Well well, there’s always a first. It was a very frustrating afternoon for the Blues as they lost their first game of the season at Stamford bridge, coming at the hands of reigning champions Manchester city.
It is the fourth meeting between Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea and Pep Guardiola’s City. There was a breath of positivity amongst the Chelsea fanbase, given that TT had won all games against Guardiola since he took over as Chelsea boss. However, it was a different story in their latest encounter and in the end, Tuchel might have taken some responsibility for his side’s loss.
Guardiola’s Man City record vs. Tuchel’s Chelsea:
▪️ 1-0 loss in 2020-21 FA Cup semifinal
▪️ 2-1 loss in 2020-21 Premier League
▪️ 1-0 loss in 2020-21 UCL final
▪️ 1-0 win in 2021-22 Premier League
Pep finally gets the better of Tuchel 🔓 pic.twitter.com/WV5yFV74PF
— B/R Football (@brfootball) September 25, 2021
The Blues started with a 3-5-2 formation as predicted earlier with Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner upfront and a midfield trio of Kante, Kovacic and Jorginho. On paper, it seemed a decent lineup but we must note that Werner and the big Belgian were playing together upfront for the first time this season. It was also the first time the trio of Kante, Kovacic and Jorginho had started a game since Tuchel took over as Chelsea boss.
In the end, the Blues couldn’t beat City’s press and failed to create chances. It was a day to forget as they had a negative record of 0 shots on target throughout the entire match. Ederson was literally a spectator all game and barely had to do much.
Chelsea (0.22) 0-1 (1.70) Man City
— The xG Philosophy (@xGPhilosophy) September 25, 2021
Where did it go wrong?
In the opening 45 minutes, the Blues started so poorly and could hardly come out of their own half to create chances. In the same vein, Manchester city also failed to register a shot on target but they were clearly the better side and had the game in their grasp for a good part.
All of the possession and dominance soon paid off for the Citizens as they finally broke the deadlock few minutes into the second half. On a day where they needed efficiency upfront, Jesus came and saved the day. It could have been 2-0 not long after but Jack Grealish curled his effort wide.
Saves from Edouard Mendy and a goal line clearance from Thiago Silva kept the blues in the game as they searched for an equalizer but couldn’t get one. It was indeed a deserved victory for the Citizens and perhaps a reality check for Chelsea.
What does this loss mean for Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea?
In the fourth meeting against City since his arrival to Chelsea, Pep Guardiola finally got the better of Thomas Tuchel as he ended his three-game unbeaten run against him with a dominant performance at Stamford bridge.
It’s very rare to say this, but Thomas Tuchel got it wrong today.
The 352 set-up made it impossible for Chelsea to get out of their own half and they got punished for it. He should’ve changed to a double pivot at half time, but waited to long.
A rare, bad day at the office.
— EiF (@EiFSoccer) September 25, 2021
The 48-year-old German has often been hailed on several occasions as one of the best tacticians in modern football, with the highlight of that being a victory against the Spaniard in the Champions League final last season.
Good players do have their bad days and the same applies to coaches as well. Tuchel was in a frustrated mood at halftime as his strike pair of Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner weren’t able to get their chances or put up an encouraging stint upfront. Lukaku was more or less isolated on the afternoon and his best moment came when he slotted home from a Kai Havertz pass, only for the effort to be rightly ruled out for offside.
Tuchel was also bold enough to admit that his side’s unimpressive performance was all on him as he felt they failed to adapt to the opponent’s structure.
The gaffer on today's match. #CHEMCI ⚽️
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) September 25, 2021
Away from the negatives, Ruben Loftus-Cheek did put in a good shift after coming on from the bench and he could yet prove to be influential for Tuchel in the course of the season. The defence remained resolute as usual, with Rudiger, Christensen and Mendy also doing their jobs properly (as usual).
It’s only one game and it’ll be unwise to be reactionary after that loss. The Blues are still looking like serious title contenders and will be eager to bounce back when they play Southampton away in game week six.
Is 3-5-2 still the way forward or should Thomas Tuchel stick to 3-4-3?
Since Thomas Tuchel arrived at Chelsea, he reverted to a back three system because it suited the majority of the Chelsea players and they all adapted to it while flourishing.
Thomas Tuchel hasn’t changed his three-man defense to a four-man defense since his arrival. He did make a little shake up last time out, which saw Chelsea switch from 3-5-2 to 3-4-3 which worked out pretty well against Tottenham.
Key in Chelsea’s previous three wins vs Man City was having those two 10s behind the striker as outlets in the 3-4-3, to help escape City’s intense press & launch counters. With the 3-5-2, Chelsea badly lacked that connection into the front & were suffocated by the City press.
— Premier League Panel (@PremLeaguePanel) September 25, 2021
He decided to use the same 3-5-2 formation against Manchester city but it didn’t work out for him as the Blues were physically and tactically outclassed by their opponents. As earlier mentioned, it was the first time the trio of Kante, Kovacic and Jorginho have started a game under Tuchel and many felt that the formation was too defensive.
The effect of that was that Chelsea were unable to create chances for both strikers upfront and were unable to come out of their own half.
Few minutes into the second half, Thomas Tuchel decided to switch things up a bit after City broke the deadlock with the introduction of Kai Havertz in for N’golo Kante. That change also saw the Blues switch back to their usual 3-4-3 and they looked much better. All things being equal, it’s safe to say the 3-4-3 setup is a much more balanced formation for Chelsea, especially against ‘strong’ opposition.
In the end, City held out their lead and deservedly took all three points in a game that Chelsea had lots of lessons to take home as well as food for thought.
My verdict: Thomas Tuchel did admit in his post match conference that the loss was on him. From my perspective though, he played his best card with the 3-5-2 formation even though it didn’t work out as expected.
It is very understandable to see why Tuchel went with that because his attackers like Havertz, Ziyech, Odoi and Mount have all blown hot and cold so far this term as none of them has been consistent over a stretch of games.
Starting Werner was perhaps justified because he has had two goal contributions in his last two games, while also showing good work-rate and urgency upfront.
The Blues might have gotten a ‘reality check’ and the aim will be to return back to winning ways against Juventus in the Champions League on Wednesday.