Tactics and Transfers: Chelsea is strong, but can capitalize more

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 11: Romelu Lukaku of Chelsea FC celebrates scoring his teams first goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge on September 11, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 11: Romelu Lukaku of Chelsea FC celebrates scoring his teams first goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge on September 11, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images) /

Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Aston Villa was an important match to take the maximum number of points in. It was even better that Thomas Tuchel was able to use a heavily rotated squad and make the most of it. It was apparent exactly why some of the ordinarily first 11 players are exactly who they are, but the fact that the Blues were able to win the game with a scoreline that wasn’t exactly fair to Aston Villa—who was threatening and dominant in spells—is a good thing for Chelsea.

Tuchel’s immediate recognition that Saul Niguez was not prepared for the pace and physicality of the Premier League and substation of him for Jorginho at the half was the decision that exemplified exactly why the German manager is the right man for the Blues. It was a smart decision that was well recognized and he didn’t let it turn into anything worse than it had already showed a very strong possibility of being.

Saul had several poorly timed and placed passes and was caught lingering in possession on too many occasions. He looked shellshocked and bereft of confidence. It was a debut match in which he was thrown in, but it was definitely one to forget for the Spaniard. If Edouard Mendy wasn’t as good a goalkeeper as he is, it would have cost Chelsea a lead. Tuchel didn’t waste time and hauled off the still-adjusting Spanish midfielder for Jorginho and the game immediately changed.

Credit should be given where it is due in the Chelsea team, but the Blues still have a lot to worry about elsewhere

light. Related Story. Chelsea vs Aston Villa: Three lessons learnt in big win

The players who showed their class to the highest extent during the match were Mendy, who continued to make his case for the fact that he could very well be the best actual goalkeeper in the Premier League, Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic and Romelu Lukaku. Special credit should be given to the Croatian and Belgian players each because, without them, the Blues draw this match. Kovacic put in the sort of complete performance that Chelsea supporters and management have been aching for him to find for years.

Usually good in possession but with little end product or proactive passing into the final third, the Croatian showed that he must surely have taken that criticism on board and worked on his game not only over the summer, but in training, as well. Where Kovacic used to appear to lose his sense of sight and balance when within shooting range, his finish to capitalize on Tyrone Mings’ horrible back pass was the sort precise work that separates the good from the great.

Credit should be given to Tuchel in that regard.

I have long said that you can tell how good a coach is by the improvement in players that you can see between managers. A good example is Victor Moses under Antonio Conte, showing just how fantastic the Italian is as a manager. Lukaku under Conte is another one. Moses was wanted by Barcelona under Conte and now he plays in Russia. Chelsea paid £97.5 million for Lukaku under Conte and the player who dominated Aston Villa showed exactly how good of a player he is too.

Under both Sarri and Lampard, it was becoming worryingly obvious that Kovacic was a one-trick pony. He could dribble and sometimes tackle but nothing else. He was good in posession, literally. He was good with the ball at his feet but never made anything more of it than that. Kovacic never moved the ball forward with quick, direct passing. He rarely read the pace of play early enough to create progressive and easy opportunities for forwards either. The 27-year-old dribbled around in circles and then laid the ball off sideways or backwards while all chance of counterattacking goals died. This contest though was a show of the player that Kovacic can be—and that Inter Milan and Real Madrid were both hoping for—when they saw him as the heir to Luka Modric. This performance from the Croatian midfielder was simply sublime.

Lukaku was excellent, as well, and that was in large part due to the fact he was actually given some of the chances that he requires as a forward. He should be played through five to seven times per match on the counter attack, almost as a pressure release valve for the defense. A long and fast ball on the ground where he and a defender jockey for position is the perfect opportunity for him. The Belgian capitalized on one such opportunity provided by the previously praised Kovacic—it was perfect. His second goal was what Chelsea paid £90+ million for this summer Power, precision, professionalism and ruthlessness. He held off three Villa players in a tight box of space before rocketing the ball into the top corner with little to no drawback from his leg at all.

The rest of his game he bullied central defenders and held up the ball well. For a few moments when Timo Werner came on, we were also able to see exactly what the future might look like with two fast and powerful forwards playing together. That is only a matter of time. Chelsea deserved this win and in a match where they were able to rotate in, the likes of Trevoh Chalobah, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Saul and Hakim Ziyech showed exactly why the Blues will be competing on all fronts this season.

It also shows why they should bite the bullet now and send N’Golo Kante away on vacation. Kante should be sent to Dubai with a personal trainer in accompaniment, as well as his family. He should be given 30 days to get his body right for the first time in three years. It’s the beginning of the season and Chelsea now finally has enough experienced and talented players that it can let its crown jewel actually have the rest he has needed since Maurizio Sarri broke him.

This match against Aston Villa is exactly the sort that unfortunately, under both Lampard and the previously named Italian manager, the Blues would find ways to drop points in. It was necessary to play Kante in these matches because of the sheer volume of mistakes the rest of the team’s mental weakness would allow them to make. Now though, with Tuchel at the helm and the squad in a much better place, that is less of an issue.

His repeated ankle and knee injuries have persisted because at some point or another, he is always rushed back to fix a problem for Chelsea or France. He—being the soldier that he is—does so without complaint, despite the impact it has now had on his career for a couple seasons. The amount of times he should not have been allowed to go to France duty because he had a knock at Chelsea, and then is forced to play for 90 minutes to cover up mistakes in the French tactical set-up, before returning to west London in worse condition than he left is ridiculous. Those issues then snowball throughout the rest of the Blues’ season with little choice but to leave Kante’s health entirely up to luck and medical staff.

Chelsea should, in the interest of the rest of the season’s health, give Kante the month to look after his. We saw that the Blues have the depth and Tuchel has the tactical acumen to make it through matches without him. While the gravity of the season is still in its infancy, Chelsea should make the sacrifice to finally fix this problem. Otherwise, when the season reaches the zenith of finals, knockout matches and six-pointer title deciders, Kante will continually need to be monitored or even worse—continue to be injured.

Kovacic, Jorginho, Saul and Ruben Loftus-Cheek can cover the midfield for now. When things are more serious later though, Chelsea will need to call on the French midfielder. The Blues must do what is necessary now to let him be ready for that moment.

FIFA Player of the Year power rankings: Can Chelsea star win it?. dark. Next

Now is the time to look after the season’s final goals by doing what is right now.