Reporting from Stamford Bridge
On a chilly winter’s day in west London, Stamford Bridge felt different.
Perhaps it was the weather, crisp and overcast in true London fashion. Maybe it was the continued absence of fans, the sight of a soulless Bridge without thousands of Blues fans filing down Fulham Road and filling up the stands.
But what felt truly distinct, was the impact of Thomas Tuchel.
Appointed Chelsea manager on Tuesday and taking charge of his first game on Wednesday, the Blues’ clash with high-flying Burnley marked the conclusion of a chaotic week at the club. The formalities were over and the dust had settled: the hard work had begun for Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea.
The 3-4-3 formation was deployed once again by the German, with a few notable inclusions. Marcos Alonso returned at wing-back for his first appearance in blue since 26th September, while a fresh front three of Mason Mount, Timo Werner and Tammy Abraham led the line for the hosts.
As they did against Wolves, Chelsea started brightly and with real intent. They were creating chances but not taking them, with Mount squandering some golden opportunities in front of goal. Burnley would be no tough nut to crack, renowned for their resolute defending and physical style.
Early on, Tuchel was a spectator, silently observing his players as he let them play their game. The same cannot be said for Burnley manager Sean Dyche, his booming voice ringing round the Bridge. But soon, Tuchel became frustrated, evident in his shouts and demands to his team. Chelsea were in control, but with nothing to show for it.
Finally, five minutes short of half-time, Chelsea found their breakthrough.
Callum Hudson-Odoi put captain César Azpilicueta through on goal, with Chelsea fans surely anticipating a cross. But out of nowhere, the captain lashed it into the top corner through the arms of a hapless Nick Pope. How fitting, that the first goal of the Tuchel era was scored by the captain, the longest-serving player, Mr. Chelsea himself.
The Blues had a deserved lead.
With full control but the game being far from over, Chelsea had to be more clinical. Chance after chance had been wasted, but all that mattered was the scoreline in the hosts’ favour.
A rigorous half-time warmup saw Christian Pulisic enter the frame, coming off the bench for the second game running under his former Borussia Dortmund counterpart. With Hudson-Odoi on the wing and Pulisic ahead, Chelsea looked even more lethal going forward.
Despite attacking reinforcements, Chelsea still could not find the second goal. Their lead looked at risk as every opportunity flashed wide, and Tuchel was growing more and more agitated on the touchline. In the game, Burnley were well out of it. But by the scoreline, they were far from down and out.
Chelsea kept knocking on the door, with Werner and Mount unable to put their chances away. The second goal finally came six minutes from time, albeit from an unlikely source.
The inclusion of Alonso had Blues fans scratching their heads, but the celebrations would have been wild had they been there for the Spaniard’s strike.
Controlling the ball in the box to sheer perfection, Alonso juggled it into his control and lashed it past Pope, in a similar manner to Azpilicueta’s opener. Chelsea had found the rare vulnerability in the Burnley goalkeeper’s game, twice beating him by going hard and high into the net.
Chelsea had finally seized control of the game through the scoreline, a comfortable 2-0 reading to give Tuchel his first victory as manager. Job done at the Bridge.
A fantastic team performance worthy of the three points, Chelsea were outstanding. The plaudits will go to the Spanish goalscoring duo of Azpilicueta and Alonso, while Hudson-Odoi and Mount were vibrant in attack.
But the unsung hero – or heroes, for that matter – was the back three.
Azpilicueta led by example at the back, and alongside Thiago Silva, the veteran pair were unbeatable all day long. Antonio Rüdiger kept them going on the other side, with the wing-backs offering vital support throughout. Football is won by scoring goals, but without the defensive core, Chelsea would have been lost.
Recording back-to-back league clean sheets for the first time since November is a testament to Chelsea’s defensive display, which sees them rise up to seventh, four points shy of the top four. Progress is being made, and now the first steps have been taken, the Blues will surely be raring to go for a crucial few months ahead.
Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea have made their inaugural mark on the Premier League: the Tuchel era has well and truly begun.
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