For the first time in what feels like a long time, there is positivity around Chelsea. Following the 2-0 victory over Burnley, both the supporters and the media have come down from the frenzy caused by Frank Lampard’s sacking on Monday. So far, the Thomas Tuchel era is off to a decent start.
The tactical changes implemented by the recently-appointed German manager have been a large reason for the Blues’ improvement in form. Under Lampard, the Chelsea players looked unsure of how to attack the opposition and wasted most of the team’s possession passing the ball around the 18-yard box before sending in an inevitably unsuccessful cross. Now, even in only two matches with Tuchel at the helm, there is a fluidity to the offense that has been absent for a few months.
The biggest strategic wrinkle has been the move to a hybrid of the 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1 formations that change depending on whether or not Chelsea is in possession. The system is comparable to the one that the Blues used under Antonio Conte between 2016-2018. The wing backs, played by Callum Hudson-Odoi and Marcos Alonso on Sunday, would come back to support the back three of Cesar Azpilicueta, Thiago Silva, and Antonio Rudiger on defense. Then, after the ball was won, Hudson-Odoi moved higher up the pitch, forcing the right forward to drop into the attacking midfield role behind the No. 9. Mason Mount played well in this position, creating a few chances for his teammates.
Hudson-Odoi has by and far been the standout player of the nascent Tuchel revolution, winning Man of the Match honors in both appearances under his new manager. His performances have echoed those of a prime Victor Moses during the Conte days, with his work rate going forwards and backwards earning him applause from the pundits. His assist for Azpilicueta’s goal and deflected shot that struck the woodwork in the 57’ against Burnley were both moments of individual magic that have defined the young Englishman’s time in the Chelsea first team. He is sure to be a stalwart in the starting XI going forward.
The change of system has also allowed for some forgotten members of the squad to increase their playing time. Marcos Alonso was a particular beneficiary against the Clarets, proving that he can be a serious asset to any team as an attacking-minded wing back. His goal to seal the Blues’ win was an objectively incredible finish, settling the ball with both his chest and knee before rocketing it past a helpless Nick Pope. Ben Chilwell has been a top player in this Chelsea side so far this season, but if Alonso can consistently replicate his form from Sunday, he will surely be challenging the summer signing for a spot in the first team.
Looking at how the lineup might evolve in the future, there are a few improvements that can be made. N’Golo Kante was on the bench against Burnley, although he is still recovering from a hamstring injury that has kept him sidelined for the past few matches. He will likely replace either Jorginho or Mateo Kovacic in the heart of midfield once he is fully fit, although there will almost certainly be rotation because of the crowded upcoming fixture list.
Additionally, Reece James deserves to at least be considered to start at right wing back based on his performances from earlier in the season. In order to accommodate both him and Hudson-Odoi, it would be interesting to see Tuchel move Hudson-Odoi to the left wing back position with Hakim Ziyech at left forward to form a seriously dangerous overlapping tandem.
The formation will presumably be the same against Spurs on Thursday in what is one of the most important games of Chelsea’s season. If the Blues are to remain in the chase for the top four, three points against a direct rival would go a long way. Tuchel’s team selection will be a huge talking point, but regardless of which players are starting, at least it feels like there is a plan.