If Thomas Tuchel had written out a to-do list after taking charge of Chelsea at the end of January, the names of several players would’ve been included.
Timo Werner’s would almost certainly have been near the top. Maybe even underlined.
The German forward’s form had nosedived under Frank Lampard and was posing little threat to opposition sides. And while Tuchel hasn’t managed yet to get Werner back to his prolific best but he has reinvigorated the 25-year-old and made him a nuisance for defenders.
Next up he would’ve likely been Cesar Azpilicueta. Closely followed by Jorginho, Marcos Alonso and Antonio Rudiger.
The quartet had drifted onto the fringes of the Chelsea squad under Frank Lampard but Tuchel felt their experience was vital and so brought them back into the team and all have performed effectively when called upon.
Kai Havertz too was in need of some love. An injury sustained by the 21-year-old delayed his impact under Tuchel but after thriving against Everton on Monday night when used as a false nine, Havertz was given another run-out in the centre forward role at Elland Road and looked sharp. He appears to have finally been unlocked.
So, what’s Tuchel’s next project? Well, there are two: Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech.
Pulisic worked with Tuchel at Borussia Dortmund so the German coach is fully aware of what the American star can add to his side. Yet prior to today’s game against Leeds, the only Chelsea match Pulisic had started under the German coach was the FA Cup fifth-round win over Barnsley.
Ziyech has been afforded greater opportunities by Tuchel. The Moroccon international started four of the German coach’s opening eleven matches in charge but has struggled to produce his best.
The duo were handed starts against Leeds at Elland Road this afternoon. It was an opportunity for the pair to put down markers, to prove they deserve a starting role in the weeks and games ahead.
That both played in their favoured positions – Ziyech as a number ten and Pulisic out on the right – gave them every opportunity to shine. But neither really took their chance.
Pulisic started well. He was able to beat Ezgjan Alioski on a couple of occasions and deliver dangerous crosses into the Chelsea penalty area. Frustratingly, neither Havertz nor Mason Mount could make the most of the 22-year-old’s work.
Ziyech, meanwhile, was on the periphery during the opening 45 minutes. There was one nice run behind the Leeds defence to collect an excellent Mount pass but his touch was loose and Kalvin Phillips was able to take the ball away from the former Ajax star.
As the half drew to a close, there was a flicker of the Moroccan’s talent as he clipped a lovely pass over the Whites’ defence for Havertz whose shot was saved.
It was a similar story in the second period. Pulisic was again the more threatening of the two in the penalty area and he forced Ilan Meslier into a near-post stop having been given a sight of goal from Mount. But for all his endeavour, the USMNT star couldn’t make a telling impact.
Ziyech produced another lovely flighted ball into the box for Havertz as Chelsea searched for an opener and the German should’ve done more with his header. Other than that, however, the Blues largely played around the 27-year-old.
This is the frustration. There is no doubting Ziyech’s talent. He is a wonderfully gifted player, one blessed with flawless technique and guile. But at the moment, he just isn’t producing enough during his time on the pitch. And given the wealth of attacking options available to Tuchel, that should be cause for concern to the winger.
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It was no great surprise that in the 68th minute both Ziyech and Pulisic were brought off. Of the players to start the game, they played the fewest passes. Ziyech also failed to make a single tackle or interception, per WhoScored.
Admittedly their replacements, Timo Werner and Reece James, did little to alter the final outcome of the contest. They have proven themselves previously, though.
Tuchel will know going forward that questions regarding Pulisic and Ziyech will be asked, especially given reports have emerged this week that the former is not content with his lack of game time. But he can point to this game as to why neither is guranteed to start going forward.