After back-to-back 1-0 defeats, Thomas Tuchel rang the changes for Saturday’s contest against Southampton at Stamford Bridge, opting for fresh legs and fresh ideas, and giving starts to Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ben Chilwell, Timo Werner, Trevoh Chalobah, and perhaps most surprisingly, Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
All five changes made a telling impact in Chelsea’s dramatic 3-1 win. Hudson-Odoi played some of his best football in quite some time (not coincidentally while deployed not as a wing-back), Chilwell scored a goal (and gave away a goal), Chalobah also scored a goal and played great defense as usual, and Werner scored twice but only one counted because VAR hates him.
And then, there was Loftus-Cheek, striding through midfield like it was 2019 again. What a sight to see, over two years after his devastating, career-changing Achilles rupture!
Loftus-Cheek’s inclusion in the starting lineup confused many a pre-match lineup — or at least those not been paying close attention to how Tuchel had been using RLC in midfield in four of Chelsea’s previous five games (one start). Once again, the 25-year-old was entrusted with a box-to-box role rather than just given an attacking remit, with Tuchel looking to utilize his ball-carrying skills and dynamic strength.
“We decided to put Ruben because we were aware of their high pressing in midfield but we wanted to go through midfield. Ruben and Kova can not only pass but drive with the ball to escape the press. That is the reason we picked them.”
Tuchel’s substitutions were all on point as well. Mason Mount made an immediate impact, and Jorginho not only rescued an underhit pass out form Mendy but drew a foul that got James Ward-Prowse sent off.
And then there was Ross Barkley, pinging passes around like it was 2018 again, when he was a “complete midfielder” for a hot second. It was his excellent ball out wide — with his second touch after coming on! — to César Azpilicueta that led to Timo Werner’s winning goal. (He had made a similar impact on Wednesday as well, when he set up Romelu Lukaku for our best chance of the game.)
“For Ross, we hoped he could show what he shows in training. He is very active, does not feel the pressure and is always ready to create something. He has a strong right foot and has sharp passing. We hope he could create or shoot from distance and increase the pressure around the box.”
Neither Ross nor Ruben looked to be in our plans to this extent just a couple months ago, but they have played themselves into contention in their cameos and on the training ground, and Tuchel has not been shy of using them — even at the expense of the likes of Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech.
“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.”
“We always try to do our best to get the players in the best shape but at some point, after a lot of chances, we have to admit that Kai and Hakim are not in their very best shape. That may not even be their fault it’s just like this at the moment. They struggle at the moment to be decisive. [...] 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.”
Form is of course temporary, and class is permanent, as the old saying goes. We know that Havertz and Ziyech are good players, and they have shown that in Chelsea colors as well (especially Kai). But there are no gifts as Tuchel has said before, no givens, and people have to keep fighting for their minutes — some perhaps more than others, but every coach has their favorites.
So now it’s their turn to convince and to earn their opportunities.
“We need to win games [and] at a club like Chelsea, you need to be sharp every three days and fight for your place. This is what is going on.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Football.London
We’ve finished an absolutely grueling three weeks on a high-note, with five wins and two defeat in all competitions, and (at least for tonight) top of the Premier League table. The madness starts again in two weeks, after the international break. Time to rest up (for those who get to rest up)!