Chelsea enjoying the best of both worlds as defence leads their attack

Tuchel's team have a great defensive record and five of the club’s 12 league goals so far have come from the backline

It has been a long wait, but soon Romelu Lukaku will directly earn Chelsea a Premier League point or three. The club’s €100m-plus signing has scored an impressive number of goals - three in four league games - since his return to the club, but, as yet, none of them have been the single match-winner or match-saver in Chelsea’s domestic campaign.

That’s partly because Lukaku is one goalscorer among an unusually broad set. He was bought to solve an issue - the absence of a prolific, world-class leader of the forward line - and is fulfilling it in two ways: with his own goals and by opening up space for others to hone their sometimes rusty marksmanship.

Chelsea are top of the table, outscored only by Manchester United and with a defensive record second to nobody. Those defenders have also been pulling their weight at the other end of the pitch. Five of the club’s 12 league goals so far have come from defenders, and another two from deep-lying midfielders, Mateo Kovacic and N’Golo Kante, who was helped onto the scoresheet in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur by a significant deflection.

All of which encourages Tuchel to believe he has a squad that is not only deep, but blessed with diverse strengths. He will examine more of that depth and flexibility in the League Cup, when Chelsea take on Aston Villa in the third round.

Tuchel will rest some senior players, giving a grateful pat on the back to the likes of Thiago Silva, whose header put Chelsea ahead at Tottenham. A shot from close to the edge of the Spurs penalty area by fellow central defender, Antonio Rudiger, completed the scoring.

Rudiger is only an occasional scorer, though Tuchel appreciates that when the German centre-back does contribute, they can be vital. His previous Chelsea goal pushed the club through their tense bid to finish in the top four last season, the opener against Leicester City in the penultimate fixture.

Thiago has always been an asset at attacking set-pieces, as Tuchel learnt when the veteran Brazilian, who turns 37 on Wednesday, was his captain at Paris Saint-Germain. “A fantastic professional,” Tuchel beamed of him. Thiago is not the tallest of central defenders, but there are coiled springs in his thighs. He has an excellent leap, and a fine sense of timing, the key to his goal at Spurs, where he met a Marcos Alonso corner to register his first goal since last December.

Alonso’s precision with a dead ball has been a boon for Tuchel. Chelsea’s first of their 12 goals so far in the league came from a free-kick from the Spaniard, whose career is on the up again, having drifted under Frank Lampard. Alonso was utterly marginalised for four months until Tuchel arrived in January. He now appears to have leapfrogged England international Ben Chilwell in the hierarchy at left wing-back.

Right wing-back Reece James scored his first Chelsea goal for over a year in the 2-0 win against Arsenal last month. Central defender Trevoh Chalobah scored in his Premier League debut in the 3-0 victory over Crystal Palace. They are among 11 Chelsea players to have registered goals in competitive matches already this season.

That spread of threat is a useful tool in a title race, as Manchester City, whom Chelsea host on Saturday, would testify. Last season’s English champions achieved top place in the Premier League with midfielder Ilkay Gundogan contributing more goals than anybody in a City squad whose 83 league goals were distributed among 16 players.

“We are in a good place at the moment,” said Tuchel, indicating opportunities in the starting XI would be extended for the visit of Villa. “The group is a strong group and we have to take care of it.”

Tuchel spoke of “a trust in the bench, so we can turn to people to have an instant impact.”

And amid all the goals from the back, he also looks forward to some from his under-pressure frontman. Timo Werner, the €50m striker, is yet to get off the mark this season.

“In the first games [of the season] I don’t think he was happy with his performances,” said Tuchel, “but Timo is more relaxed and fluid in his movements. There are clear signs he is in a good way. Against Tottenham he gave us an impression of how dangerous he and Romelu can be together.”

Updated: September 22nd 2021, 3:02 AM
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