LONDON… When in doubt, trust former drug addicts. They were on the brink of the Frank Lampard era, but goals from unlikely doubles Cesar Aspilicueta and Marcos Alonso ensured Thomas Tuchel’s first win as Chelsea boss on Sunday against Burnley.
Chelsea dominated ball possession and territory against a well-organised crowd, but Chelsea’s constant pressure eliminated any threat from Burnley – they were limited to one penalty kick – and instead Tuchel’s side dominated the midfield, creating chance after chance before two Spanish veterans led them to a 2-0 victory.
Everything that has been said about the expensive summer bookings and how Tuchel needs to find the right cocktail to realise his potential has been done by reliable old people. For Alonso, it was his first game since September; Azpilicueta, like Antonio Rudiger, often preferred Lampard and Reece James. Another player on the periphery is Callum Hudson-Odoi, who is always linked with a transfer to Bayern Munich, but he is deployed on the right wing by Tuchel and, as his performance this week against Wolverhampton Wanderers shows, he is a constant threat on the wing and keeps Burnley’s defenders in rotation.
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While they look forward to the real Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, a quiet renaissance is taking place among the old guard, who in another world might have seen the last 24 hours of this broadcast window as a chance to take a break elsewhere. That’s very true about Alonso.
The last time Alonso took over in September, Lampard’s team had only played three games in the new Premier League season. The then-manager’s confidence in Alonso collapsed during the 3-3 draw at West Bromwich Albion, exacerbated by an alleged feud between the two teams immediately after that game, and the Spaniard will never play under Lampard again. Alonso saw newcomer Ben Chilwell take his place on the left.
Alonso came out of the desert and delivered a typical spectacle: he was constantly chasing, rushing and then shifting forward again. He scored the second goal for Chelsea in the 84th minute. He scored in the 42nd minute when, in perfect style, he fired his own volley from the chest and hips to deceive Nick Pope at the far post.
We chose a slightly bigger size, it was no reflection on [Chilwell], Tuchel said after the game. Marcos is used to playing this role, and he enjoys getting into the boxing game. We are very happy that he could score the second goal that ended the game.
Once again, Chelsea played a flexible 3-4-3 with Alonso and Hudson-Odoi, key to the switching game but also to defensive stability. Thiago Silva was the rock in the middle of the Chelsea defence, while Rudiger and Azpilicueta were allowed to take the ball out of defence when space presented itself. That action enabled Chelsea to open the scoring by playing the ball from their own penalty area quickly to Hudson-Odoi, whose turnaround ball allowed Azpilicueta to finish.
The first signs of Tuchel’s reign were a preference for defensive stability and attack around the opposition’s perimeter. It’s reminiscent of Pep Guardiola’s use of full-backs, but it’s Chelsea who have now bought into pressing and counter-pressing; they actually go out of their way to smother the opposition, deny themselves chances and then strike with their own goals.
Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso helped Chelsea to their first win under Thomas Tuchel. Darren Walsh/Chelsea Club via Getty Images.
A very complete performance, again defensively and offensively, Tuchel said. He was physically very strong, with long balls and duels in the air, fighting for the second ball. We had a lot of active defenders, never passive ones.
Chelsea had chances to widen the gap, but the combination of Burnley’s defensive temptation – led by the exceptional James Tarkowski – and Chelsea’s clinical lack of finishing in front of goal kept the score at two. Tuchel was pleased with both goals, but said after the game: That should have been a signal for the guys up front to score for the defenders. We miss the finish and delivery.
Werner’s problems for goal persisted, and it seems increasingly likely that getting the best out of him will be a long-term project. He operated mostly in his favorite position – on the left at halftime to time his game perfectly – but he hasn’t clicked yet. He created a few half chances and even hit the ball in the first half, which could have been his best chance, but we have a feeling he will continue to discover his confidence under Tuchel. The new manager said earlier this week that there was pressure on Werner, and that was because the Chelsea No11 is not indifferent.
Those who have played for Tuchel say he bases his approach to player motivation on whether they need a hug or a rocket. With Werner, it feels like he’s the first, but it takes time. He needs such a happy, ugly face to take the burden off his shoulders.
Mateo Kovacic has stood out in midfield for Chelsea and Jorginho is a vital cog in the changeover game. Mason Mount brought a lot of energy and dynamism, but Tuchel has yet to determine exactly how he will fit into the 3-4-3 system. Havertz is the most likely long-term answer on the right, but his playing time was limited to 10 minutes off the bench while Hakim Ziyech was sidelined by fatigue. Christian Pulisic brought a lot of momentum to the match as a replacement for Tammy Abraham, but the team still needs to refine its attacking precision to finally make things work in front of goal. When they meet, they will be ruthless.
It was a comfortable win for Chelsea and it looked like one of those mediocre wins for a team that plays with confidence and knows how important it is to win against energetic and tough opponents like Burnley. But Tuchel’s era is only six days away, so he began to restore confidence in the team. They may not be the most important long-term players in Chelsea Tuchel’s plan, but so far they are the glue that is slowly seeping into the cracks left by last week’s turmoil.