Football Opinion: Thomas Tuchel has finally met Chelsea's wild side, his next moves will be crucial
Chelsea were shambolic during their 5-2 defeat to West Brom on Saturday and might have lost even with 11 men. For the first time Thomas Tuchel has encountered the sort of lapses in concentration that eventually cost Frank Lampard his job. How he reacts will be absolutely critical for the remainder of the season.
Tuchel dismayed at ‘rusty and sloppy’ Chelsea in stunning defeat
It’s actually a tradition that goes back for most of the last decade. Of course they won the Premier League at the Hawthorns in 2017 but it is also the place where both Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo lost their jobs. West Brom are the team where Shane Long gave John Terry nightmares on more than one occasion and, most recently they were the team where Thiago Silva had a debut to forget.
It was good of Silva to really buy in to history as he once again confirmed West Brom as his bogey team, being sent off on Saturday for two sloppy challenges. Silva has been absent since the end of January due to injury and whilst his Chelsea career thus far has been largely blemish free it is bookended by these two catastrophic performances against the Baggies.
Thiago Silva of Chelsea looks dejected as he leaves the pitch after being sent off during the Premier League match between Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge on April 03, 2021 in London, England.
Image credit: Getty Images
Chelsea fans must have felt as if they had travelled back in time, albeit to earlier in the season, as the West Brom players occupied space quite freely in the Chelsea box, and ruthlessly put their opponents to the sword.
This is Chelsea focused but let’s take nothing away from West Brom. Manager Sam Allardyce has been brutal in his assessment of the team. He said they simply don’t score enough goals and need to win six out of their last nine to have any semblance of a chance to stay up.
His players certainly responded on Saturday. Coming into this game they had scored 13 goals in 29 Premier League matches. Chelsea had conceded just two goals in all competitions under Tuchel. A blunt force (West Brom) broke through immovable object (Chelsea) embarrassingly easily. The link-up play was lovely and the ruthlessness they showed in front of goal was remarkable.
What will really concern Tuchel is that his changes were made to defend rather than attack. When Silva was sent off he sent on Andreas Christensen for Hakim Ziyech, preferring to stick to a back three rather than move to something like a 4-4-1.
The result was no more goals scored and five let in and, worse of all, there’s an argument to be made that every single one of West Brom’s goals would have gone in with 11 men. At no stage did it seem as if Chelsea were swamped by West Brom’s attackers, they had the three defenders, wing-backs and two holding midfielders, until Jorginho was withdrawn for Kai Havertz late on.
Yet the space that West Brom found was embarrassing if you are a Chelsea fan (or a supporter of one of West Brom’s relegation rivals) and utterly hilarious for everybody else. The first Callum Robinson goal, he who only scores against Chelsea, was a thing of beauty but watching it back it’s astonishing how free he was.
Chelsea can have some complaints, perhaps once or twice a refereeing decision went against them at important moments but in reality this was nothing more than the Chelsea we knew under Frank Lampard. Under their old boss the defence was prone to severe lapses in concentration, often against teams far lower than them in the table. Tuchel had largely stamped these mistakes out but it shows that the demons still remain.
Tuchel himself is not without fault. Perhaps he rushed Silva back from injury, he certainly shouldn’t have persisted with Jorginho for so long, and taking goalscorer Christian Pulisic off made things far easier for West Brom. When Tuchel arrived one of the primary skills that was highlighted by pundits in Germany and France was his ability to make in-game changes, his tactical nous was one of the main things that set him apart from Lampard. However, he stuck with three at the back for too long in this match and a quicker change may have got Chelsea level before the damage was done in the second half.
Tuchel admitted as much after the game saying: "It's a big wake-up call for all of us, including me."
Chelsea's German head coach Thomas Tuchel gestures from the side-lines during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge in London on April 3, 2021.
Image credit: Getty Images
Chelsea and their fans have to hope that it is just a one-off blip, nothing else. They have a FA Cup semi-final and Champions League quarter-final to contend with, as well as a push to reach the top four. Their form had built them a little cushion, but that could be eradicated by the end of the weekend. Chelsea still have to go to the London Stadium, Etihad Stadium and Villa Park as well as hosting Arsenal and Leicester City, there’s no room for these sort of performances.
What happens next will be fascinating, and crucial to the success of their season. Fans will expect personnel changes but one suspects it’s more likely that Tuchel decides to keep faith in his players and give them a chance to show that it really was just a one-off. The Blues weren’t bad in attack, they were 2.60 on xG compared to West Brom’s 1.47, and on another day the scoreline could well have been reversed.
Yes it was another goalless game for Werner but in reality he was one of Chelsea’s better players, his movement was excellent and his work-rate can never be in question. Not using Olivier Giroud certainly raises eyebrows and perhaps Tammy Abraham’s injury has come at the worst time. Wednesday’s trip to Seville to face Porto and then back to London to Selhurst Park will tell us a lot about how serious this situation is.
As for West Brom, they can finally start to believe. It still looks highly likely they will get relegated. Afterall, they are still seven points off safety with eight games remaining. Those eight games are certainly easier than Chelsea’s but they still have Leicester City and Arsenal away as well as hosting Liverpool and Wolves in a Black Country derby. But they’ve found one of those all-important wins, and in doing so they’ve done the most important thing, they’ve given themselves a chance.
‘Chelsea off form because we were so good’ - Allardyce after huge win for West Brom