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Thomas Tuchel explains latest Chelsea tactical wrinkle and getting the best out of Hakim Ziyech

Putting the wizard to work

Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League - Stamford Bridge Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images

Year One of Thomas Tuchel is in the books, and while it’s not been entirely smooth sailing as of late, it’s ending on an excellent note, with yet another win over Spurs and some good vibes heading into this brief pseudo-winter break.

While not every decision Tuchel has made has turned out to be perfect, one notable shift over the past month has been a return of tactical tinkering, keeping everyone guessing with lineups and player roles.

The first 11 months of Tuchel featured Chelsea playing almost exclusively in a three-man defensive setup — Leeds United away back in March perhaps the solitary exception — with the makeup of the front-three largely determining the specific flavor, be that a 3-4-3 (double-six), 3-5-2 (lone holder), 3-4-2-1 (two No.10s), 3-4-1-2 (one No.10), etc.

But with injuries, overloads, and fixture congestion taking their toll on the team’s fitness and the players’ form, Tuchel has been tinkering more overtly in the past month. We’ve been seeing various setups based on four-man defenses while also still trying to figure out how to get the best out of Romelu Lukaku up front. Last night, the weapon of choice was a 4-1-4-1 set up, a slight variation on the 4-2-2-2 magic rectangle look from the League Cup.

We played a similar setup against Brighton as well, to less success, but against Spurs, it was meant to exploit the wider spaces in response to Conte’s response in the second leg to our opening move in the first leg. It’s been a bit of a tactical dance between the two head coaches, with Tuchel coming out on top every time.

“We tried a 4-1-4-1 formation today because we tried a 4-4-2 against them in the first match and that gave us an advantage but then they reacted to it in the second match.

“[We] had the players for the formation, players in shape, players who wanted and should be on the pitch, and good positions for them. [We] thought it could give us solutions to escape the high pressing, put the game in the opponent’s half, and have a bit more width without having wing backs [to] cause them problems.

“[Now] it gives us another option so well done.”

The various three-man setups all have an extreme reliance on wing-backs for consistent success, and our major injury problems at that position have played a massive part in our disappointing run of results. And that situation unfortunately doesn’t look to be improving anytime soon, thus motivating these new solutions and experiments.

Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

Fortunately, we do have the resources and the personnel to make these tweaks work, with Hakim Ziyech’s match-winning turn last night — even beyond his superb goal — a classic example of getting the best out of players by playing them in their best positions and roles.

“It was one of [Ziyech’s] best matches today because he was very reliable. It was also maybe his best position to be on the wing. We had the wide position on the right wing, that position does not normally exist in that particular manner when we play 3-4-3, it is more of a wing back.

“Maybe we can think about doing this. It was good because it gave him the opportunity to take risks where it was possible to take risks. He was very reliable on the ball in moments where it is necessary. The work rate was always outstanding. You can always rely on him on work rate and counter-pressing. So yes, well done and he needs to keep on going like everyone else.”

-Thomas Tuchel; source: Football.London

With fresh legs and a few fresh ideas, we can start to make Year Two as good, if not even better!