Wednesday, January 19

Chelsea in crisis: coach Thomas Tuchel has questions to answer

Before Wednesday night, the last time Roman Abramovich attended a Chelsea game in the Champions League was when they lifted the trophy in Porto on May 29.

The next morning he shared breakfast with Thomas Tuchel, during which time he agreed to extend the German coach’s contract at Stamford Bridge.

But this week, as he watched the Gazprom Arena from his cushioned seat, he watched the Blues produce a performance that could have a lasting effect on their bid to retain the European Cup in 2022.

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Magomed Ozdoyev’s injury-time draw for Zenit secured a 3-3 draw for the Russian side and left Chelsea in second place in Group H, meaning the defending champions will not be seeded for the draw. Round of 16 on Monday.

An overwhelming draw against one from Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Ajax or Lille now awaits them at the end of February, although Tuchel has much more immediate problems to tackle before he can start thinking about the knockout stages.

Chelsea have conceded three goals in each of their last two games, while the only victory they have recorded in their last four outings, a 2-1 win over Watford, was described as “lucky” by Tuchel himself.

Performance levels have clearly fallen, which worries the former Paris Saint-Germain boss even more than his team’s points.

“This is not the time to talk about individual performances, whether we are happy or not,” Tuchel began at his press conference on Wednesday.

“No one can be happy.”

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With three Premier League games to come in the space of nine days against Leeds United, Everton and Wolves, the Blues must turn it around or history could repeat itself.

Around this time last year, Chelsea topped the Premier League table and entered the knockout stages of the Champions League after breaking through their group.

Six weeks later, Frank Lampard was fired, paving the way for Tuchel to take over and revolutionize the team’s on-field displays.

Unlike the final weeks of Lampard’s tenure, Tuchel remains hugely popular in Chelsea’s locker room after leading them to European glory last season, but the bad habits that were evident during his predecessor’s reign threaten to return.

“It is true that at Chelsea you don’t need many defeats in a row to call it a bad period or a crisis,” club captain César Azpilicueta told reporters on Wednesday.

“It is part of this club to go to all the competitions with the ambition to compete at the top. Last season, in December, we were first in the group and first in the Premier League, and we had a very bad run of results.

“Every year is different. We have different people, different players and it’s just that we need everyone to get that extra percentage as individuals and as a team. Right now we are making a lot of mistakes.

“We need to recover that high intensity, the solidity of the whole team to avoid conceding chances.”

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If Chelsea win their next three games and head into the holiday matches on a positive note, then the last fortnight will soon be forgotten and Tuchel’s quality work behind the scenes will once again be appreciated.

And yet he cannot control all the factors behind his team’s losing streak, particularly the number of injuries that have affected his team, especially in midfield, where N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic have been struggling with his fitness for the past few weeks.

However, Tuchel won’t use that as an excuse, as the 48-year-old expects the same standards from his fringe players as his star names; a policy that worked perfectly last season, as he used his entire team during his first four months in charge.

Instead, Tuchel will call on his side to follow the mantra he instilled in them when he arrived in January, which is “horrible to play against them.”

His basic team requirements are non-negotiable, with his teams trained to play high intensity football and ‘gegenpressing’ that limits opposing teams’ counter-attack opportunities.

In recent games, however, the soft belly that turned out to be Lampard’s downfall has unwantedly reappeared.

“My analysis is very clear,” Tuchel said. “Our behavior changes when we have an advantage, and this is something we never did and should never do. We do the things we want to do at the highest level and we push ourselves until it hurts, and it has to hurt.

“You have to be tired at halftime and completely tired [at the end]. You have to play through the physical pain and raise your level of concentration and overcome adversity. Without all of this, if you change your behavior for an outcome, you allow yourself the possibility of being punished.

“If you are unlucky, like us right now, then it can happen to you. The challenge is to close the door and minimize the possibility. It’s very easy, we need a higher level of sprints, a higher level of running, intensity and concentration level.

“It is the basics, and the basics should be taken to a higher level while we are at the top. It cannot fall just because we are at the top, and this is what is happening to us right now. It is not the big picture problem, but it is what it is “.

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If Chelsea are unable to produce those “basics” in the coming weeks, then their future opponents have received ideal blueprints from the likes of Watford, West Ham and Zenit on how the Blues can be reached from an attacking point of view. . .

Their Champions League hopes have already been damaged and they cannot allow the same to happen domestically, assuming Manchester City and Liverpool remain relentless in their own performances.

And so, while Tuchel has already etched his name on Chelsea’s list of legendary managers after his heroic deeds in 2021, seeing Abramovich looking down on Russia was a reminder of just how fickle life can be as the boss of the Blues. .

You have to get through what is currently just a mini-crisis, otherwise you could have a far more awkward conversation with the owner than your Portuguese breakfast from six months ago.

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