With eight wins and four draws, it’s safe to say that Thomas Tuchel is enjoying one of the best starts to life as Chelsea’s manager. His 12-game unbeaten streak is only matched by Scolari and Mourinho 1.0, which on the surface seems like a near-perfect record. But the involvement of the name “Luiz Felipe Scolari” in that statistic should act as the cautionary tale for all connected to the Blues.
The problem with unbeaten streaks is that there is a tendency to bury all potential issues under the guise of the “nobody can beat us” spirit. But the longer these issues are ignored, the bigger the eventual implosion is bound to be. Frank Lampard found that the hard way after his 17-game unbeaten streak ended in the first half of the campaign and his side deteriorated game after game until he was sacked.
Thomas Tuchel has created a sound structure, set up to control each game. Defensive solidarity has returned to Chelsea, but the attack is found wanting. There are times when Tuchel can blame the decision making of his players, as that seems like a recurring theme for a few years now.
But on Saturday, it was Tuchel’s system that failed, not his players. With the added context of Leeds United boasting one of the worst defenses in the league, the stalemate against Bielsa might’ve been the first “bad” game under Tuchel’s tenure. So where did it go wrong?
1. The Christian Pulisic wingback experiment
There was plenty of speculation after the line ups were announced on Chelsea’s formation. With all of Mason Mount, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic starting, there were suggestions that Tuchel had shifted from his successful 3-4-3 system to an offensive 4-2-3-1 to accommodate all the attackers. But as it turned out, Pulisic started the game as the right wingback in the 3-4-3.
It was a gamble, with Pulisic not only operating in unfamiliar territory but the American already devoid of confidence. The gamble failed, as logic would dictate, with Pulisic struggling to track back and often isolated on the right flank. Tuchel tweaked the system to a 4-2-3-1 after the opening quarter to make amends for his unnecessary experiment, but the change in shape made the rest of the team look uncomfortable.
Most importantly Tuchel’s tinkering is undoing the strides Pulisic in the left inside forward role last season, draining the American’s venom. Pulisic is at his best when driving towards goal from the left, attacking the box at every opportunity. Against a team that would let him use his pace to exploit the space in and around the box, Tuchel didn’t allow Pulisic to play to his strengths and failed to reignite the American’s form.