Most didn’t take the current state of the Premier League table into account when making their predictions for Saturday’s FA Cup final. Despite being two points, and one place, behind Leicester City, Chelsea were widely expected to continue their rise under Thomas Tuchel.
What unfolded at Wembley Stadium, though, was a reality check for the German coach. Tuchel’s impact at Stamford Bridge since his appointment in January has been profound, taking Chelsea back into the top four and into the Champions League final, but this result and performance was proof of the work he still has to do.
Youri Tielemans’ stunning winner was difficult to legislate for, such was the precision of the strike from the Belgian, but Leicester City deserved their victory. And Chelsea deserved their defeat, producing one of their worst displays so far under Tuchel. They never really got going.
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Even after Leicester scored, when the Foxes set up to invite the play on top of themselves by dropping deeper, there was no real response from Chelsea. Ben Chilwell had a late equaliser ruled out for a marginal offside, while Kasper Schmeichel pulled off an incredible save to deny Mason Mount, but there was no sustained pressure from the Blues.
Tuchel’s Chelsea have proven themselves as frontrunners. They are among the best at holding a 1-0 lead, but they have still to hone their reactive qualities. This was arguably the first time Tuchel has gone all-out on the attack as Chelsea boss, with Olivier Giroud, Kai Havertz, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic all introduced off the bench, but the structure was lacking.
Leicester City adapted well to Tuchel’s 3-4-3. They neutralised Chelsea in a way few teams have in recent months, growing in confidence and control as the match progressed. N’Golo Kante and Jorginho have both received plaudits of late, but Youri Tielemans dictated things for the Foxes in the centre of the pitch.
Timo Werner was lively in the first half, but his decision-making was poor, as it has been frequently this season. However, Leicester City’s relatively deep defensive line forced the German to play in front of the centre backs rather than in behind him. The Foxes’ game plan denied him that space.
Chelsea’s disallowed equaliser came from a chipped Thiago Silva pass over the top, bypassing the area around the edge of the opposition box. This was reflective of how the Blues struggled to get on the ball in between the lines of transition. By forcing Werner and Hakim Ziyech to face up defenders, Leicester made life more difficult for Mount as Chelsea’s primary creator and midfield goal threat.

Chelsea's English midfielder Mason Mount (L) vies with Leicester City's Turkish defender Caglar Soyuncu (R) during the English FA Cup final football match between Chelsea and Leicester City at Wembley Stadium in north west London on May 15, 2021.

Image credit: Getty Images

While Tuchel has sharpened Chelsea as a counter-attacking outfit, Brendan Rodgers’ system exposed the shortcomings of this approach. Deny the space, deny the threat. Leicester City themselves are at their best on the break and so it’s possible this gave Rodgers some reverse insider knowledge on how to stop Chelsea. He just needed to know how to stop his own team.
This was a reality check for those who expect Chelsea to challenge Manchester City for the Premier League title next season. Tuchel might still lead the Blues to a one-off victory in the Champions League final later this month, but the mounting of a sustained challenge over the course of a full campaign will require a more rounded approach.
Tuchel might still be the right man to make the most of Chelsea’s exceptionally talented squad, but the hype train has slowed with this defeat. If the Blues are to truly challenge for the Premier League title next season, they will do so as a different team to the one they are now.
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