Going three games without a victory is almost unheard of for Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea and the German drew inspiration for his predecessor in helping guide the Blues back to winning ways against Southampton
Thomas Tuchel may have been Chelsea’s head coach for just over nine months now, but the supporters inside Stamford Bridge could have been forgiven for thinking his predecessor Frank Lampard was back in the dugout for the 3-1 victory over Southampton on Saturday.
Notably, those changes included four of the five players brought on against Juventus in the second half: Trevoh Chalobah, Ben Chilwell, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi.
In essence, this was surprising. While Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech were ineffectual in Turin, Tuchel was not the type of coach to drop a player after one below-par display.
Indeed, it was only last week that he had fielded an entirely foreign starting XI against Manchester City. Now, he was blooding four English players, all under the age of 25, in an attempt to get back to winning ways.
An early goal from an academy graduate? Check.
A multitude of missed opportunities to double their lead? Check.
A Timo Werner goal ruled out by VAR and a number of chances missed after that? Check and check.
Then came the penalty. Ben Chilwell had been handed his first Premier League start of the season ahead of Marcos Alonso and, on the whole, had produced a solid performance.
But the left-back could only blame himself when he was sold by the excellent Tino Livramento — the 18-year-old sold by Chelsea earlier this summer — and a lapse in judgment forced him into making a misguided lunge.
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James Ward-Prowse levelled from the spot and that familiar feeling of unease settled into the Stamford Bridge atmosphere. The fans had been here before all too often.
Tuchel usually likes his teams controlled and disciplined, adhering to his convoluted but effective tactical plan. They had suffocated Tottenham when beating them 3-0, dominated Crystal Palace by the same scoreline and battled to take a point away from Anfield with 10 men.
This game was far from a classic Chelsea performance under Tuchel.
Time and time again, the broadcast cameras turned to the German on the touchline as he berated his players and ranted about their mistakes. Chilwell and Hudson-Odoi were the main targets.
That was nothing new. Tuchel is often seen coaching his players through every pass, tackle and off-the-ball movement.
But it seemed for the first time this season, he was ready to embrace the chaotic nature that comes hand-in-hand with being the manager of Chelsea Football Club.
In Lampard’s first season in charge, the 2019-20 campaign, the Blues were one of the most entertaining sides to watch. Not because they were boasting one-touch, free-flowing football on a weekly basis — but because there was a genuine possibility that each game could end as a nine-goal thriller.
They finished the season in fourth place with 66 points, a mammoth 33 behind the winners Man City. But most tellingly was their goal statistics: 69 scored, 54 conceded — the most since Roman Abramovich took control of the club in 2003.
This game was cut from the same cloth. The second half resembled something of an NBA match in the fourth quarter, with both sides throwing bodies forward in search of a winner with the score deadlocked at 1-1.
Of course, it was Ward-Prowse’s uncharacteristic lunge on Jorginho which produced a red card after Martin Atkinson consulted the VAR, thus handing Chelsea a man advantage for the final 25 minutes.
And sure enough, they found the winner four minutes from time when Werner excellently stroked home from Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross. Crucially, it was Ross Barkley who delivered the pinpoint 40-yard diagonal pass that allowed Azpilicueta to effortlessly cushion the ball into the German’s path.
Here was a player who was talented, but thought to be lost in the wilderness of Chelsea’s loan system after failing to earn a permanent deal at Aston Villa. Now, Barkley is back in from the cold after two eye-catching cameos for Tuchel.
Similarly, it was the impressive Chalobah who headed home his second goal of the season to open the scoring. But up until last season, the 22-year-old was bouncing from one temporary club to another.
He was assisted by Ruben Loftus-Cheek, a midfielder deemed not good enough to warrant a regular place in Fulham ’s side last season. Now, he has won Tuchel’s faith to be deployed in double pivot, one of the key areas of his 3-4-3 formation.
This was not a typical Tuchel display, but something had to change after two games without a shot on target and therefore no goals. It wasn’t a formation switch that did it — the three-man defence remained in place.
But the philosophy, whereby Chelsea threw caution to the wind and claimed a late win with their English crop of youngsters at the forefront, was reminiscent of Lampard’s time in charge.
The club legend’s 18-month reign feels like a distant memory now, what with the club’s Champions League triumph under Tuchel in May.
But somewhere at his home in west London, the 42-year-old will be quietly content with the fact that his work is still detectable in Chelsea’s rise to the top of the Premier League table.