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Tuchel not worried about Chelsea mentality, worried about set-piece defending, chance conversion, individual errors

Areas of urgent improvement needed

Leeds United v Chelsea FC - Premier League Photo by Dave Howarth - CameraSport via Getty Images

There is a strong temptation to analyze football games based entirely on the scoreboard. After all, results are the only thing that matter in the end, and when you have only 280 characters on Twitter or 90 seconds in a TV studio to get your viewpoint across — especially in the immediate wake of a game — you will necessarily lose depth and nuance (though depth and nuance don’t sell and most people don’t seem to be interested in hearing any most of the time anyway).

But for those who actually play and coach the game, the scoreboard represents only job security. The narratives attached to those results, keyed by words such as mentality or character, represent only public support in the good times, and public pressure in the bad times. They, by definition, have to look beyond the scoreline, and focus only the things they can actually control — especially when it comes to areas of improvement.

For Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel, those areas of improvement within our control, those areas that he can thus hope to influence and with which he might hope to affect the outcomes of games, include set-piece defending, structured defending, and chance creation. And those are the precisely the areas he will be focusing on in the wake of Chelsea’s shocking 3-0 defeat against Leeds United this weekend.

“I just try to help to create chances and not give away chances. I think [...] we created chances. The chances that we allowed were not real goalscoring chances. I think set pieces are something we need to defend better urgently. We need to reach the same level as last season because it is not good at the moment.

“[...] my job, in particular, is to create chances and create a structure to create chances, touches in the box and big chances. And that we cannot allow big chances, and I think we did both. [And yet] we manage to lose 3-0. It is tough to analyse, but it is a fact.”

Executing within those structures is up to the players. Tuchel cannot influence that directly, though he does bear responsibility for it. And of course when certain patterns start emerging, when the shortcomings start become rather too familiar, questions may also arise about the concepts themselves.

Leeds United v Chelsea FC - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

But for now, the focus remains on improving rather than starting anew.

“It’s not the day to talk about individual performances [and] with these kinds of mistakes [like Mendy’s], I don’t think we need to speak a lot. He knows himself that this was a mistake [but] I don’t think it is the mentality that Édou doesn’t take the right decision.

“I think it is mentality in set pieces at the moment. But not the big mentality as a headline, please. The mentality in set-pieces is not good enough. Mentality comes down to discipline and doing what we should do and what makes us strong in the first 15-20 minutes.

“It was enough to kill the game and bring it into a direction where it was last season. If they scored the opening chance did what they did, and a win is possible. Maybe you don’t believe me, and I don’t see a connection that we have a huge mentality problem and that we are not ready for what’s coming.”

Outcomes in football games often hinge on the smallest of events. Sometimes it’s a refereeing decision or two. Sometimes it’s a shot, a pass, or a specific skill. Sometimes it’s a bounce or a bit of general luck. And sometimes it’s the absence of the same.

Yesterday, everything seemed to go against Chelsea, in every aspect. That can happen and is well within the statistical margin of error. Our job (and Tuchel’s job) is to minimize our reliance on such factors and minimize the impact such factors can have on the outcomes of our games.

Clearly, that remains a work in progress.

“We cannot get frustrated in the Premier League. It is a pure joy to play games in an atmosphere like this. We should just do it and accept it [...] there’s no time to be shocked.

“[And] for 20 minutes, we did it. But then we did stuff that cost us the dominance and chance to create more chances. But still, we did not invite pressure or create chances. We were not under pressure or in chaos.

“I can see why you think this is the story, but for me, it is not the story. We did not lose discipline or were all over the place. We didn’t lose discipline against the ball, but with the ball, we weren’t disciplined enough. We were not sharp enough after 20 minutes, but it was not like we couldn’t cope with anything. It is the set piece and own goal that was the story today. To analyse bigger things is difficult.”

-Thomas Tuchel; source: Football.London

Well, no one said it would be easy...

Leeds United v Chelsea FC - Premier League Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

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