When Thomas Tuchel arrived a little over 19 months ago, his primary stated goal was to make Chelsea “tough to beat”. And he did just that, and to historic effect. And that remained true for much of last season as well.
So far this season however, it’s been quite the opposite, and we got another heaping dose of that distasteful physic tonight on the South Coast against a young and willing and bright and enthusiastic Southampton team, who really should’ve had no business in coming anywhere close to winning this game. But not only did they come close, the three points was nothing less than what they deserved. Once they equalized, they never looked like losing.
“I absolutely dislike to lose, it is the second time this season and I don’t think it takes a lot to beat us and this I don’t like.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: BT Sport via BBC
In a way, it was worse than the 3-0 defeat against Leeds United in our previous away match, which was largely down to Chelsea making mistakes and gifting goals. In this one, we didn’t have to make (glaringly massive) mistakes; Southampton didn’t need them. They didn’t play spectacular football. They weren’t Manchester City or Liverpool or Bayern incarnate. There was no gegenpressing, tiki-taka, or totaalvoetbal revolution here. They just played a solid game, and we crumbled against their aggressive mediocrity.
These 90 minutes, even the 20 or so when we actually played okay, were a more damning indictment of this team so far this season than anything else we’ve seen since the start of preseason.
Head coach Thomas Tuchel, the man ultimately responsible for this clown-show whether that’s fair or not, reflected on this miserable night in similarly despondent terms.
“Obviously, we are not tough enough to win these matches at the moment, away. [We] were not tough enough as a team. [We] need to show a different mentality. It’s not enough at the moment to win at Leeds and Southampton. [We] can lose football matches [but] it’s too easy to push us off the track, too easy to win challenges, too easy to bully us.”
“[...] Soft, soft, soft defending. What stops l that? Pure mentality. Stop it by pure mentality. Stop it with defending mentality. There is no superiority for the opponent. There is no need to give shots away, there is no need. Just toughen up as a team and show a different mentality.
“It’s my assessment today. I don’t like to talk about it normally because you can’t prove it with data, the body positioning, tactical position in the field or whatever. But it’s like this. Both goals are cheap goals, soft goals, and should not happen if you expect to win a Premier League match in the evening at an away stadium. We need to be tougher than that.”
When the system is built on not conceding (as opposed to outscoring the opposition), and you start conceding, especially cheaply, the whole system indeed comes crumbling down. We’re seeing that happen repeatedly. It exposes other parts of the system (i.e. the low scoring). With an ever shrinking margin for error in Premier League games, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Anger and frustration can only get you so far however, and probably not very far in any useful sense. If a solution is to be found, we can only find it together as one, as a team.
“I don’t fear any opponent as I know what we are capable of. But this up and down, this face we showed today, and Leeds is not the face with which we can expect to get a lot of points away from home.”
“I don’t want to give any chance for anybody — myself, staff players — any room for excuses. We need to find solutions. What will help is the closing of the transfer window. We will know then who has the full commitment, what we demand, what role everybody needs to play and fulfil. And then everybody, including myself, needs to step up to a new level of performance because these are ok performances, not a disaster, but they are ok and ok can never be enough for us.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Football.London
You either fix the system or you build a new one, but the season’s well under way and we’re now into the thick of it, so ... yeah. Good luck to us. Not sure this can be fixed overnight or with another signing or two, yet it also doesn’t feel like an impossible problem. We know what (most of) these players can do. We’ve seen it, we’ve lived it.
Time for everyone to start earning their pay.