Thomas Tuchel's Possession Masterclass - Chelsea 2020/21




Although Chelsea can’t quite seem to find the back of the net regularly enough, very few managers in Premier League history have had a better start to life than Thomas Tuchel. The Blues have won ten of their fourteen matches under Tuchel’s management in all competitions, keeping twelve clean sheets during that time. Tuchel’s defensive tactics, in particular, have been outstanding, and much promise for the future remains if Chelsea can find their shooting boots and score more goals on a regular basis. Here is our latest Thomas Tuchel analysis, covering his first fourteen matches in charge at Stamford Bridge.

FORMATION: 3-4-2-1 / 3-4-1-2


Edouard Mendy has retained his place in goal, securing a stunning eleven clean sheets in twelve matches under Tuchel. He hasn’t faced too many shots due to the defensive presence of the back-three and midfield-two and Chelsea’s insanely effective ability to win the ball back after they lose possession. But the stats look very nice for the Frenchman none the less. Cesar Azpilicueta has been the only mainstay in Tuchel’s reign so far, missing only the cup game against Barnsley and re-finding his form again. Andreas Christensen has also developed into an important player for the team, following Thiago Silva’s injury against Tottenham Hotspur. Antonio Rudiger’s managed to keep Frenchman Kurt Zouma out of the side as the third of three centre-backs. At right-wing-back, Callum Hudson-Odoi has been the attacking option for Tuchel when his team set up to keep most of the possession but is rotated with Reece James. Left-wing-back has been split between two defenders, the experienced Marcos Alonso, who was integral during Antonio Conte’s title-winning year and Ben Chilwell, who’s become one of the Premier League’s best in the past few years. Neither has completely nailed down a spot over the other, which could be said about nearly every single position other than Azpilicueta’s and Mendy’s.


In central midfield, Thomas Tuchel has rotated N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic. All three possess some of the same characteristics and very much differ in their over-arching style of play and key strengths. Jorginho is fantastic positionally and also picks out very effective passes from anywhere on the field. Kovacic does much of the same and offers more mobility on the dribble and defensive transitions. Kante adds the same tackling and interception threat but gets forward to contribute to the attack more often. It’s hard to say exactly which two Tuchel prefers, but the very start of his Chelsea career was marked by a hefty reliance on Kovacic and Jorginho. However, the German can be comfortable knowing that he has three midfielders who will do an excellent defensive job in keeping their incredible clean sheet record in-tact.


Further up the field, Mason Mount has been Tuchel’s starlet and man in form. The British midfielder frequently drops into the midfield lines to give Chelsea more of a 3-4-1-2 shape, and sometimes even plays alongside the two central midfielders in more of a 5-3-2 shape when Chelsea come under more pressure and defend a lead. Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi have all featured to varying extents as one of the other members in the front-three, with none completely nailing their spot so far. At the very front, Havertz and Werner have competed with Olivier Giroud and Tammy Abraham for a role as the number nine, with the former two often playing as more of a false nine and the latter two playing more as target men, responsible for holding up the play and engaging the attacking midfielders.


With Mason Mount’s role in the team, sometimes the shape can become lopsided, and that is why the 3-4-2-1 often does look more like 3-4-1-2. But Tuchel has demonstrated so far, if anything, to be a very flexible manager not only in personnel but in tactics, system and style of play. So those are the players and a briefing on how they have fared so far. Now let’s dig into more of this tactical analysis and how Thomas Tuchel uses his system to such great effect.

MIDFIELD SOLIDITY & SHUFFLING


One of the essential reasons for Tuchel’s incredible clean sheet record so far is the shifting and sliding of the midfield two in defence, most prominently Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic. Not only are Kovacic and Jorginho integral to Chelsea’s build-up, but they are also perhaps most integral to the team’s ability to win the ball back. This is also why N’Golo Kante is able to fulfil the same role just as well as the other two, as the Frenchman has always been an astute tackler and a defensively-sound presence. All three players are masters of the art when it comes to shifting and sliding with the play. This can be as a reactive approach, in case their team lose the ball, or a proactive approach, to eliminate the space in between their teammates when the opposition have it at their feet. Shifting and sliding essentially means working as a tandem unit to move horizontally (in particular) to eliminate both space and available passing options that the opposition can exploit. They always remain in close proximity, moving together based on the positioning of the ball. With their compactness and overall awareness/ability in winning back the ball, Chelsea can always have an instant route to stay in possession. The second they lose the ball, the midfield two race onto the scene and win it back for the Blues.

PLAYING OUT FROM THE BACK


As expected of a Thomas Tuchel team, Chelsea play out from the back with a meticulous set of principles of play. They remain very patient in possession, keeping nearly 70% of the ball in their thirteen matches so far. The German coach has always utilized a patient build-up, including at both PSG and Dortmund, but his Chelsea team have arguably been the most patient of all his teams – passing the ball around, switching play and looking for the best routes forward rather than thrusting it long or relying on any sort of counter-attacking play. This may be a potential reason for their lack of goals, perhaps being too patient in possession. But it’s made Thomas Tuchel’s side a very effective outfit, and one that is simultaneously very hard to break down.

BETWEEN THE LINES

A favourite under Frank Lampard, Mason Mount has quickly established himself as a favourite under Thomas Tuchel as well, due to his incredible ability on the ball and intelligent movement around the field. When Mount drifts inside, it affords Chelsea an additional route in central areas, something that they have struggled to achieve in all four of the matches that the opposition have stopped them from scoring. Against Wolves for example, Nuno’s 5-2-3 completely stunted Chelsea’s ability to attack centrally and they had no presence to operate on the ball in between the lines. That completely flipped around the very next match against Burnley, and they won the match 2-0. Although Chelsea have struggled to score goals, they have made intentional strides to change that through this sort of movement from Mount in between the lines. It’s also given the British midfielder an integral role in the team, heading into an important year for his national team.

DEFENSIVE TRANSITIONS