Football Features

Kevin De Bruyne: Chelsea’s tormentor punishes Tuchel for failing to learn his lesson

By Harry Edwards

Published: 14:43, 15 January 2022

Manchester City extended their lead at the top of the Premier League to 13 points thanks to a 1-0 win over Chelsea on Saturday afternoon.

It was a dominant performance for Man City in spite of the scoreline as they pressed Chelsea high and Kevin De Bruyne finally scored the winning goal in the 70th minute with an excellent finish.

Before the game, many neutrals (and Liverpool fans) would have been hoping for a Chelsea win to keep the title race alive and the signs were positive. Chelsea went into the game off the back of a big win over Tottenham Hotspur in the EFL Cup and had lost just one game across all competitions since Man City beat them back in September.

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That 1-0 win for Man City at Stamford Bridge was a big topic of conversation in the pre-match build up as Chelsea were so poor on the day, despite three consecutive victories over Pep Guardiola’s side including the 2021 Champions League final. When asked about the defeat, Thomas Tuchel admitted he had got things wrong at Stamford Bridge and lessons were learned.

“[I learned] that my approach was the wrong approach tactically,” he told reporters.

“It made us too passive, we could have done better, but I think the approach was too passive, too defensive. It was not meant like this but it turned out this way. So lesson learned.

“They were too aggressive for our build-up play, we did not have the solution to escape from our own half. We defended very well in the last 20 metres of the field, but we did not see much of the other 70 metres.

“Second half was better, a bit wild, and maybe it’s not the worst thing to have a wild match against Manchester City and to break out of the structure and all the control situations. The second half was better, lesson learned.”

But did he actually learn his lesson? It doesn’t feel like it. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a repeat of the first game.

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The doubts started when the starting XI was announced and Mason Mount was out of the team, one of Chelsea’s key pressing players but also one who can get back defensively when needed. Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic were instead picked to play alongside Romelu Lukaku in the attacking trio but it just didn’t work, they didn’t get on the ball enough. Pressed back so much, after 25 minutes Lukaku (seven), Ziyech (six) and Pulisic (four) had had fewer touches than any other player on the pitch including the two goalkeepers.

Chelsea ended the first half with a single shot, the first time they had failed to attempt a shot in the first half of a Premier League game under Thomas Tuchel and first overall since a 3-0 defeat to Newcastle on the final day of the 2017/18 season.

And you have to give Man City the full credit for that, pressing Chelsea so far back that Frank Lampard was still in midfield for the Blues. Although Chelsea started the first half better, with three shots inside four minutes, it was ultimately more of the same.

Only one of those three shots, from Lukaku who really should have scored having been played through by Mateo Kovacic, truly troubled Ederson in the Man City goal. And the remaining 41 minutes of the half, plus extra time, saw Chelsea manage just one more shot.

Lukaku ended the game with 21 touches, lower than any other starter for either side, while Pulisic and Ziyech were subbed off with 26 and 23 respectively. With the way Chelsea played, it was truly unclear what their gameplan was, and the attacking substitutions in the second half came way too late.

That shouldn’t take away from De Bruyne’s goal though, an excellent strike from outside the box having picked the ball up just inside the Chelsea half. Evading a tackle from N’Golo Kante and moving through a crowd of Chelsea players, De Bruyne curled the ball brilliantly into the right corner giving Kepa Arrizabalaga no chance.

It was the Belgian’s fifth goal against Chelsea in the Premier League, the most by a former Blues player against them in the competition.

Man City are now surely romping to the Premier League title, even with Liverpool having two games in hand at the time of writing, while it’s back to the drawing board for Chelsea and time to actually learn their lesson.