Football Features

Explained: How to (try) score a goal against Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 19:00, 21 September 2021

Chelsea recorded yet another clean sheet at the weekend, beating Tottenham 3-0, their 15th in the Premier League since Thomas Tuchel took charge.

But what’s even more ridiculous than that statement is the fact Chelsea have conceded just 14 goals in that time. So the Blues have literally had more shutouts than they’ve let in goals under the German coach. If you throw in the Champions League you get 21 clean sheets in 32 games as Blues boss, a ridiculous rate.

So just how do you score against Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea?

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It’s a massive, monumental question because so far in the Premier League and Champions League it’s only happened 16 times. And what’s more ridiculous is that only two teams have scored more than once against Chelsea in a single game; Aston Villa managed two on the final day of 2020/21 and West Brom notably smashed five goals past them back in April 2021.

That game, where Chelsea took the lead only to be reduced to 10 men as Thiago Silva was sent off just before the half-hour mark, should serve as a blueprint for how to score on them, right? Well, kind of.

The insights that can be gleaned from West Brom’s win are not perfect, given they all came after Silva’s red card and, what’s more, it was only a couple of months into Tuchel’s reign.

Still, though, looking at the goals, what do we see? The first was a long ball over the top that caught the Chelsea defence out of shape, the second came after West Brom players pressured Reece James and Jorginho into mistakes. The third, attacking them out wide, drawing one of their centre-backs out to create space in the middle.

The fourth and fifth goals were less consequential, coming from a counter and a late push; and the first goal can probably be attributed to the 10-man factor too. But those second and third goals, where West Brom constructed deliberate attacks to expose the Blues… maybe there’s something there?

If there is, Thomas Tuchel must have recognised it because since that thrashing Chelsea have shut up shop. They are a phenomenal defensive outfit to watch in action, where their centre-backs have the athletic ability to step up and intimidate opponents and their midfielders all work hard to track back. Moreover, with Jorginho at the base of midfield, they have a press-resistant metronome able to move the ball away from opponents who try and press them into errors there.

Chelsea are most often dispossessed in wide areas around the middle of the pitch as their wing-backs try to move the ball up the field, or when their wide centre-backs are on the ball. Getting to Jorginho is incredibly tricky and often results in him simply bypassing your midfield line and sending Chelsea’s forwards running at your defence.

Looking at the two goals Chelsea have conceded this season, we again see that the wide zones and players are the best place to press them. Liverpool’s goal was a penalty but they won that penalty because of a miscommunication between Edouard Mendy and Marcos Alonso. It can happen.

Villarreal’s goal in the UEFA Super Cup, however, fits the West Brom mould in how to score on Chelsea. They pressed Chelsea high, forcing Antonio Rudiger into making a bad pass and giving the ball away, then following his usual instincts to push up and win it back, chased his own error and Villarreal were able to work around him and score.

Even Leicester’s FA Cup winning goal last season, a scorching 30-yard hit from Youri Tielemans, came from a similar pattern as the Foxes engaged Chelsea high up the field and forced a bad pass from Reece James which Ayoze Perez deflected to Luke Thomas who fed it to Tielemans.

The Belgian was in acres of space as N’Golo Kanté had been caught upfield and there was only Jorginho defending the area ahead of the defence. The Italian international doesn’t have the ability to get across and engage, and in fact can be seen calling for one of his defenders to step up and press Tielemans; Rudiger obliges but by then it’s too late and the shot is on its way.

So, we have a clear pattern here: The way to score against Chelsea is either let them come onto you and then hoof it high and hard in a direct counter, hoping to catch them off guard, or more reliably to step up and press them in their own half.

Maybe not a full on high press, but definitely ahead of the midfield line. Shunt the ball wide to Cesar Azpilicueta or more ideally Antonio Rudiger, and then basically dare them to make a pass through your lines.

Then you close off the passing lanes, win the ball back and hope that the defender “bites” on their mistake. Rudiger’s intense pressing and drive to win the ball back quickly is usually a strength of Chelsea’s but if you have enough bodies (or a quick enough dribbler) you can certainly make it into a weakness as long as those players aren’t afraid to risk the German thundering into them with the force of a nuclear bomb.

But of course, even if you can work it around Rudiger or Azpilicueta (or even Thiago Silva, who isn’t super aggressive but isn’t very mobile so can be got at if you send bodies his way) you then have to keep your cool and slot the ball beyond the immense Edouard Mendy in goal. A man who equalled the record for Champions League clean sheets in a single season in his debut season as a Blue. With half of it under the good vibes and little else of Frank Lampard’s time in charge!

Easy, right?

Well, no, it’s not easy. That’s why it’s only happened 18 times in 37 games across all competitions under Thomas Tuchel. The German coach has assembled a fearsome and formidable side at Stamford Bridge. They’ve already won a Champions League and the way they’re playing right now, with it being a near impossibility to score against them and increasingly difficult to stop them scoring on you, would you bet against them doing it again? Would you bet against them adding the Premier League to their trophy cabinet too?

Probably not.

But hey, if you follow this guide maybe you’ll at least be able to score against them. And after that who knows? Goals change games and Chelsea are so good at not conceding them that the shock of doing so could throw them off their game. Look at the UEFA Super Cup; they never truly regrouped after Villarreal’s equaliser, did they? So it’s possible, it’s just very, very, very difficult.