Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp and Chelsea’s Thomas Tuchel have been entwined since the latter took over from the former at Mainz 05, and again at Borussia Dortmund. But Chelsea fans will be hoping he can conjure a different kind of dethroning when the Blues head to Liverpool this Thursday.
Unfortunately, although Tuchel has had ample success serving as Klopp’s successor, he hasn’t had much in games going up against his two-time predecessor. He’s faced Klopp as many times as any manager in his career, and none have beaten him as many times. Nine losses in 14 encounters, with just two wins, makes for grim reading, literalizing the sensation that the 53-year-old is always one step ahead of him.
Still, you’re only as good as your last game in some quarters, and in the duo’s most recent tussle Tuchel obtained his first win since 2010. Should he wish to make it two in two, he would do well to heed the tactics used that time out (for the record, I don’t for one second think this is news to him, but it might to you).
On that occasion, though the attacking merits of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and co (Edison Cavani’s Parisian nickname) stole the headlines with a peppering display, it was the peppery midfield pivot of Marquinhos and Marco Verratti that ran the show. And when I say peppery midfield pivot, I mean that all-seeing, all-doing “double six” we’ve been hearing so much about.
Since N’Golo Kante’s return from injury, we’ve seen him for a formidable partnership with Mateo Kovacic, stepping into the metronomic boots of Jorginho and returning them to their former disruptively marauding roots. This was epitomized in the closing moments of the weekend’s bore-draw with Manchester United – the only other notable event being the gradual realization of all Chelsea fans that they actually, unfathomably missed Marcos Alonso – when the Frenchman thwarted the League’s most potent counter-attack with an interception so improbable it begged rewinding.
With Kante back doing the improbable, and Kovacic looking as indefatigably composed as he ever has, it could allow Tuchel the platform to finally unleash his attack – permitting the kind of frantic freedom that allowed Mbappe and Neymar to run riot at the Parc des Princes that November night.
Of course, that’s something pundits and punters alike have been pining after for some time, and perhaps Anfield is as ambitious a petri-dish there is for such a thing, but it warrants considering, especially considering the potential burn out of players like Mason Mount. The Englishman has – ironically, for all the concern at his initial omission – retained his status as the Blues’ best offensive player of the moment under Tuchel, but sooner or later the confidence-drained, Covid-recovering German elephant in the room must be addressed.
Though Liverpudlian eyes may be more glued to the German that got away – Timo Werner – there’s no doubt Blues fans everywhere would love to see at least a glimpse of what an in-form Havertz can do by the end of the season. With Werner suitably firing once more, the gangly gegenpresser will be next on Tuchel’s list of lockdown home improvements.
Putting him up against such a formidable gaggle of gegenpressers (it is a gaggle of gegenpressers, no?) on Merseyside may be fire and brimstone stuff, but with Kante and Kovacic in the groove they’re in, Tuchel could even do away with his precious 3-4-2-1 for a more abrasive 4-4-2, such as, yes, the one utilized in 2018 to such a great effect against the Reds’ fabled 4-3-3.
In which case, who knows, an unlikely pairing of the costly Germanic couple up top on their own could be on the cards. If not, Giroud in the Cavani role and Werner in the Mbappe one seems equally enticing. Essentially, the options for experimentation – even in this British baptism of one of Germany’s most tactically astute managerial meetings – are as plentiful as the scoreline permutations.