Thomas Tuchel may already have the answer to his £310m Chelsea conundrum

Throughout his Chelsea tenure, it’s been very difficult to second-guess Thomas Tuchel over the starting XI he will select come matchday. And it’s become nearly impossible over the past four weeks as the German coach has started to move away from his tried and trusted 3-4-2-1 shape.

The reasons for Tuchel’s unpredictability are myriad. For one, he has a large squad and understands the importance of rotation to keep players happy and fresh. Then there are injuries, an inevitability during an arduous campaign. And this term the Chelsea head coach has dealt with the randomness that is Covid.

Across all competitions, Tuchel has used 32 different players. A few are talented youngsters handed rare first-team minutes – Harvey Vale and Lewis Hall, for example – and two are no longer at the club: Kurt Zouma, who played in the UEFA Super Cup before joining West Ham, and Emerson Palmieri, who made a late cameo against Crystal Palace prior to his loan to Lyon.

Yet there are 23 members of the first-team group that have played more than 500 minutes under Tuchel thus far – and Ross Barkley isn’t too far off having unexpectedly been handed 428 minutes of match action.

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As highlighted above, injuries and Covid have been key factors in Tuchel’s constant rotation. Ben Chilwell‘s season-ending knee ligament injury forced the Chelsea boss to try different options at left wing-back, as did the hamstring injury suffered by the man on the opposite flank, Reece James.

Andreas Christensen (back) and Trevoh Chalobah (hamstring) have endured periods on the sidelines. Mateo Kovacic also missed the best part of two months with a hamstring issue. And Timo Werner (hamstring) and Romelu Lukaku (ankle) were both ruled out after injuries sustained against Malmo in the Champions League.

Thankfully for Tuchel, Chelsea’s absentee list has shrunk in recent weeks and it’s currently only Chilwell and James on the sidelines, although Ruben Loftus-Cheek did miss the match against Tottenham prior to the international break and wasn’t pictured in training yesterday.

An almost – if not full – squad from which to select from is any head coach’s dream, but with that comes difficult decisions and conundrums to solve, especially when a certain area of the pitch is stacked with talent.

For Chelsea, that is their attack. Tuchel has seven different players he can select from in the final third: Romelu Lukaku, Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Christian Pulisic, and Hakim Ziyech. All could make a case as to why they should be included in the starting XI.

None of that group has truly cemented their spot in the side this term, however. Mason Mount has played the most minutes among Chelsea’s attacking players (2,005) and, partly as a result, has been the most productive with 14 goal involvements across all competitions.

Then comes Callum Hudson-Odoi on 1,673 minutes, although some have come at wing-back, Romelu Lukaku (1,604), Kai Havertz (1,534), Hakim Ziyech (1,481), Timo Werner (1,082), and Christian Pulisic (1,057), who has been something of an odd-job man for Chelsea this season having played both wing-back roles, as a winger, and as a nine due to injuries.

Given the constant chopping and changing, it is perhaps no surprise that Chelsea’s attack has lacked fluidity for much of the campaign. A common complaint from supporters is there is no cohesion in the frontline, that attacks break down due to a lack of on-pitch understanding that can only be gained through relationship-building minutes.

Rather tellingly and concerningly, fewer than half of the Blues’ Premier League goals this term have been scored by their seven attacking players. That is a problem that Tuchel is going to have to solve during the remainder of the season.

Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel
Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel

How the Chelsea head coach does that is tricky, though. There have already been rumblings, per The Athletic, of discontent among those who occupy the positions in the final third.

The report states: “One source points to this inconsistency, both in terms of selection and in attacking roles, as the primary reason why none of Chelsea’s forwards have been able to build significant rhythm or chemistry on the pitch.”

Yet the only way for Tuchel to create that chemistry in his attack is to stick with the same three or four players game in, game out – something which in turn creates its own issues with the other attacking options being confined to the bench.

And how feasible that lack of rotation is with Chelsea playing every three-to-four days is another point of discussion; Tuchel will not want players burned out and drained as was the case in December and January when too many points were dropped in the Premier League.

The readiness of the Blues’ head coach in recent weeks to change up his system – the 3-4-2-1 parked in favour of a 4-2-2-2 against Tottenham in the Carabao Cup and a 4-3-3 against Spurs in the Premier League – may help unlock a few of his attacking stars.

Ziyech, brought in for £33million from Ajax, was irrepressible in the win over Tottenham before the break. A game in which Mount played well and Hudson-Odoi caused a threat after some initial hesitancy to attack Japhet Tanganga.

But what about Werner, who Chelsea signed for £49.5million from RB Leipzig? What about Havertz, a £70million recruit from Bayer Leverkusen? When does Pulisic, brought in for £60million from Borussia Dortmund, get a run in his favoured role? And should Lukaku be a guaranteed starter because he cost a club-record £97.5million fee to bring in from Inter Milan?

It is a too many cooks problem, one that feels almost impossible for Tuchel to solve. So expect more rotation. Expect unpredictable starting XIs. And then perhaps the German can find a solution in the summer.

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