Tuesday, May 17

Thomas Tuchel made Chelsea smile and revived Lampard’s outcasts | Chelsea

TWednesday night he had a feeling it was almost too easy. While Chelsea kept Atletico Madrid at bay with a performance of tremendous purpose and intelligence, the brain was tricked into believing that this was just another curiously timed Premier League match. Or were Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-finals against Sheffield United a few days ahead? Only the occasional approach from Koke or Luis Suárez, or an increasingly despondent Diego Simeone prowling the touchline, offered a reminder that it was Atlético, La Liga leaders, veteran and seasoned Champions League champions. , the knotty scrappers that eliminated Liverpool last season. .

A little caution may be necessary. La Liga, its period of hegemony over (England tied with Spain at the top of the coefficient table on Thursday and the direction of the trip is clear), has fallen into decline, indebted and dying, its football notably lacking in rhythm and verve. . What Atlético did to Liverpool last season, while Covid’s storm clouds brewed, the looming crisis ready to expose the flimsy financial underpinning of the Spanish game, feels increasingly anachronistic, a final scourge of the old man. empire. Beating the presumed champions of Spain may not be what it used to be.

But still, there was something enormously impressive about the clinical nature of Chelsea’s win over both legs, and that despite the absences of Mason Mount and Jorginho by suspension on Wednesday. They dominated possession in the first leg, effectively castrating Atlético, and then in the second they were able to play a dual game, both controlling the ball, then looking devastating at halftime when Atlético occasionally advanced. Emerson Palmieri’s last punch, perhaps, was nothing more than the kind of well-crafted counter that often develops when a desperate team chases the game, but the first one provided a glimpse of something far more exciting than what Chelsea won. by replacing Frank. Lampard with Thomas Tuchel.

Timo Werner was theoretically the center forward, but the play begins with him half blocking a Kieran Trippier cross several meters into his own half on Atlético’s right. His touch allows N’Golo Kanté to be intercepted, and from then on everything is done at lightning speed. Kai Havertz to Werner to Hakim Ziyech at the back of the net: a combination of three of the summer transfers following the intervention of a player who seemed unwell for a couple of years. It was a devastating goal, not only because of what it meant in terms of scoring, but because of what it told Atlético about the danger of putting in too many forwards.

But it was also significant in a broader sense. First, this type of fast counterattack is characteristic of Tuchel and the German football school he represents. Jogi Löw may seem a bit old-fashioned now, but the national team coach was important in laying the foundation for the movement; Ziyech’s goal resembled more than anything the kind of goal that Löw’s Germany continued to score in the 2010 World Cup. Tuchel’s main criticism so far has been a slight sterility about his Chelsea, a lack of style, but this was proof that structures are starting to come together, how dangerous they can be if teams leave space behind them.

Neither Werner nor Havertz have had an easy start in England. Havertz is only 21 years old and suffered a fight with Covid earlier in the season, so doubts about him have at least been tempered with sympathy. But Werner’s suitability for the Premier League has been openly questioned, notably by Harry Redknapp in the “Did you bring the Germans?” interview that he gave the day after his nephew was fired.

Kai Havertz and Timo Werner during this week's training.
Kai Havertz and Timo Werner during this week’s training. Photograph: Darren Walsh / Chelsea FC / Getty Images

Werner had specialized in that kind of run from deep inside the left inner channel at RB Leipzig, but Lampard never used it that way, confining him to a more traditional left-wing or center-forward role. Wednesday was clear evidence of what the Germans – not just Havertz and Werner, but also Antonio Rüdiger, whose relationship with Lampard was far from easy – can do with a clear plan.

Perhaps the prior absence of such a plan is simply proof that the signings were made over Lampard’s head, but it’s no wonder that when Werner tried to adjust to a new team in a new league, his confidence disintegrated when He was asked to play in an unknown way.

His return of goals is still disappointing, and the way he seized an opportunity at the end against Atlético when he probably should have squared it perhaps suggests that he still weighs heavily on him, but he’s finally starting to show something that is approaching his best form.

It’s not the only one. A host of players who had seemed surplus to Lampard have suddenly rediscovered their form under Tuchel. It’s not just the three Germans who are suddenly playing with conviction. The move to last three suits Marcos Alonso well, but he is now a regular after being in exile for the last four months of Lampard’s reign.

And then there’s Kanté, displaced by Maurizio Sarri’s obsession with Jorginho and, perhaps distracted by a bitter legal battle for his image rights in France, a curiously timid figure under Lampard. But on Wednesday he returned to his best level, his reading of the game and his stamina combined once again to create the illusion that there is more than one of them, or that he has the ability to teleport.

A project that was sinking under Lampard has been revitalized. When Lampard was fired there was an outcry from those who, seduced by memories of him as a player, insisted that he should have given him more time. However, subsequent events suggest that Chelsea would have benefited by replacing him earlier.

Thirteen games without a loss for Tuchel mean his team should finish in the top four. Porto will be an uncomfortable opponent in the Champions League quarter-finals, but Chelsea are clearly on the easier side of the tie. And Sunday is the FA Cup, a break from priorities, but an opportunity to crown a good first half of the season at work with a trophy.


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