How Thomas Tuchel won first tactical battle with Diego Simeone and why Chelsea will go through


Chelsea secured a crucial first-leg victory in the Champions League against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday night to hand themselves a big advantage at the halfway point of their last-16 tie.

Although the game was played out in Bucharest, it was still treated as an Atleti home match therefore the Blues’ ability to grab both an away goal and secure a clean sheet felt crucial.

The La Liga leaders didn’t make it easy for them though and manager Diego Simeone was intent on trying to nullify the threat posed by Chelsea from the outset. The Argentine coach is well-known for his capacity to set his team up in a sturdy and robust manner, limiting space whilst looking to create dangerous attacks on the counter.

Yet he seemed to take it to the extreme vs Chelsea, perhaps cautious of the threat the Blues’ attackers and wing-backs posed in the wide areas.

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During his short period in charge of Chelsea, Thomas Tuchel has predominantly utilised variations of a 3-5-2 system and when attacking, this setup resembles more of a 3-2-5, with wing-backs joining forward players to create a well-spaced attacking quintuplet inside the opposition’s half.

Simeone’s plan to nullify the threat of Chelsea in this setup was for his side to drop into a 6-3-1 shape without the ball. In this shape, they protected the half-space areas with aggressive pressing and there was always support of another man behind the defender engaging with a Chelsea attacker.

Atleti sat in a 6-3-1 shape without the ball vs Chelsea
Atleti sat in a 6-3-1 shape without the ball vs Chelsea

In some ways, this set up did impact the attacking efficiency of Tuchel’s side and they finished the match with an accumulated xG of just 0.6, despite attempting 11 shots. Yet the primary purpose of Simeone’s tactics did ultimately fail as the Blues did manage to breach the Alteti goal thanks to an excellent finish by Olivier Giroud.

An additional negative of the above set up was that it hugely harmed Atletico’s own capacity to attack. With so many players sitting deep as highlighted in the above image, when possession was won, there was a large distance between them and the Chelsea goal.

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As a result, they struggled to break out with any pace or purpose and eventually finished the match having failed to register a single shot on target.

Simeone won’t be bestowed the same luxury of setting up like this in the second leg given that his side will need to score at least one goal to progress, and this should make for a different kind of tactical battle, and maybe one that plays into the hands of Chelsea.

More potential space inside Atletico’s half means Chelsea attackers will be presented with more opportunities to punish the Spanish outfit. This will likely result in Tuchel again coming out on top in this second tactical battle, just like he did in the first.





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