Chelsea’s Thomas Tuchel explains why Juventus defeat was turning point in Blues’ season


After what had been on a constant upward trajectory in its first nine months it seemed that Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea tenure had suffered its first mini wobble back in late September.

At most clubs a couple of defeats would not be cause for crisis, particularly when they came against Manchester City and Juventus, but Tuchel himself would surely acknowledge that two losses for Chelsea should, at the very least, prompt some reflection on what needs to change. The fact that the European champions had generated only one shot on target across those two games certainly seemed to point to issues that had not been apparent in their impressive start to the season.

Yet that loss in Turin proved to be a turning point for Chelsea in attacking terms with their offense bursting into life despite the loss of Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner to injury in late October. In eight Premier League and European games since the defeat to Juventus, Chelsea have scored 23 goals whilst their per game expected goals (xG) mark has risen from 1.3 to 2.3. Some of the fixtures may have been more favorable but the Blues have filled their boots in a way they perhaps had not earlier in Tuchel’s tenure.

“A lot of things changed after that game,” Tuchel tells CBS Sports. “The defeat against Manchester City and the defeat against Juventus, sometimes you need this to question yourself, to learn from these defeats.

“We were kind of in control of this game in Turin but we lacked a rhythm, we lacked precision, we lacked maybe a certain free spirit to take more risks in the right zone on the pitch. We changed a bit the approach, it sharpened our mentality and we found [our way] back into our best identity and best shape.”

That commitment to playing on the front foot has been emphatically reflected in recent results, not least a 3-0 hammering of Leicester City on Saturday in which only a few marginal offside calls kept Chelsea from racking up an even more intimidating scoreline. In the second half of last season, as Tuchel guided them up toward the top four, they became experts in shutting games out when they had the lead. Only one of their 19 wins in that stretch saw them score on more than two occasions; the archetypal scoreline of early Tuchel Chelsea might have been a 2-0 win where they scored early, held their opponent at arms’ length and punished their growing desperation in the closing stages.

Now the entire squad seem to have caught the scoring bug. Wing backs Reece James and Ben Chilwell are leading a scoring charge from deeper areas whilst the likes of Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic have weighed in with decisive goals in recent games.

“The best way to defend is always to constantly keep on attacking,” says Tuchel. “Sometimes it happens like this that a goal has huge influence not only on your team but you see also that sometimes if you’re one goal ahead the other team plays with a bit more courage, a bit of the attitude that they have nothing else to lose. There are not many goals normally in football matches and they have a huge influence on the attitude, on confidence, so it is not necessarily only on us when we maybe cannot score any more.

“In general I would say that we try to create the most chances possible, we try to attack over 90-94 minutes and we absolutely want to install a behavior that we constantly play like it’s 0-0. We do our stuff on the highest level and do it relentlessly, with a certain spirit and quality, not to be influenced by if it’s away game, home game, what kind of situation it is, what competition and what score.”

Crucially Tuchel is convinced that his side’s greater attacking vigor has not come at the cost of making his defense more vulnerable. It was something of a pet peeve for him even in early season victories that his side were overly reliant on the excellence of Edouard Mendy, who has conceded just six goals in 16 games and was nominated for the FIFA Best Goalkeeper award.

No team has registered shots worth more than one xG since a 1-0 victory over Brentford. The opposition may not be the strongest Chelsea will face this season but keeping six opponents to a combined xG return of 2.05 is impressive even if the likes of Malmo, Norwich and Newcastle are in the mix.

Tuchel notes: “At the beginning of the season we were relying too much on Edouard and Kepa’s qualities in goal, we conceded a few more chances but given the preseason, the fact that players came from big tournaments this can happen sometimes. We are working on it.

“In the last games it was absolutely like this, we had clean sheets, we deserved to have clean sheets and we kept the expected goals very, very low. This is something that we look into, you cannot rely just on results. The result is too often misleading in football, such a huge factor is also luck and bad luck in games. We are looking into this but recently we are very happy with the development.”

If they continue on their current form they will surely put more pressure on the Juventus goal than they did last time out. However the visit of the Bianconeri to Stamford Bridge does bring with it some degree of mathematical difficulty for Chelsea. A point will be enough to guarantee their qualification for the knockout stages but it would also mean that they are assured of second place in Group H.

When top spot keeps you clear of Bayern Munich, Ajax and potentially Paris Saint-Germain it seems like a prize worth winning but perhaps not if it leaves Chelsea vulnerable to a final day battle for second with Zenit. Tuchel would not be prepared to gamble on a loss in pursuit of top spot in the group, however, joking in his press conference that Mendy will not be venturing forward for any corners late on in a tied game.

Still there is value in top spot. “If you ask me personally it’s always a better situation for the next round: you can start with an away game, you have a second leg at home and for me you have this little advantage. In general it depends on personal feelings, on the draw, on the situation.

“First of all we don’t gamble on this, we do not look at other groups at this stage because we are not qualified and we have to focus on that. Before we talk about winning the group we should make sure that we qualify and by doing so we try to win games. This is what we do, you cannot gamble on first place, second place. This is only a distraction.”

Still Chelsea will “go for it”, their manager says. Such is their form at both ends of the pitch it will take quite the impressive performance from Juventus to stop them getting it.





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