Thomas Tuchel tried to wake Chelsea from their slumber
Early into the FA Cup quarter-final tie with Sheffield United, it was clear Chelsea were not going to produce a vintage performance. The Blues started the contest sluggishly and for much of the opening ten minutes, Thomas Tuchel sat in the dugout shaking his head.
When he did step onto the touchline, the message from the Blues head coach was crystal clear: “Hey boys, wake up,” he bellowed. Similar shouts followed during the opening 45 minutes and throughout the second half with the German demanding his players be more aggressive and sharper in and out of possession.
It didn’t happen. Not because of a lack of effort from Chelsea players but because it was a game where little came together, particularly in the final third. Nine changes were made to the Blues side and perhaps that played its part. Tuchel himself had theories.
“I could feel after the Atletico game that we are a bit tired,” Tuchel said. “There was a big relief in the team and that is absolutely normal. We made a huge effort mentally against Atletico.
“Then there were a lot of changes, made by me of course, and we have players leaving right now for international duties, so there is a lot to organise and many unclear situations.
“There was a moment that I arrived [at] yesterday where I didn’t feel 100% comfortable or sure that we could continue on the same level [as in previous games].
“So I said to the team not to over-expect things from ourselves in this situation. Do a serious performance, take note of the little details, but don’t over-expect.
“The first-half was okay. In the second half, there was a chance for Christian (Pulisic) that we didn’t take, and then we lost control, concentration and momentum. There were many, many minutes we had to suffer.”
Suffer Chelsea did, particularly in the latter stages of the contest. They conceded chances and were on the ropes before Hakim Ziyech struck a stoppage-time second to get the Blues over the line.
It was arguably the poorest performance of the Tuchel era. But it was enough to see Chelsea into the last four of the FA Cup where they will take on Manchester City.
Christian Pulisic shocks Billy Gilmour
This hasn’t been Christian Pulisic’s season. The American missed the start of the campaign as he was recovering from the hamstring injury sustained in last season’s FA Cup final and he hasn’t been able to recapture the devastating form he displayed in the Project Restart fixtures.
Pulisic has also struggled to lock down a place in the starting XI under Tuchel, whom he worked with for two years at Borussia Dortmund.
The 22-year-old’s start against Sheffield United was only his third since the arrival of the 47-year-old coach at the end of January.
There’s no doubt Pulisic was Chelsea’s biggest threat and he fashioned an opportunity for himself in the opening period. After he claimed the ball on the edge of the Blades’ penalty area, the winger broke into the box and was one-on-one with Aaron Ramsdale.
Pulisic stumbled and then attempted to lift the ball over the Sheffield United goalkeeper. But it was an effort that lacked confidence and conviction.
What Pulisic did in the second half certainly didn’t. He received the ball from Hudson-Odoi on the edge of the penalty area, produced a flawless elastico and quick touch, and then burst into the box. Again he was able to get a shot away and again Ramsdale saved.
It was undoubtedly the standout moment of quality in the game and it’s one that shocked Billy Gilmour, who watched on arms aloft before placing them on the back of his head after the USMNT star was denied.
Tuchel equals another Chelsea landmark
Chelsea’s victory over the Blades extended their unbeaten run since Tuchel’s appointment to 14 matches. That in itself is a record for a new Blues head coach.
Just as impressive is that Chelsea have yet to concede a single goal at Stamford Bridge under Tuchel. The last player to score against the Blues’ on their own patch is Luton Town’s Jordon Clark, who stuck in the final game of Frank Lampard’s tenure on January 24.
Chelsea’s shutout against Sheffield United didn’t come easy. Kepa Arrizabalaga was by far the busier of the two goalkeepers in the second half and David McGoldrick missed a guilt-edge opportunity from inside the six-yard box.
However, as pointed out by official club official Chelsea historian Rick Glanvill, the clean sheet was the Blues’ seventh in succession, a feat matched only four previous times in the club’s history (1905/06, 2003/04, and twice in the 2005/06 campaign under Jose Mourinho.).
Tuchel’s side can claim the record outright if they can keep West Bromwich Albion at bay after the international break.
Hakim Ziyech sends a message to his doubters
It’s been a good week for the Moroccan star: he struck in Chelsea’s victory over Atletico Madrid last Wednesday and came off the bench to guarantee Chelsea’s progress into the FA Cup semi-finals yesterday with a late goal.
After which he celebrated with a rather clear message.
It’s not been easy for Ziyech since the arrival of Tuchel. Prior to scoring back-to-back goals, he had struggled to produce his best form when given an opportunity.
Tuchel said after the victory against Atletico that was because the 28-year-old was having to adapt to the more rigid structure put in place.
The Chelsea head coach said: “He suffers a little bit with our style, he needs to adapt to the structure and be more reliable with the ball.
“He needs to find a better rhythm when taking risks and when not taking risks. But I am super happy.”
Whether Ziyech is given a sustained chance to find that rhythm remains to be seen.
He is linking up with his national team for the AFCON qualifiers against Mauritania and Burundi, neither of which are on the British government’s red list so there should be no mandatory hotel quarantine on his return.