For the first time in what seems like forever, Chelsea is on an unbeaten run. The Blues have won two and drawn one under newly-appointed manager Thomas Tuchel and top four is back in sight. The west Londoners now travel to northern England to take on a surprisingly red-hot Sheffield United team. The Blades began the season with one of the English top flight’s worst ever beginnings, but now have won three of their last five Premier League matches. These are two completely different teams than those that took the pitch for the Blues’ 4-1 win in November, so there’s no telling what will go down.
Here are three things to look for in the match:
1. Defensive set-up
While we’re still in the early days of Tuchel’s reign at Chelsea, this managerial stint for the German feels different. All the talk during the first few hours of his time in charge of the Blues was focused on his tactical flexibility and unpredictability. Yet, Tuchel’s side has kept a consistent shape for the first three matches, and he’s showing no signs of shifting at the moment.
Unfortunately selection issues could force the 47-year-old’s hand in upcoming matches. Veteran Thiago Silva limped off with a muscle injury against Tottenham after an acrobatic clearance. The Brazilian centerback has been a rock at the back for the Blues all season, but he’s now set for a somewhat lengthy stint on the sideline. Early signs show he could miss two to three weeks—although nothing about that number is concrete. In all likelihood though, the 36-year-old will miss Sunday’s contest against Sheffield United. Factor in the fact Kurt Zouma missed the London Derby with a slight knock picked up in training and Chelsea’s defense could be stretched thin.
Zouma and Silva likely won’t play Sunday meaning it’d be incredibly risky for Tuchel to play three at the back. He’d be deploying all three healthy centerbacks—Andreas Christensen, Antonio Rudiger and Cesar Azpilicueta—in his 3-4-3, leaving no centerhalf reinforcements amongst the reserves. Of course, the fullbacks on the bench could represent emergency options or the opportunity to change formations should a starter get hurt, but better safe than sorry. Tuchel’s tactical mind will be put to the test on Sunday and his dedication to the 3-4-3 will be challenged.