Chelsea and Thomas Tuchel have completed part one of the new manager’s introduction. This run of four Premier League games were important to turn things around before a breather in the FA Cup against Barnsley. While it would have been wrong to judge Tuchel too much on team selection in his first week at the club, now he has had enough that there is an inkling of who fits into a Tuchel Chelsea and who is on the outs.
It would be remiss to not discuss the formation change. Tuchel immediately put the Blues into a three at the back system with the only variation coming in the front three. He hasn’t deviated from this thus far but he is known to use a few formations to combat the opponent’s strengths. The formation is important because it cuts down the amount of attackers Chelsea can play from four or five to three, with Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic at wingback blurring that distinction.
It is already clear who is integral to Tuchel’s ideas. Edouard Mendy, Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger, and Jorginho have started all four matches and gone the distance in each. Mateo Kovacic has also started all four, but he was subbed off once (Tottenham).
Following closely behind this group is Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi, both of whom started three games and made a substitute appearance in the fourth. Thiago Silva has started three and surely would have made it four were it not for his injury. Timo Werner also has three starts but was subbed off in one match.
Rounding off the group of players with three or more appearances is Marcos Alonso with two starts and a substitute appearance, matched by Reece James. Also, don’t forget Christian Pulisic who was a substitute in three matches before “family issues” kept him from the fourth.
That makes 12 players with three or more appearances for Tuchel thus far. For now, this can be considered his “core” group that he trusts. Either they have taken to his ideas quickly or the alternatives have been injured. It is too early to say one way or another but the players with four appearances are surely in for the long haul with Tuchel.
The group after that is the group that may be scratching their head over what is needed. Some of them have been injured or fatigued which will excuse them somewhat. That is where Kai Havertz, N’Golo Kante, and Hakim Ziyech find themselves. The former two have two appearances whereas Ziyech has just one (and he was subbed off at that). For those three, plus Andreas Christensen given how little the back three will probably rotate, it would be a bit much to say they don’t fit into Tuchel’s plans. For whatever reason, they simply haven’t had the opportunity at all to make a fair judgement yet.
The same can’t be said for either Olivier Giroud, Tammy Abraham, or Ben Chilwell. Giroud has started twice but been subbed off twice as well as being subbed off twice after playing poorly. Chilwell has the same experience. Abraham, meanwhile, has the indignity of being subbed off at half time without (publicly anyways) explanation with only one other substitute appearance to show.
The concern with these three is they have been given chances and Tuchel’s not liked what he’s seen. It is early yet and they can turn things around but thus far the evidence points to them being non factors.
Of course, it could be worse for them because several players haven’t played at all for Tuchel yet. The goalkeepers Kepa Arrizabalaga and Willy Caballero should be no surprise. Kurt Zouma shouldn’t be either given how little defense will need rotation and he has been injured too.
The real concern should be with Emerson and Billy Gilmour. Emerson got to watch as Alonso came back from exile and went straight into the starting XI. Emerson, long the second fiddle, suddenly finds himself even further down the list.
Gilmour, meanwhile, was convinced to stay at Chelsea rather than go on loan. It is looking like he was duped so far. Tuchel’s only comments on the young Scotsman have included concerns about his physicality which was never really an issue when he was playing in the Premier League in other matches. The Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic pivot is near set in stone thus far but even still, for Gilmour to stay he had to see the field. He hasn’t, and if he misses the Euros as a result it will be an absolute tragedy of squad management.
Four matches is admittedly a small sample size, but Tuchel has been consistent enough in some of his selections to draw meaning out of them. There is very much a core developing followed by players on the fringe, players that should be concerned, and players that should be considering a loan or transfer for next season.
The Barnsley lineup will surely add yet another layer to all of this based on who Tuchel plays in his first English cup match. The have nots will be wondering if they can have some and it will be up to Tuchel to deliver or make a statement.