Chelsea’s squad has been turned upside down by Thomas Tuchel as personnel changes on a massive scale have been implemented to the starting contingent. The new manager has shifted around those left out in the cold into the first team and relegated some former first team players to insignificant or non-roles. So far, the changes have worked out pretty well for the German manager as he has gleaned 10 points from a possible 12 in his first four games. Yet, let’s take look at some of these changes and how they may ultimately impact the squad as the implications could be massive.
Tuchel first of all has changed his formation from the more-utilized 4-3-3 by former manager Frank Lampard to mostly a 3-4-3, or some variation thereof employing two wingbacks.
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Immediately, that puts greater emphasis on defense, theoretically at least having five defenders on the pitch, similar to Antonio Conte in his brief—but productive—tenure with the Blues. In doing so, Tuchel has also reinserted the rotational player under Lampard, like Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic, into the starting line-up as the two No. 6s. Meanwhile, other midfielders like N’Golo Kante and Kai Havertz have been relegated to the bench, although partly due to injury. Elsewhere, Mason Mount has been moved further forward as opposed to his primarily attacking No. 8 role under Lampard. Note: wherever he plays, Mount is an asset to Chelsea.
Those are just some of the areas in which Chelsea’s squad deployment has been turned upside down or inside out, call it what you will. If Tuchel stays with this alignment—and why wouldn’t he with his success so far?—it potentially freezes out or limits the playing time of players like Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech, the aforementioned Havertz and to some extent, Tammy Abraham and Ben Chilwell. Several of these individuals were high profile acquisitions for big money over the summer, brought in to revitalize a languid Blues attack. Unfortunately, the attack is still stuttering with little scoring from the team’s forwards, the recent winning streak notwithstanding. None of these attackers will be happy on the bench for very long, regardless of whether or not that situation continues.
Meanwhile, Alonso—ostracized and invisible for months under Lampard—assumed the starting left wingback position, thus pushing Chilwell aside. James, at least to some extent, has also been displaced by Hudson-Odoi. In addition, Kurt Zouma—stellar early in the season and one of the best players in the league—has become a forgotten man. He has been little seen since before Lampard’s departure and hasn’t had any time under Tuchel whatsoever, whether because of injury or some other reason. Andreas Christensen, formerly forgotten himself, was subbed in for the injured Thiago Silva and acquitted himself excellently against Sheffield United. Another player further complicating selection for Tuchel.
As always, when good players are relegated to secondary roles, it is a problem in the making for the manager now and for the club in the summer. It’s a boondoggle of considerable proportions, but as was heretofore mentioned, it has worked so far. Will it continue to work when the opposition gets tougher though?
Fortunately, the real iron won’t appear on the schedule for a little while.
Chelsea’s next game is an FA Cup tilt against Barnsley away, followed by Newcastle at home and Southampton away—all winnable games for sure. If six Premier League points are won, they should keep Chelsea in a very nice position in the league table. A Barnsley win will put the Blues in the quarterfinals of the cup, as well. Tuchel is going to have to manage through this topsy-turvy situation of player selection for the rest of the season, if not longer. It’s a sticky wicket anytime, but with a team loaded with first team-caliber players—many of whom can’t get into the starting XI enough for their liking—problems will ensue. The better the bench-sitter, the sooner the issue will erupt.
In the end, one has to be glad they are Tuchel’s decisions to make, not our own. That’s why he makes the big bucks, although that doesn’t make his team selection process any less challenging. It’s always an issue when top players don’t play, but let’s see how he handles the situation the rest of the campaign and how the club deals with it in the summer. There’s never a dull moment at Chelsea, is there?