When Ross Barkley cut across his pass to Cesar Azpilicueta to lay the ball on a plate for Timo Werner, Thomas Tuchel must have scarcely have been able to believe his own genius.
It had been a gruelling match for the Blues, unconvincing in many ways, but the German coach had made a substitution to make the crucial pass, making use of a player many would have believed wouldn’t make an appearance in the league this season. Big money signings Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech left on the bench to watch on.
Now Barkley has made a cameo against Juventus and been a gamechanger against Southampton to help earn the club earn three points.
The former Everton star’s reintroduction could be seen as a warning to underperformers but it should also give them hope.
It was only a matter of weeks ago that Tuchel conceded he did not know the role 27-year-old would have, leaving coach and player in an uncertain position. The lack of expectation looks to have been keen to his progress in Tuchel’s eyes, alongside side that of Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Tuchel said in his press conference: “Most important is that I feel Ruben and Ross at the moment feel no pressure. They are happy to have these chances, to feel the support, and perhaps six weeks ago they couldn’t have imagined they were in the situation to get real minutes, important minutes.
“So they can help us because they have this kind of positive spirit and they didn’t feel the pressure. In the last two games, of course, we lost and we felt something was lacking.”
Many would level the accusation that Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech‘s form has been lacking, and as they were left on the bench with the Blues needing a goal, some would consider they may risk dropping down the pecking order.
But we can look back to Tuchel’s advice to Barkley, and it mirrors’ the German’s thoughts on Havertz and Ziyech following yesterday’s win. Both parties may suffered bruising to their ego.
“Stay humble, get it off your shoulders, all the opinions, all the expectations from everybody around, all the past, what could have been, if I did this, if I did that. It does not help at the moment, being the nice guy that you are when you come here, he’s got to now be better and better,” was Tuchel’s message to Barkley.
The Chelsea boss wanted the midfielder to ‘accept the situation’, even if he did not love it due to the number of players in his position.
The 48-year-old former Borussia Dortmund boss pointed to the current mindset of Havertz and Ziyech too.
He said: “They have maybe lost a bit of belief, confidence, whatever. We will not stop trying to boost them. Nobody is angry at them and nobody has major concerns, but we have to pay attention to the actual form.
“We need to win games and today was a day that we needed a bit of a mix of players who are used to our style with quick decisions because we knew about Southampton’s pressing.
“And on the other hand, we wanted other players who maybe don’t feel the pressure so much and maybe don’t have the same high expectations of themselves and also from us the expectations are also very high for Kai, Timo, Hakim.
“That’s not because we want to overwhelm them but because we know what they can deliver and we want to have it. At a club like Chelsea, you need to be sharp every three days and fight for your place. This is what is going on.”
Tuchel balanced that the forwards needed to both deal with the pressure but admitted they should not be overwhelmed by it. As with Barkley, there is an open door. Speaking in September, the Blues coach said that the ex-Aston Villa loanee had the ability to be among Chelsea’s squad.
“It’s never too late and I will give him the support that I can. We need to wait and have patience,” Tuchel noted.
Tuchel backed up his words, and that gives his aforementioned support to Havertz and Ziyech strength. The door isn’t just unlocked for anyone in the Blues squad, Tuchel holds it open.
The German coach has put himself in a real position of strength, by having the conviction to reintegrate stars that he didn’t even expect at the club.
The contrast can be seen in the treatment of Donny Van de Beek.
The scenes of the Dutchman fuming on the bench, to be comforted by Eric Bailly and Dean Henderson when Fred and Jesse Lingard were introduced against Villareal, where stark.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may be relaxed about the situation but the £40million star may be less so.
The Manchester United boss said: “He knows he’s not frozen out. This obsession about… It’s Man United and when a headline player is not playing for Man United it’s always going to make headlines.
“But then again I’ve got plenty who don’t play every week, so I don’t have any issues with Donny at all, he knows what he needs to work on, what we want him to work on and he is diligent in his work.
“And he has never let his mood affect his teammates negatively because you have to have that fire in your belly if you are going to make it.”
The Red Devils have employed seven different midfield combinations this season, but Van de Beek has only briefly appeared against Newcastle in the Premier League.
Having barely made a start and lost his place in the Netherlands side, it is easy to understand how the 24-year-old would lose confidence that he would receive a truce chance or place much stock in Solskjaer’s words.
Tuchel standing by his convictions, should mean that Havertz and Ziyech believe their chance is still to come.