A familiar Chelsea story
It will largely be forgotten – and rightly overlooked in the post-match analysis – that Chelsea actually started well in Zagreb last night. The attacking trio of Raheem Sterling, Kai Havertz and debutant Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang dovetailed well and the Blues managed to get behind the Dinamo Zagreb defence on a couple of occasions.
Yet no goal arrived and that has become a frustrating pattern in the early weeks of the campaign. Even more so when considered after Mislav Orsic scampered clear of the Chelsea defence and finished beyond Kepa Arrizabalaga, Tuchel’s side offered very little in the way of a genuine attacking threat.
“It was the story of the last few games,” the Chelsea head coach accepted in his post-match press conference. “We start okay for 15/20 minutes but then lacked determination, precision, and maybe even lacked the smell of blood. We had a number of deliveries and a number of spaces, and a number of ball wins that should be by far enough to have far more attempts. But we did not.”
Tuchel tried to shake things up as the game progressed. He introduced Hakim Ziyech at the interval but the 29-year-old produced an erratic display. Ziyech’s second-half performance was summed in stoppage time when he fired a free-kick into the wall and then repeated the process moments later – and much to the frustration of Reece James, who was prepared to take the set-piece.
Armando Broja and Christian Pulisic were given time in the second period but neither were able to make telling contributions as Chelsea struggled to find a way through a disciplined and resolute Dinamo defence. The lack of invention, of repeatable attacking patterns that result in chances, was evident once more and something Tuchel has to change.
“It’s for me to find the solution and find the reason why,” said Tuchel. “Obviously, they are underperforming individually and I don’t really know where this performance today comes from. A lack of determination, a lack of hunger and a lack of intensity to actually do the things that we need at the highest level. We are clearly not where we want to be.”
Tuchel’s unwanted Chelsea first
The match in Zagreb was Tuchel’s 100th in charge of Chelsea, not that he’ll have overly fond memories of it nor be celebrating the milestone.
His first 50 matches as Chelsea head coach were hugely impressive. Tuchel transformed a side bereft of confidence under Frank Lampard and turned it into a well-drilled machine. Only 24 goals were conceded in that half-century of games and Chelsea won the 2021 Champions League as a result.
The second 50 matches of the Tuchel era haven’t been quite as imperious with the Blues’ goal breached on 53 occasions amid draws and defeats becoming more commonplace. For instance, in the opening seven matches this term, Chelsea have already been beaten by Leeds United, Southampton and Dinamo.
Those losses all came in Chelsea’s last three away matches – not since the final weeks of Lampard’s tenure had the Blues lost three away games on the bounce. Tuchel will want that run to end quickly. A trip to Fulham on Saturday will give him and his players the opportunity to do so.
MVP becomes clear
There were only two players missing from the Chelsea squad that travelled to Croatia on Monday. One was N’Golo Kante as the Frenchman is currently ruled out due to a hamstring injury suffered against Tottenham last month. And the other was defensive master Thiago Silva.
The 37-year-old wasn’t injured but instead remained at the club’s training base in Cobham to undertake recovery work ahead of the Premier League clash with Fulham at Craven Cottage on Saturday.
“We decided with Thiago that he will have a break from the travelling and the stress after playing every minute so far in very intense matches,” Tuchel said ahead of the game on Croatia. “It was the moment to give him a break instead of putting him on the bench and having the travel issues. He takes care of his recovery.”
The school was Chelsea had more than enough quality to get the job done in Zagreb. Unfortunately, Silva’s importance was only further highlighted in his absence. Would the Brazilian have been caught out positionally – as Wesley Fofana was – in the build-up to Orsic’s opener? It is highly unlikely given the centre-back’s years of experience and unrivalled sense of danger.
Chelsea also missed Silva’s composure in possession and willingness to pass forward in the second period as they searched for an equaliser. His leadership would have undoubtedly also proved beneficial; Silva has made almost 100 Champions League appearances and has seen it all throughout his storied career.