and not get caught out.
The area that both managers targeted was the Chelsea midfield. The theory was that by not giving the midfielders time it would be possible to isolate the forward players, particularly Romelu Lukaku. The only option would be a hopeful long ball or going back to the defenders to try again. Whichever option Chelsea chose it would backfire because there would be enough numbers in defence to prevent an attack from starting.

Chelsea's Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku (L) and Juventus' Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci go for the ball during the UEFA Champions League Group H football match between Juventus and Chelsea on September 29, 2021 at the Juventus stadium in Turin

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It’s safe to say that by and large the tactics worked pretty much as hoped. Of course a team like Chelsea will always have their moments, but over the two matches they had just one shot on target. Lukaku was left doing a rather splendid impression of Harry Kane, dropping deep just to try and touch the ball.
Against City it was a bit of a surprise to see Tuchel go with two up top and three in midfield, rather than the other way around, but it certainly played into Chelsea’s hands. With Marcos Alonso inexplicably coming inside on the regular there was simply no outlet for the Chelsea midfield with Lukaku and Timo Werner smothered by the defence.
Tuchel put his favourite show on against Juve but watched the same episode that he saw against City. Chelsea were flat, they couldn’t really get out (barring an encouraging opening 20 minutes or so) and Lukaku was often a lone figure with no-one around him. Once the midfield lacked options, Chelsea’s play stagnated.

Thomas Tuchel (L) and Antonio Rudiger (R)

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So what can Tuchel do to combat this? The most obvious thing is what he did against Juventus, move to four at the back and bring on a different type of midfielder, namely Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The Loftus-Cheek Resurrection is one of the more fascinating side projects to watch this season, if only because of the unabating love Chelsea fans have for him. It is now two games in a row that Lofus-Cheek, who is still only 25, came on and made a visible difference to how Chelsea played.
There are few things that would make Chelsea fans happier than for Loftus-Cheek to finally fulfil his potential, but on a serious note there is a reason so many managers persist with him. What he offers is uniquely tantalising, his ball-carrying ability is something you don't find in many players. When you combine that dribbling and technical ability with his size and strength, you have a potentially fantastic midfielder. There are very realistic concerns however about his ability to play in a two. So he either has to be one of the more advanced two, or Chelsea change system.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek of Chelsea FC and Dejan Kulusevski of FC Juventus compete for the ball during the UEFA Champions League group H match between FC Juventus and Chelsea FC at Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy on 29 September 2021. (Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/Nu

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The worry with moving back to a 4-3-3 has always been what happens to Kai Havertz? He’s not quite a central midfielder or a wide player, and can often get lost. This is different to Werner, Mason Mount and Hakim Ziyech who can all either go deeper or wider.
However the honest answer is that for now Tuchel might have to experiment with moving Havertz away from where he wants to be, at least to try and present something different for opposing managers to think about. If Ben Chilwell comes in for Alonso it might give some freedom for Havertz to go onto the left. Then you can have either Loftus-Cheek or Mount as the most advanced of the midfield three and perhaps Reece James or Callum Hudson-Odoi out wide on the right.
This isn’t necessarily the time to panic, at least not yet, but it’s clear that Tuchel’s team have become a little bit predictable. Now against smaller teams this may not matter, but big teams with top players and well-paid managers will figure out solutions, as we have seen over the last seven days.
It’s Tuchel’s job to counteract that and in his defence it’s clearly something he seems to relish more than most managers. There are few top-flight managers who have shown a willingness to adjust the way Tuchel has. It doesn’t have to be a major adjustment as highlighted above either, perhaps it can be more subtle. Maybe Chelsea aim for more double teams either centrally or in wide areas. Maybe all the problems really will be solved when Mount comes back. But even if that is the case, that would mean work for Tuchel. You should never be so reliant on one player. You can be sure Tuchel’s brain will be operating in overdrive to try and figure out some solutions, and it should be fascinating to watch.
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