As Chelsea’s players relaxed at home on Tuesday on their only day off ahead of the Champions League final, Thomas Tuchel and his coaching staff were in at Cobham planning how to defeat Manchester City in Porto on Saturday.
The German wouldn’t have had to start with a blank canvas. Since his appointment by the Blues at the end of January, Tuchel has twice guided Chelsea to victories over Pep Guardiola’s side.
In April’s FA Cup semi-final, which the Blues won 1-0 at Wembley, Tuchel went with a front three of Mason Mount, Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech. At least that’s how it looked on paper.
In reality, the Chelsea shape, especially out of possession, was 3-5-2 with Mount dropping into midfield to support N’Golo Kante and Jorginho and Werner and Ziyech playing as the two forwards.
Yet when the two clubs met earlier this month at the Etihad Stadium in the Premier League, Tuchel deployed in the regular 3-4-2-1 shape with Werner flanked by Ziyech and Christian Pulisic. The result, albeit somewhat fortuitous, was a 2-1 Chelsea win.
Tuchel is wary of putting too much stock in the two results, perhaps because Pep Guardiola didn’t name his strongest possible side in either match.
“I don’t know if it’s an advantage but we are aware of it that we closed the gap to Man City in two games,” the Chelsea head coach said on Monday.
“We did it in a short period of time, not so long ago. But in a final anything can happen in all directions.
“Luck is a huge part, the mental approach over who can handle the pressure, the little details like who can release the pressure and have the first positive moment in the match.
“You have to adapt constantly to what happens, this is very, very important. But I think it helped us a lot to bond, grow and arrive with self-confidence.
“Man City are the benchmark in Europe and this league. We are the guys who want to hunt them and close the gap. We want to challenge them and it’s what we will for a minimum of 90 minutes in Porto.
“The experience helps but it doesn’t give us an advantage. It helps us arrive with self-confidence and be aware of what is needed to have the chance to beat them.”
During his short Chelsea tenure, Tuchel has stuck to his back-three system. He will not deviate away from that in Porto, it would be too big a risk.
Yet the 47-year-old isn’t beyond throwing a selection curveball: that was evident in the FA Cup final when Reece James starting at centre-back rather than wing-back.
So if Tuchel was to go make a left-field choice, what could it be? Well, here are three potential options…
Had the final been played at the start of the month, it’s almost certain the Dane would’ve been handed a start by Tuchel. Unfortunately, in the victory at the Etihad, Christensen suffered a hamstring injury in the build-up to Raheem Sterling’s opener.
The 25-year-old hasn’t featured for the Blues since, although he was among the substitutes for the defeat to Aston Villa on Saturday. In his absence Cesar Azpilicutea has remained consistent while, as mentioned above, James has also impressed in the back three.
Yet it shouldn’t be forgotten that Tuchel opted to play Christensen on the right of the defence in both legs of the semi-final against Real Madrid and use Azpilicutea as a wing-back.
Given the attacking threat City possess, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility the Chelsea head coach goes with that set-up once again.
This is a selection very much linked to what happens on the opposite flank. If James is deployed as a wing-back on the right, Tuchel could opt to use Alonso on the left.
The Spaniard is not as mobile as Ben Chilwell nor is he as defensively sound, but the Spaniard is a greater goal threat inside the opposition penalty area and he does have a tendency to find the back of the net in key games.
That was once again proved at the Etihad as it was the 30-year-old who popped up in the City penalty area in the dying seconds to scuff home the winner.
It’s not been an easy debut season at Stamford Bridge for Ziyech. Two injuries – one to his knee and the other to his hamstring – caused him to miss much of the first half of the campaign. And under Tuchel he has never been a regular starter.
And yet in several big games, Tuchel has included Ziyech in his side. The Moroccon international started the victory at the Etihad in which he scored the winner and was named in the starting XI for the FA Cup final, although he was brought off after an ineffective 68 minutes.
The 28-year-old’s quality is beyond doubt, however. He is a player capable of winning a match in a single moment and has scored important goals this term. Tuchel could trust the man nicknamed ‘The Wizard’ to conjure up a piece of magic in Porto.
Source by Football London