Chelsea’s free-running full-backs trounce Juventus in thrilling display of Tuchel-ball at its finest

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·5-min read
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 (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
(Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

No wonder Thomas Tuchel did not feel the need to rush Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner back into action.

Chelsea have hardly missed their injured strike pair over the past month. And even if Werner came off the bench to complete a 4-0 win against Juventus, victory had already been secured by two of Tuchel’s free-scoring defenders.

Goals from the outstanding Trevoh Chalobah and Reece James put them on course for this famous win that secured qualification for the Champions League knock-out stages.

But Chelsea’s campaign has been defined by their ability to score from all over the pitch.

A total of 16 goals have now been scored by defenders in all competitions – five of them since Lukaku and Werner limped out of last month’s win against Malmo.

For all of Tuchel’s reputation for building a mean rear-guard, it is the freedom he gives to his defenders that makes Chelsea such a dangerous proposition.

Wing-backs are effectively wingers – pressing high up the pitch and repeatedly arriving at the far post.

Centre-backs, meanwhile, are a constant threat from set pieces – as was emphasised when Chalobah opened the scoring in the first-half.

Tuchel may have spent a club record £97.5million on Lukaku in the summer to give Chelsea a focal-point to their attack – but it is the sheer amount of areas they can hurt the opposition that makes so hard to handle.

Of course, Tuchel hopes Lukaku will repeat his goal-scoring feats that led Inter Milan to the Italian title last season. But the fact that Chelsea lead the way in the Premier League and are safely through to the last 16 in Europe, despite the Belgian’s seven-game absence with an ankle injury, underlines their strength in depth.

Lukaku was an unused substitute in this match, while Werner came off the bench for his first appearance since recovering from a hamstring strain and scored with virtually the last kick.

Both will strengthen Chelsea’s bid for trophies domestically and in Europe, but what a luxury for Tuchel that they have been given the freedom to fully regain their fitness without the campaign being negatively impacted.

It is down to the German that players like Chalobah and James have proved so effective.

Chalobah admits himself that he thought he would be going out on loan again this season. Instead, here he was starting against Italian giants Juve, alongside the legendary Brazil international Thiago Silva, who can now call a teammate.

It was his 12th appearance of the season and his third goal after Tuchel put his faith in a 22-year-old, who had never played a Premier League match before being handed a start in the opening game of the season against Crystal Palace.

 (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
(Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

James was already a star in the making before Tuchel took charge in January – but his game has gone on to new levels this season.

English football is blessed with world-class right-backs, but he might just be the best of the lot – if he decides to make that his long-term position.

James has such poise in possession, vision and technique that it feels like he could play anywhere.

Here he scored his fifth goal of the season, to go with his five assists so far.

Trent Alexander-Arnold may well wish he opts for a different role than right-back after proving adept in central defensive three and in midfield.

His goal after the break demonstrated his growing confidence – taking the ball on his chest before blasting low past Wojciech Szczesny.

Goals from Callum Hudson-Odoi and Werner proved Chelsea’s forwards can get in on the act, too, but their threat from deeper areas is what repeatedly catches opponents out.

Juve had no answer to it after comfortably repelling the European champions in the reverse fixture in September.

Like in Turin, Chelsea controlled the game. But on this occasion, they made their superiority count.

Tuchel had been left bemused by a 1-0 defeat in Turin after seeing his side totally dominate possession, yet only register a single shot on target.

Coming on the back of defeat to Manchester City, it was as close to a crisis as the German has endured in his 10 months in charge.

This game followed the same pattern, with Chelsea controlling the game from the start. But on this occasion, they made their superiority count.

Chalobah opened the scoring after 25 minutes of almost constant pressure from the home side that forced Juve into retreat.

The visitors had some cause for complaint in the build-up, with Hakim Ziyech’s cross appearing to hit the hands of Antonio Rudiger as the German controlled the ball into the path of Chalobah.

But they had no excuse for leaving the goalscorer in so much space inside the box to allow him to sweep the ball, unchallenged into the roof of the net.

 (AP)
(AP)

If it was a young centre-back who gave Chelsea the lead, it was a veteran who preserved it moments later.

On a rare attack, former Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata lifted the ball over Edouard Mendy. But with the away end ready to celebrate wildly, Silva defied his 37 years to race back and clear off the line.

James had twice forced Szczesny into saves before he doubled Chelsea’s lead after the 56th minute – and only two minutes later it was 3-0. Substitute Ruben Loftus-Cheek danced through the area before laying off to Hudson-Odoi to fire home.

After 72 minutes it was time to call for one of the absent strikers in Werner – and right at the death, he was on hand to convert Ziyech’s cross.

It was a reminder of the threat that is still to come.

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