Tactics and Transfers: Chelsea show their class during injury crises

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 30: Reece James and Ben Chilwell of Chelsea celebrate after the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Chelsea at St. James Park on October 30, 2021 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 30: Reece James and Ben Chilwell of Chelsea celebrate after the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Chelsea at St. James Park on October 30, 2021 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images) /

Chelsea rolled to a 3-0 victory against Newcastle United in a further example of their strength in depth and team play.

Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea has more in common with the Blues sides of the past than they do with the more popular sides footballing hipsters would like to shoehorn them into being. This Blues side, as I have said before, isn’t actually a very attacking side. Tuchel is smart enough to save himself the trouble in the press of saying he’s defensive and that winning is what matters most even though that really is OK to say. That though is a rant for another time.

This side under Tuchel are pragmatic, united, and resilient in a way that the best Chelsea sides from history have always been. Despite losing star strikers Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner the side were fantastic. 3-0 away to Newcastle, despite their tough period at the moment, is a good result for anyone in the Premier League. St. James Park with a stadium full of their Geordie fanbase is nothing to turn your nose up at.

The fact that the Blues were able to put in such a performance is a sign of good things to come. If a side has lost over 100 million pounds worth of strikers and managed to perform even better than it usually does when it has them that’s a great situation to be in.

At some point it will need to be addressed that Kai Havertz does look like a massively better player when he is played as a striker. When he was posting video game-like numbers at Bayer Leverkusen he was replacing their center forward as well but the truth is for Chelsea he has never looked as good coming in from the wing as he does as a striker. In fact, he is rather prolific and manages to ghost himself into marvelous positions in and around the box with regularity.

It would suggest that at some point Chelsea are going to try more aggressively to make the 3-5-2 combination work. With Havertz and Lukaku up front and both playing up to their potentials Chelsea would have the best strike force in Europe. No one else would have the same level of technical ability, size, strength and speed or the same volume of goal threats. They’d be good in the air, on the ground, against a low block or in transition.

The Blues have tried this before and it didn’t work but these sort of things take time.

In fact Chelsea may finally be seeing the artist formerly known as Kai Havertz in full flight for the first time. The young man had the worst possible situation to come to a new and notoriously difficult division in. The issues that arose read like a laughable laundry list of once in a lifetime problems that would throw off even some of the most seasoned professionals let alone a 20 year old boy.

This may be the year that we see Kai Havertz start to knock on the door of his Zinedine Zidane-esque potential. Of all the players compared to the Frenchman Havertz is the only one who also matches his stature. Every year a new player comes from France who people say is the “Next Zidane”. If I were French I would be hoping for that too. That said they are almost all technically proficient but small players.

One of the fascinating things about the French star was that he was also tall, strong, mean and graceful. That strange combination of physicality, stature and sublime skill is incredibly rare and Kai Havertz does have it. Havertz is quietly a unit. He’s 6’2’’, quick as a girlfriend with a credit card. He just needs to grow into it and now while not depressed and isolated, ill with COVID and unable to travel to see his family and forced to train with only the cold sad inspiration sapping hum of a computer monitor to observe him he can do it.

That said we’d be remiss not to talk about the players who have really shown in the past couple of weeks wouldn’t we? The wingbacks Ben Chilwell and Reece James. Remember those who said “Why play Chilwell when we have Marcos Alonso playing well”? Now don’t you see how foolish they looked? This is why because Chilwell is every bit, if not more, of the attacking threat of Marcos Alonso while also a fantastic defender with a great engine. Chilwell spends more time up and down the wing digging players out, offering options to his teammates, overlapping and then tracking back than I have seen since Ashley Cole. He’s a complete player.

Tuchel handled the Alonso-Chilwell situation well. Everyone knows that Alonso will play like a genius for about 10-15 games during a season but then he’ll also give you some of the most absent performances as well. Tuchel got that run of Alonso’s form out of the way at the beginning of the season and used it to rest Chilwell. He didn’t mess around with idiotic “rotate-them-until-we’ve-killed-their-form” nonsense. He simply let Alonso be the enigma that he is until he ran out and then played the best left back in English football afterwards. Tuchel in his lovable way just did what was necessary without fussing. Bless him.

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This though is where we save the best for last: Reece James.

When Reece James smiles, I smile. When Reece James plays football, I smile. When Reece James is regarded as the best right wingback in the world and one of the most complete players in the Premier League and Europe I will be right. The way Reece James hits a football should be put in a museum. For a player as strong and barrel chested as he is to have the technical proficiency that he does is absurd. It makes you understand Tariq Lamptey asking to leave does it not? Lamptey is damn fine player. I hate seeing him play well for Brighton in fact but if you were watching Reece James everyday in training you’d say “Damn I gotta get the hell out of here man” too.

There are Moscow Ballet dancers and symphonies with less purity in them than the way Reece James strikes a football. The fact that he plies his trade for us is the sort of thing that you should look at a friend of yours this Monday and just nod in quiet satisfaction about. You should go ask the girl you’ve been too nervous to talk to out for drinks. Buy the equity you’re too nervous to invest in. Wear good clothes and eat the good food and believe in yourself. Have some confidence. If it’s possible that Reece James could come out of our academy and be as good as he is and be only 21 that means that anything is possible and certainly anything is possible for this side.

This team is fantastic in particular because there’s plenty of argument for many of the players in the side to receive equal plaudits. I’m just not doing it today but don’t think they’re not appreciated.

Edouard Mendy is an inspiration and a gentleman. He’s the best goalkeeper in the world bar none. N’Golo Kante and Jorginho are both fantastic and I haven’t always been easy on the latter I admit but he has won me over. The defense is great. The midfield sublime and the attack are still finding their feet but doing it for the team and not themselves and that’s why it all works.

This team is playing and acting like one. Leave Liverpool to go on and boast about their own genius to anyone who doesn’t care or doesn’t want to listen. They love their own voices and that’s fine let them listen to it. Let Manchester City continue their brand of copacetic excellence. Let Manchester United keep on doing whatever it is they seem to do now. This Chelsea team are a proper, proper football side. A side littered with talent, potential, youth, experience and most of all character and that’s what the best Chelsea sides are made of.

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Against Newcastle United they reminded everyone of that. Well done you Blues.