It is perhaps the great irony of Roman Abramovich’s reign at Chelsea Football Club that for all the talk of desiring all out attacking football and aggression, the lack of stability often leads the club down the route of more tactically pragmatic managers. Thomas Tuchel is nothing if not pragmatic. He has said that he would rather play attacking football as everyone in the sport seems almost instructed to say these days, but then followed that up by immediately implementing a very solid three at the back.
Since the arrival of the German manager, the Blues have immediately looked more stable defensively. Thus, they have also managed to move up the table quickly. The fastest way to start ensuring your side points is to make sure that you stop shipping goals. Tuchel knows that and saw to that fact immediately. Interestingly though, the side has looked rather pedestrian at times, and as far as Maurizio Sarri-like at other points. Large amounts of possession are followed by a lack of guile and killer instinct. It does seem that what the team lacks is a player who is going to just selfishly take a shot every once in a while and force the issue.
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At no point during the match against Manchester United did the Blues look like they were going to lose, which is definitely a positive thing one has to admit. The fact is though, that positivity is tempered by the truth that they never really looked like they were going to win it either.
Mason Mount continues to be a bright spot and is improving at such a rapid pace that it does look like it may be hard for Kai Havertz to work his way into the squad. The combination of Thomas Muller and Kevin De Bruyne that Mount is turning into is something that everyone in the Chelsea academy should be very proud of.
The other player who looked marvelous was Callum Hudson-Odoi, until he was withdrawn with what looked to be some sort of knee or quadriceps injury. In the future, I personally believe that Hudson-Odoi’s final form will be on the left wing, cutting in onto his right foot as he did as a key player in Chelsea’s youth academy. That said, the valuable minutes and experience he is getting right now as a right winger and wingback are going to be important in his development.
The rest of the team simply did what should be expected from a bunch of men earning luxurious wages to play football. They put in a disciplined and tactical effort against a team in the top four. United’s attack was poor for large stretches and the collective inexperience of Daniel James, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood never looked like troubling Chelsea’s defense. They certainly didn’t with a Bruno Fernandes, who seemed more interested in making hand gestures at the referee than showing off that he has been the best player in England the past 18 months.
This is what brings us to the fact that Chelsea spent the entire week being linked with Erling Haaland.
The Blues are always better when they have an aggressive and physical striker up top and it is hard to make an argument against signing Haaland these days. Ultimately though, the youth revolution is important. When a talent of that level is available, you sign them if you can—that has always been the truth. Most clubs are taken out of the running for premier talents because of their status or lack of financial weight, which is why the “if” is so important. That said, if you can sign a Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski, Kylian Mbappe and now Haaland, you do it. Players of that level of talent are too few and far in between to turn them down.
Who knows what the signing would cost the side and what moves would need to be made in order to fit him into the squad, but that’s the cost of winning. Real Madrid never worry about that sort of thing, it just improves the squad and if someone is unhappy with the team getting better, they leave. Alvaro Morata, for example. If Chelsea was to pair its pragmatism with a striker who could do some of the work on their own, or at least capitalize on the chances the team does make, this side would very quickly become title challengers. The continued progress of Mount—coupled with a striker like Haaland, Tuchel’s fantastic tactical knowledge and his pragmatic approach—could be exactly the sort of side who steals a title or two.
That is why to return to the beginning of this Tuchel’s defensive pragmatism is so important. Games like this that end up finishing 1-0 instead of 0-0 are a bedrock fundamental of a winning side. Tuchel knows that and that is why he immediately fixed the glaring defensive issues of Chelsea’s side when he showed up.
Though the match was boring and ultimately non-glamorous, it showed a lot of the things that the Blues have improved perfectly to get to where they are now. That will be very important next season.