One of the narratives to emerge from Chelsea’s loss to Manchester City at home this weekend has been this idea that we cannot press — or press as effectively as before — with Romelu Lukaku leading the front-line, instead of, say Kai Havertz or Timo Werner. Given Chelsea’s surprisingly defensive, passive and reactive play for the majority of that game, that’s perhaps not surprising, but as with most narratives, it’s probably a bit unwarranted and simplistic.
Pep made a change to the false 9 system vs Chelsea. Last season, it was KDB-Bernardo rotating between the 9 & right-sided 8 role. Today, he flipped it to KDB-Foden rotating between the 9 & left-sided 8. Kept Bernardo deeper to press Chelsea’s midfield & carry the ball from deep.— Premier League Panel (@PremLeaguePanel) September 25, 2021
As Thomas Tuchel pointed out in his pre-match press conference ahead of tomorrow night’s game against Juventus, the gameplan against Manchester City should not be seen as something we’re wanting to replicate — especially since we’ve already shown our ability to press high with Lukaku leading the line in previous games. It was simply a bad day against the defending champions, who reminded everyone of their own serious title-credentials by outplaying Chelsea in just about every phase of the game.
“We were too passive against Manchester City. The defensive choices, the defensive plan, in my responsibility, maybe also led to this passive behaviour. That was not the plan, but it led obviously to it.
“When we had the ball it was too deep, we defended the box over a long, long period very well, so we did not allow anything in and around the box. But it does not feel good when you become so passive and so deep. The choice of the system maybe led to this behaviour, so we are all in this.
“We’ve already shown we can play a high-pressing game and have high ball-recoveries with Romelu.”
Key difference for Chelsea from the CL final was not having two 10s as outlets to breach Man City’s intense high press. In Lisbon,Chelsea often escaped the press with Mount & Havertz in between the lines in the 3-4-3. With yesterday’s 3-5-2, Chelsea lacked the options to do this. pic.twitter.com/4PZjy4XRrc— Premier League Panel (@PremLeaguePanel) September 26, 2021
It was the execution that was lacking, rather than our usual intention to control games through possession and counter-pressing. Tuchel’s very much a disciple of that school of thinking, and he’s certainly not giving on those ideas anytime soon — even as he adapts certain facets of it to make the best use of the players we have (such as playing more direct to Lukaku, like we used to do with the much more one-dimensional Olivier Giroud).
“You always adapt to the players you have with their strengths and weaknesses. [...] It’s a very complex game where we have to be in all the spaces, but the best way to defend is having the ball and then to counter-press without the ball.
“City did this excellently [and] had a very, very strong performance. We underperformed, they made us underperform, but there’s enough room to bounce back and this is necessary to show that we are adapting to our players, and that includes Romelu.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Football.London
Juventus may not be on City’s level, but this game won’t be easy either. In fact, it’s our hardest game on paper in the group stage. All the more reason (and need) for a strong bounce back then, while showing all our usual qualities.