Thomas Tuchel stood on the sidelines with a deeply furrowed brow as referee Anthony Taylor blew his whistle and the FA Cup semifinal between Chelsea and Crystal Palace got under way last night. We were undoubtedly ready for a close-fought, intense 90+ minutes, but what the Chelsea head coach saw in front of him was not what he expected and not what he had prepared his troops for.
For the first time all season, Palace were not in their usual 4-3-3. Instead, Patrick Vieira essentially matched Chelsea’s shape, setting up with wing-backs and three at the back (Cheikhou Kouyaté dropping into defense). And for the first 45 minutes, we didn’t seem to be able to make any headway against it.
The second half was a much different story however, and a big part of that was a little tactical shift that Tuchel made at the break.
“They changed their formation today and we did not expect that, so there were not the same spaces we thought we could explore. [But] we did not lose the focus for a second.
“We tried to find different spaces in the second half to overload the middle and to maybe accelerate the game more towards the box and the last third a bit easier. Minute by minute, it then became a bit more fluid.”
We still needed a bit of luck and of course to show our collective and individual quality, but it’s often those tiny margins that decide games. The coaches’ task is then to provide the best possible conditions for tilting those margins in our favor.
“It’s one of these games that you have to covert maybe a half-chance or the chance to win it. If the opponent does, which can always happen, you can maybe play the same game and go out the feeling of whether we did enough. But it was hard to do more without taking crazy risks.
“If you win the game, you say it was solid, focused and controlled, but there was not many other ways to play it in my opinion. We controlled it and didn’t lose focus or patience.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Football.London
Solid, focused, controlled. Maybe not the way we drew it up ahead of time, but still just the way we wanted it to go.
That’s another semifinal successfully navigated. One more for the trophy!