Chelsea comfortably defeated Burnley 2-0 in Thomas Tuchel’s second game in charge. The Clarets controlled the first 20 to 30 minutes of the match, but the Blues switched gears after that and ended up taking three points from the clash relatively easily. We learnt a lot about Tuchel’s 3-4-3 formation, individual players and even the opponents during the match, but here are the four biggest takeaways on the day:
1. Thomas Tuchel is the only thing that matters
Tuchel is the only thing that matters at Chelsea right now. In these early days, every kick of the ball feels like a referendum on Tuchel’s philosophies, tactics and man management. Is that fair? Of course not, but it’s an unavoidable truth.
Tuchel’s influence has been immediate; you don’t have to look much further than his team selection. A back three, asymmetric wingbacks, some sort of double pivot in midfield and an amorphous front three is a far cry from anything Frank Lampard dared to trot out this season. While Callum Hudson-Odoi as a right wingback has been the standout tweak so far, the sudden reintroduction of the long-thought-sold Marcos Alonso was the first real bombshell from the new manager. Tuchel dug the Spaniard out of whatever shallow grave Lampard tried to bury him in, and Alonso duly returned the favor by scoring what could very well be Chelsea’s goal of the season.
The contributions of both wingbacks against Burnley were two crucial feathers in Tuchel’s cap early in his tenure at Stamford Bridge. Alonso’s strike justified a massive gamble on a player who seemingly had both feet out the door. Likewise, Hudson-Odoi’s assist for Cesar Azpilicueta showed the efficiency of Tuchel’s somewhat surprising tactical plan. These moments, while obviously great for the players themselves, are extremely important victories for Tuchel in these early days. It’s a shred of positive momentum that he’ll look to capitalize on in coming weeks.
It’s worth remembering that it has actually been awhile since Chelsea brought in a new manager mid-season, the last instance being when Guus Hiddink mercifully relieved Jose Mourinho of his duties five years ago. That said, it was clear Hiddink was only an interim who had nothing to prove and no one to impress. Tuchel’s situation is similar in a sense, but the pressure has been dialed up to eleven. Tuchel is expected to imprint his style and philosophies on the club as the actual, permanent—relatively speaking—manager. What’s more, he has to do it on the fly at a crucial point in a season that is relentless in both quality and quantity of competition.
For that reason, every single thing that happens at Chelsea for the next few months will be viewed through Tuchel-tinted glasses above all else. Every goal scored and match won will be attributed to his tactical and man management successes, while every shocking defeat or defensive lapse will be chalked up to his perceived incompetence. The Alonso goal is the perfect example. Alonso’s brilliant effort is secondary to the sheer audacity shown by Tuchel to play him in the first place. A stroke of managerial panache. Had Alonso come in and conceded a penalty instead, we would be having a much different conversation.
On Sunday, Tuchel was the hero for his big calls and the results they garnered. The question going forward will be how that focus changes when his decisions don’t quite hit the mark. Either way, that focus will be firmly on Tuchel for the foreseeable future.