Thomas Tuchel can’t do lunch
In the build-up to yesterday’s game, the Chelsea head coach admitted he hadn’t quite grasped how to best prepare for a lunchtime kick-off. In his pre-match press conference, Tuchel said: “12.30pm is a special time to play, one that I need to get used to with my routine.”
Since the German’s appointment at the end of January, Chelsea have played three lunchtime fixtures. Tellingly, they haven’t won any of them.
The Blues trip to Southampton in February ended in a 1-1 draw. The visit to Elland Road to take on Leeds United resulted in a goalless stalemate. And, of course, the capitulation to the Baggies was the worst of the lot.
There were mitigating factors for Chelsea’s dreadful showing at Stamford Bridge. Tuchel made sure to stress that in his post-match press conference.
“Everything was rusty which I was surprised about after two good days of training,” he said. “But I could accept it after two weeks [away], a lot of travelling, and a 12.30pm kick-off. I didn’t have the highest expectations.”
The problem for Tuchel is that Chelsea’s lacklustre display, even before Thiago Silva had been dismissed on the half-hour mark, was very much like their other lunchtime performances.
It’s something that the German coach has to solve, although the fixture gods may push the issue into next term.
Chelsea must now answer Diego Simeone
It was ahead of the second leg of Chelsea’s Champions League Round of 16 tie with Atletico Madrid that Diego Simeone discussed whether Tuchel’s side had any weaknesses.
The Argentine stated that the Blues didn’t, but then threw in a caveat: “The only thing is they don’t know what can happen from a negative point of view. They have not had a negative result yet and that will be a question until it happens.”
Chelsea coasted past Atletico the following night to secure their spot in the Champions League quarter-finals. They then defeated Sheffield United to book a place in the FA Cup semi-finals. Everything was serene as the Blues went into the international break.
Now, however, the pressure is on. The defeat to West Brom ended Chelsea’s 14-match unbeaten run under Tuchel and came at arguably the worst time given the Blues are in action on Wednesday in their first Champions League quarter-finals match in seven years.
Tuchel’s side need to produce a performance against Porto on Wednesday evening and prove to Simeone and the rest of Europe that it will take more than one negative result to halt the rapid progress made under the German coach.
Concern for Tammy Abraham
It’s easy to forget that Abraham is Chelsea’s top scorer this season; the academy graduate has netted 12 times in all competitions.
He has missed the last seven matches due to an ankle injury but returned to first-team training at the start of the week and was in contention to feature against West Brom.
But when the teams were confirmed, there was no sign of Abraham in the Blues squad. And Tuchel confirmed after the game that was a simple selection decision rather than because of the striker’s fitness.
He told talkSPORT: “He was not in the squad. I have to nominate 18 players. There are tough choices to make. We take the choices of what the game demands, of what we predict, of the substitutions that we have.
“In the end, we have to select 18 players for more or less 20 positions. So we have to leave three players out and Tammy was one of the three players.
“It’s nothing personal or nothing big. He has the same chance to play every three days like everybody else.”
That last sentence doesn’t exactly ring true. Prior to his injury, Abraham had started just twice in the Premier League under Tuchel, and on those occasions, he was brought off at half-time.
The 23-year-old has played just 123 minutes of top-flight football since the 47-year-old was appointed as Frank Lampard’s successor and it’s little surprise that there is a big question mark over his long-term future at Stamford Bridge.
Christian Pulisic problem remains
The American star was among the Chelsea contingent that made its way back out onto the Stamford Bridge pitch after the half-time interval.
Pulisic, who had struck for the Blues in the opening period, then burst into a sprint only to immediately pivot and walk over to the bench. He was brought off moments later and NBC Sports have since confirmed that the American star suffered a hamstring injury.
The 22-year-old’s fitness must be a growing point of concern for Chelsea as, per transfermarkt, the winger has missed 26 matches since arriving from Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2019.
There are no doubts about Pulisic’s talent and potential; his performances during last season’s Project Restart fixtures are evidence of both. But his durability is in question.
Tuchel used the American sparingly early into his reign. But he was then given starts against Leeds United and Sheffield United prior to the international break and featured in both of the USMNT’s friendlies against Jamaica and Northern Ireland.
Was it too much football after so little in the previous six weeks? Perhaps. The alternate view is, of course, that Pulisic’s body should’ve been fresher than his team-mates and not worn down by the relentless fixture schedule that Chelsea have played over the past two months.
That Pulisic’s body has failed him again will undoubtedly be a frustration. The Blues can only hope the problem isn’t a serious one.