Chelsea losing 5-2 to West Brom at Stamford Bridge is an utter embarrassment, full stop. Yes, the Blues went down to 10 men just past the half hour mark but a team like Chelsea with alleged “standards” can’t let the 19th placed Premier League team score 20% of their Premier League goals on one day against them under any circumstances. Tactically there were no answers and the composure of so many previous matches quickly evaporated, leaving only a cluster.
Now, this isn’t a throw the baby out with the bath water moment. Thomas Tuchel has done a fantastic job so far and, even with the embarrassment of West Brom, it’s only his first loss. That isn’t a moment to hit the Chicken Little “the sky is falling!” button. It is, however, the moment to learn about the squad and start backing up how things are said to be done by actually doing them.
It’s hard to shake too much up when the team is winning. Tuchel has found ways to rotate pretty well even still, but it is hard to say his rotations involve any clear rhyme or reason. That is part of the issue. Chelsea has a large squad to be used, but ideas like merit based selection are hard to see. Porto can be a chance to change that after the first loss.
Chelsea’s defense is probably the area in least need of attention, but after West Brom it should be looked at. Andreas Christensen has bene fantastic in Thiago Silva’s absence. Silva’s return was less than stellar. Mind, there were other reasons for his red (more on that shortly) but there really is no reason not to give Christensen his spot back for Porto even with Silva suspended against Crystal Palace.
Elsewhere, Kurt Zouma and Cesar Azpilicueta both struggled when the game went to 10 v 11. It is hard to hold that against either of them but the play at the back quickly became nonsensical at times. This would be an easier decision making process if, the day after Chelsea lost their heads and Tuchel said “hey don’t lose your heads, Antonio Rudiger lost his head in training. Composure on the pitch doesn’t just happen naturally. It is something that starts in training and it is no wonder the Blues tend to struggle as soon as the going gets tough if they can’t keep it collected in training the very next day.
Midfield will also be an issue that not much can be done about. Mateo Kovacic was poor and Jorginho was absolutely terrible, but with N’Golo Kante injured, they will likely both need to play against Porto. That is, of course, unless bad performances are treated equally by Tuchel and Billy Gilmour is actually given a shot. A Champions League quarterfinal may seem too big a step up for a player that bossed Liverpool last year though who knows.
Wingbacks can more or less be excused for West Brom even though they played pretty poorly. Wingback is already a high demand and exploitable position, going down a man pretty much guarantees they’ll be pressured more than they can handle. Of course, there is something to be said about stick with three at the back and trying to play from the back when down a man, but that is a conversation for another day.
The attack is the main issue for Chelsea with or without a full contingent on the pitch. The Blues are living off set pieces and penalties far more than they are open play goals. Timo Werner started up top against West Brom, seemingly as a sign of trust to build his confidence, and he did pretty much nothing with the chance.
Meanwhile, Olivier Giroud can’t get a game and the player with the most goals in all comps, Tammy Abraham, can’t even get in the squad. “It isn’t personal” is Tuchel’s usual refrain here, but it certainly feels like it is when he’s been treated the harshest for bad performances and his competition for striker was all gone on break as Abraham rested up.
Simply put, if merit exists at Chelsea, Tuchel is going to have to prove it against Porto. Rewarding the West Brom capitulation with a Champions League quarter final is going to send a powerful message to some in the squad. That message being, no matter how well you train or how well you play, if you aren’t in the “core”, you’re not getting a chance.
It is time for Tuchel to show his teeth and show that West Brom can’t be an acceptable result if a player wants to play again the same week. It is time to shake things up and show the squad that these things matter and everyone actually gets a fair chance when these things happen. Otherwise, Tuchel will only be undermining himself.