4. Who makes the right subs at the right times?
The idea of substitutions is probably still a bit of an awkward topic in relation to Thomas Tuchel, after the stunt he pulled with Callum Hudson-Odoi last weekend. Against Atletico, there wasn’t anything to write home about; the subs came in and helped seal the game up with no real fireworks either way. Against Manchester United, though, Tuchel’s choices of who to bring on and off could very well be the deciding factor.
Chelsea and United are two of just four teams in the Premier League who have a full bench of substitutes that could come in and change a match, the others being Manchester City and Liverpool of course. It’s a great problem to have, but when you’re only allowed to make three per match (thanks, Chris Wilder), it’s a bit of an art form to make sure you’re picking the right ones.
Given Chelsea’s squad structure, most subs Tuchel could make would be in the attacking areas. The team is arguably a bit bloated with forwards and wingers that just can’t all be used at the same time. United, however, have a bevy of midfield options, giving them a greater ability to change the focus and strategy of their team by reconfiguring the shape and responsibilities of the players in the middle of the pitch.
That being the case, the impetus will be on Tuchel to heap pressure on United by making attacking substitutions to either increase Chelsea’s advantage or press for an equalizing or winning goal. He doesn’t really have any other option. There aren’t any John Obi Mikel’s in the squad to act as a closer.
Along with that, it’s also important that he makes his subs earlier than Solskjaer, so as to keep the pressure on United. So far, Tuchel has inherited Lampard’s habit of waiting until the 70th minute or so to make his moves (ignoring the Hudson-Odoi debacle), which can often be too late to meaningfully turn the tide of a match. If he can make his first change around the 55th or 60th minute, that should still be early enough in the half to swing the momentum in Chelsea’s favor as everyone is getting their footing back after the break.
Substitutions are a mind game, and I feel confident that Tuchel is a mite cleverer than Solskjaer. If this is a close match at halftime, early changes will likely be the defining moments if there is eventually a winner. Tuchel has the boldness and the personnel to really go for the jugular if things are tight, and Sunday could be a chance to show that off and to help validate his credentials as one of the game’s master tacticians.
Or, he could sub off a sub again, and everything will go to hell.
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