July 4, 2022

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Thomas Tuchel faces a real puzzle to work out his best attack at Chelsea

First the good news. Thomas Tuchel has still not experienced defeat as Chelsea manager – after Sunday’s entirely predictable stalemate with Manchester United, that’s six wins and three draws from his first nine.

That’s an enviable record. Tuchel has also restored a resoluteness to a Chelsea back line that had looked shaky and susceptible in the final throes of Frank Lampard‘s tenure. Just two goals conceded since the German came in and seven clean sheets.

Now the tricky part. Chelsea are struggling to score goals. They have averaged just over a goal a game since Tuchel replaced Lampard and haven’t scored more than two goals in a match. Three of the 10 scored have been penalties. 

Thomas Tuchel has successfully bolstered Chelsea's defence but the attack isn't fully firing

Thomas Tuchel has successfully bolstered Chelsea's defence but the attack isn't fully firing

Thomas Tuchel has successfully bolstered Chelsea’s defence but the attack isn’t fully firing 

Sunday's meeting with Manchester United ended up an entirely predictable goalless draw

Sunday's meeting with Manchester United ended up an entirely predictable goalless draw

Sunday’s meeting with Manchester United ended up an entirely predictable goalless draw 

That comes as a surprise given the surfeit of talented attackers in Chelsea’s squad. Sunday’s goalless draw was a poor spectacle and it underlined the fact Tuchel faces a conundrum up front.

Tammy Abraham was left out of the matchday squad altogether, Olivier Giroud started but offered very little. Timo Werner was introduced late on but made no impact.

Callum Hudson-Odoi suffered the indignity of being subbed off for the second consecutive weekend. Hakim Ziyech had Chelsea’s best chance but was largely subdued. Christian Pulisic was kept quiet by United.

Kai Havertz, just back from injury, remained on the bench and only the reliably brilliant Mason Mount emerged from the game with any credit.

That’s an awful lot of very talented attacking players to throw at the situation and fail to produce more than one or two clear-cut chances to trouble David de Gea.

Striker Tammy Abraham didn't even make Chelsea's matchday squad for Sunday's game

Striker Tammy Abraham didn't even make Chelsea's matchday squad for Sunday's game

Striker Tammy Abraham didn’t even make Chelsea’s matchday squad for Sunday’s game

The out-of-sorts Timo Werner came on as a late substitute but couldn't make any impact

The out-of-sorts Timo Werner came on as a late substitute but couldn't make any impact

The out-of-sorts Timo Werner came on as a late substitute but couldn’t make any impact

Tuchel’s record 

Played 9

Won 6

Drawn 3

Lost 0

Goals scored 10

Goals conceded 2

Clean sheets 7

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As Tuchel candidly said afterwards: ‘We struggle with scoring, it’s obvious.’ Yet the same players didn’t struggle for goals under Lampard early in the season.

So having successfully tightened up Chelsea’s defence in next to no time, Tuchel’s next priority must be to get his forwards firing on all cylinders if they are to end the season strongly.

It’s far from easy though. Tuchel has not had the luxury of day after day working with his players on the training ground amid a fixture schedule of unprecedented intensity.

Nonetheless, it needs to happen if Chelsea are to finish in the top four and challenge in the FA Cup and the Champions League. A goal a game isn’t going to suffice forever.

Tuchel rightly gave everyone in the squad a clean slate when he came in and he’s clearly still not settled on his favoured forward line.

It’s a Rubik’s Cube of combinations at the moment as he searches for the most effective set-up.

This fluidity to the pecking order is most apparent with Abraham who, on Sunday, seemed to have slipped to the status of Chelsea’s eighth choice attacker by not being involved at all.

From being Lampard’s first choice last season, Abraham has played only 123 minutes of league football since Tuchel arrived and has twice been taken off at half-time.

He named two spare left-backs among his nine substitutes on Sunday – Marcos Alonso and Emerson – but there was no room for the England striker.

Tuchel then said afterwards that ‘things are difficult’ for Abraham, suggesting he hasn’t fully grasped the way his new manager wants Chelsea to set up.

Callum Hudson-Odoi sits with an ice pack on his knee after being taken off at half-time

Callum Hudson-Odoi sits with an ice pack on his knee after being taken off at half-time

Callum Hudson-Odoi sits with an ice pack on his knee after being taken off at half-time

Christian Pulisic replaces Olivier Giroud but couldn't force a Chelsea winner at the Bridge

Christian Pulisic replaces Olivier Giroud but couldn't force a Chelsea winner at the Bridge

Christian Pulisic replaces Olivier Giroud but couldn’t force a Chelsea winner at the Bridge 

Chelsea’s next fixtures 

Premier League unless stated  

March 4 Liverpool (A)

March 8 Everton (H)

March 12 Leeds (A)

March 17 Atletico Madrid (H) CL

March 21 Sheffield United (H) FAC 

April 3 West Brom (H) 

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Abraham will return to the squad but it’s a fall from grace for a player used to being pretty much an automatic pick under Lampard.

Then there’s Hudson-Odoi, who looked superb as a born-again wing-back in Tuchel’s second game against Burnley but has since experienced his own backslide.

Embarrassingly hooked just 31 minutes after being brought on in last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Southampton, Hudson-Odoi struggled through the first-half against United, almost conceding a penalty, before spending the second holding an ice pack to his knee in the stands.

Tuchel sensibly held clear-the-air talks with Hudson-Odoi in front of the whole squad the morning after hooking him at St Mary’s and was rewarded by an impressive display in the win over Atletico Madrid.

Another few days on and the player is in a dip again, hopefully with not too serious an injury.

Werner has received a new lease of life since his compatriot Tuchel came in and he finally ended his drought lasting 14 Premier League games when he scored against Newcastle.

Prior to that he’d won penalties against Tottenham and Sheffield United, as well as setting up another goal against the Blades.

Hakim Ziyech struggles to get the better of United left-back Luke Shaw during the stalemate

Hakim Ziyech struggles to get the better of United left-back Luke Shaw during the stalemate

Hakim Ziyech struggles to get the better of United left-back Luke Shaw during the stalemate

Olivier Giroud, seen celebrating his winner against Atletico Madrid, is getting starts up front

Olivier Giroud, seen celebrating his winner against Atletico Madrid, is getting starts up front

Olivier Giroud, seen celebrating his winner against Atletico Madrid, is getting starts up front

Tuchel then decided to rest Werner for the biggest Premier League game of his tenure so far, pointing out that the £47million striker had started 29 of Chelsea’s 37 games this season.

Fair enough, but surely your principal striker should be starting against Man United and having a rest against, say, Newcastle or Sheffield United?

Werner came on anyway but seemed reluctant to throw himself at a perfect Reece James cross right across the United box late on, something that Tuchel wasn’t impressed by on the touchline.

It only spoke once again of Werner’s shortage of confidence at the moment.

As for Giroud, the usual super sub, he was rewarded for his stunning overhead kick against Atletico with another start but this time couldn’t be the hero.

The whole point of Giroud is that he comes off the bench and makes the difference, scoring the crucial goal for Chelsea. The 34-year-old is hardly the long-term solution but if he is starting ahead of Werner and Abraham, it really does sum up Tuchel’s predicament.

Mason Mount was the stand-out performer in Tuchel's team and seems the only assured starter

Mason Mount was the stand-out performer in Tuchel's team and seems the only assured starter

Mason Mount was the stand-out performer in Tuchel’s team and seems the only assured starter

The England star takes on United midfielder Fred during another impressive performance

The England star takes on United midfielder Fred during another impressive performance

The England star takes on United midfielder Fred during another impressive performance

There was much excitement that Tuchel could get the best out of Pulisic after the coach was responsible for pulling him out of Borussia Dortmund’s youth team as a 17-year-old and making him a star.

It most definitely hasn’t worked out that way for the American so far, with bit-part appearances. And it’s the same for another wide man in Ziyech, shoehorned into a formation that places less emphasis on attackers offering width and more on wing-backs.

Both were expensive buys but made by a manger who has now departed. Tuchel will have to make the best of what he has until the summer when it will be interesting to see if he demands cash for another rebuild in his own image or backs his coaching abilities to improve the current squad.

Mount, meanwhile, rises above the confusion. Tuchel has started him in all but one of his league games since taking over and it isn’t hard to see why.

Kia Havertz (right) returned from injury against Atletico - will he now get a run of matches?

Kia Havertz (right) returned from injury against Atletico - will he now get a run of matches?

Kia Havertz (right) returned from injury against Atletico – will he now get a run of matches?

It helps that the England man looks comfortable wherever you stick him in the attacking configuration and he was arguably the stand-out player on the field against United.

But perhaps Tuchel will soon feel the need to give Havertz his proper chance to impress and Mount will be on the bench.

Just another dilemma to add to the set. The one problem of having an embarrassment of riches.