Following the 1-0 win against Malmö FF in the Champions League group stage on Tuesday night, Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel was asked in the post-match press conference to rate three individual performances: Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek — three players on slightly different trajectories this season, all looking to impress.
Ziyech, who of course scored the game’s only goal — which really had more to do with Callum Hudson-Odoi and Havertz creating and setting it up on a platter — has been one of our most disappointing players this season, even more so than he had been at times last season, his first at Stamford Bridge. We had been expecting him raise his game to something closer to what was advertised, but that’s yet to happen — in part due to the shoulder injury he suffered in the Super Cup.
But Tuchel, who seems intent on letting Ziyech play himself into form these days, is seeing some signs of improvement.
“There is space to improve in his decision making, connections on the pitch, where to be more consistent. We always rely on his workrate, counter pressing, awareness. It is a huge part of his performances. He can still be more clinical and maybe grow more into the rhythm [but] I am happy for him.”
It’s been a similar story with Kai Havertz, who blew hot and cold last season and has had trouble truly finding his game this season as well — in part due to the reshuffle up front with the arrival of Romelu Lukaku. Havertz has done well enough in the injury-enforced absence of Lukaku — even if he’s not scoring in bunches — but eventually we’ll have to figure out how to make them both work at the same time.
“He has had some good matches with the ball and off it as well, bringing huge effort when we have the ball. I like what he is playing at the moment, I can see and feel how hard he fights for the teams and what effort he puts in.
“He is a bit unlucky at the moment. He won a penalty at Newcastle, today had two chances to score. But the last games I am very happy with his performances and the effort.”
Last but certainly not least, Tuchel was asked about Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who was making his first Champions League start in six years — a remarkable statistic considering he’s still just only 25, but one also indicative of his meandering, frequently interrupted slow-burn of a career trajectory.
That said, Ruben seems to be truly back on track this season, evidently fully over his Achilles rupture now, and playing with a confidence (and impact) not seen since 2019.
Tuchel’s also liking what he’s seeing, which can only be a good thing.
“I was a bit worried in the first 15 minutes if he could find another gear [but] he fought his way through. Maybe it is symbolic that he didn’t disappear or stay invisible. He wants to dominate opponents, not just to be a part of the game because I think he is too talented to just be a part of the group.
“He needs to use his full potential, this is the absolute key for him and if he does it, he can be a big part of the squad and that is why I am very happy. He was involved in a lot of dangerous moments for us and I am happy he pushes himself through these little downs like in the first 15 minutes then comes up with a strong performance.
“The next step is to show consistently and to push himself because his limit can be constantly pushed, he has so much potential.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Football.London
Loftus-Cheek’s re-emergence has been one of the feel-good stories of the season, and one we (as a club) clearly weren’t expecting considering the efforts spent in bringing in Saúl Ñíguez at the last minute. But RLC has outperformed the man just one year his senior at just about every turn, and has been growing in importance in the squad throughout the season.
May that long continue!