Following a pair of truly awful defeats, then Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri said his goal was to make plan A better before considering a plan B. Romantic as a notion that it may be, the idea doesn’t really work in the Premier League. Nine times out of 10, Manchester City and Liverpool have been able to win with their plan A in recent seasons. On the days they couldn’t, they switched to their plan B and gave themselves a better chance.
Chelsea has no real plan B. That has been the case all season. Frank Lampard gave up on his 4-2-3-1 formation early and went with 4-3-3 with dual eights. When that started to fail, there was nowhere for him to fall back to. He simply tried to make plan A work better.
Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea is lacking in a plan B now. The losses to Arsenal and Leicester City have highlighted that and it is a concern closing the season. This is not to dismiss the work Tuchel’s done with Chelsea this season. He’s been fantastic and his plan A has worked a charm. It is simply to point out that there was no alternative when things turned south in the last two matches.
Tuchel’s main change in both matches was to move Mason Mount back into the midfield pivot. He claims this is because Mount is better at long shots, which seems like something that is true on the surface level but there is little evidence under the hood to suggest Mount is a deep goal scorer a la Frank Lampard.
Furthermore, the substitutes Tuchel has made in the last two matches following dropping Mount deeper have been like for like. More attacking players sure, but not different players. The quality and profile of the plan A players wasn’t really the issue, it was the mechanics of the shape.
The closest Tuchel has gotten to a plan B has been going to a back four of sorts. This makes sense but Chelsea often still approaches in the same way they would in a three at the back shape.
Much of this isn’t Tuchel’s fault either. He can probably count on one hand the amount of times he’s had a full week of training. In his case, having joined midseason in one of the craziest packed schedules of all time, he really only has had time to make plan A better. Preseason will surely help with that, even with all the international tournaments digging into it this summer. At the same time, however, the club looks woefully unprepared to do anything different when things are going poorly. Against Arsenal the back end of the match can be described as helter skelter and against Leicester it can be described as decision paralysis.
Tuchel made a great deal of changes at his Paris Saint Germain side in response to adversities. Perhaps he hasn’t had the time for that but teams are very much starting to figure out the Blues’ plan A and the counters to it. With Mount dropping deeper being the only real idea, the Blues are short of options. Tuchel will have to figure out some solutions as the season closes and every match is more important than the last.