Chelsea has been in fine form under Thomas Tuchel’s guidance thus far, but the real test lies ahead. The Blues host Newcastle before a daunting run that includes Atletico Madrid, Manchester United, Everton and Liverpool. The game against the Magpies represents the chance for one final tune-up ahead of the tough fixtures.
Here are three things to look for in the contest against Steve Bruce’s men:
1. Who can pick the lock for Chelsea?
Despite the obvious uptick in form, Chelsea is still yet to register a truly convincing win under Thomas Tuchel. While the defense has been mostly rock solid—save for a hilarious Antonio Rudiger own goal—it’s the attacking that has been problematic in recent weeks.
The exact problem is hard to pin down. In some matches, it’s terrible finishing. In others, it’s an inability to turn dominating possession into meaningful chances. What has been consistent is that—even though Chelsea is winning games—the product on the field is somewhat underwhelming, especially given Tuchel’s reputation for flowing, attacking football.
Fortunately, this battered Newcastle team should offer a good opportunity to try and work out the kinks. Bruce’s side hasn’t been great at any point this season, and is now dealing with a rash of injuries at just about every position. The Blues will almost certainly dominate possession, much more than they did against Barnsley in the FA Cup midweek. That bodes well for players like Hakim Ziyech and Jorginho, who should have the space to pick a killer pass or two. Whether or not they’re actually capable of doing it is a different question, but this will be as good an opportunity as any to get some live fire practice in.
If those routes fail, things become a bit trickier. Chelsea just doesn’t have the coordinated understanding to set up intricate passing moves in and around the box to fashion chances. This has historically led to matches filled with zillions of half-hearted crosses to no one, or a bunch of failed attempts at dribbling past defenders into the box. Tuchel was ostensibly brought in to fix that problem, and he has yet to make any meaningful inroads towards solving it. Hopefully things finally fall into place on Monday.