Despite managerial upheaval this season, Chelsea are in the Champions League Round of 16.
The immediate problem facing the Blues is that their match-up in the first knockout round is a brutal showdown with Atlético Madrid, Spain’s current league leaders. As far as tests go, Chelsea’s reward for winning their Champions League group could hardly have been crueler.
Thomas Tuchel has done a good job with Chelsea so far, imprinting a clearly defined style of play on the Blues already, but he is going to have his work cut out for him in Romania on Tuesday night.
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A defensive powerhouse!
What’s been so remarkable about Chelsea under Tuchel is not that they’ve been good, albeit that has been refreshing given how dejected and lost they appeared to be with Frank Lampard at the helm. No, what has been remarkable is that the Blues have become a defensive powerhouse akin to their rivals Atlético Madrid!
Chelsea’s possession-heavy style under Lampard always meant that they were a more defensively solid side than their ability to defend solidly, and so whenever anyone attacked them with enough gusto they usually found joy. Things stabilised for a bit at the start of this season when Edouard Mendy came in and barely conceded to start off, but eventually, even he regressed.
Under Tuchel things have been different, however. Instantly there has been a defined system of play, Chelsea are set-up in a 3-4-2-1, and players have come in that fit the system. No longer is the formation and structure being dictated by players available, or a manager who has no idea how he wants his side to play, now Chelsea are behaving like a grown-up team.
They haven’t been parking the bus, they are defending with possession. The ball is being circulated all around the field, and opponents are being pressed into turnovers higher up the field. Chelsea have developed an organised defensive system.
And it’s worked a treat! Since Tuchel took charge the Blues have faced just 34 shots, the lowest in the Premier League in that time. Their goalkeepers have had to make just nine saves (also a league low), conceding just twice and keeping four clean sheets.
They are now in the perfect place to face down the rampaging Luis Suárez (16 goals & two assists in La Liga) and João Félix (six goals & four assists). Being able to handle the Atleti counter-attack is going to be key to Chelsea winning this tie.
Chelsea’s attack vs Atleti’s defence was always going to be the headline-grabbing clash due to the sheer number of superb attackers the Blues have at their disposal; and given Atleti’s recent defensive woes things really are looking up for Tuchel and his men.
But their ability to score will count for little if they fail to keep Atleti out. As Liverpool found out last season, Diego Simeone will always find a way to blunt your attack to the point where, if your defence isn’t solid, you’ll get caught out on the break.
Luckily for Chelsea, Tuchel has turned Chelsea into a defensive powerhouse.