How Chelsea and Thomas Tuchel can break Man City’s domestic dominance

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·5-min read
How Chelsea and Thomas Tuchel can break Man City’s domestic dominance
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Chelsea’s trip to Manchester City tomorrow lunchtime should have been a classic six-pointer in the race for the title.

Instead, even victory for Thomas Tuchel’s side will do little to fire belief they can reel in Pep Guardiola’s runaway Premier League leaders, with Liverpool arguably the team who stand to benefit the most if City’s relentless march can be halted.

Tuchel is not yet ready to declare Chelsea’s title pursuit over, but the fact that victory at the Etihad would still leave the gap to the top at seven points is a sobering reminder of the challenge facing the German. Defeat would leave him 13 points adrift of Guardiola.

He was supposed to take the fight to the Catalan this season after beating him on three occasions last term – including May’s Champions League Final. But a once-six-point lead at the top has given way to a 10-point deficit and history tells us City do not let such commanding positions slip.

So while tomorrow represents Chelsea’s last chance to put up a semblance of a challenge to the reigning champions – the wider question is whether they have the potential to break City’s dominance beyond this season and what it will take to deliver a first league title since 2017?

Quality over quantity

Romelu Lukaku was supposed to be the final piece of the puzzle, but he has struggled for fitness and form. Tuchel is still to find the right balance up front, with a bloated roster of forwards.

Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech and Callum Hudson-Odoi still fail to produce on a consistent basis and some difficult decisions will need to be made this summer to sharpen up Chelsea’s cutting edge with quality, rather than quantity.

Top-class additions are also needed in midfield and defence, with more fringe players offloaded.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Tactical shift

The dominance of Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp in recent years has been down to their ability to blow their rivals away, where as Tuchel’s more pragmatic approach has been found wanting on too many occasions this season.

While it is not fair to characterise Chelsea as an overly-defensive team, solidity at the back appears to have taken priority over a forward line that has consistently been a problem area under Tuchel. It feels unlikely they will be able to seriously challenge City until that balance shifts.

Over-reliance on Kante

He is simply the best midfielder in the Premier League, if not the world and Chelsea are just not the same without N’Golo Kante.

But with the Frenchman increasingly sidelined with injury, they need to find a viable alternative.

Declan Rice is not a like-for-like replacement, but the West Ham man is the type of dominant figure who would help ease the strain on Kante.

At City, Guardiola is able to cover Kevin De Bruyne’s absence with a host of world-class options in Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden and Ilkay Gundogan. Chelsea do not have such luxuries.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Attitude

Tuchel dismissed the idea of a December jinx, but it was Chelsea’s mid-season slump that effectively put paid to their title hopes.

A year earlier it cost Frank Lampard his job and it is a consistent theme that when the rot sets in, it is difficult to snap out of.

While Tuchel can point to mitigating factors last month, such as injuries and a Covid outbreak, he cannot have failed to be alarmed by the soft underbelly that was exposed as Chelsea squandered their lead at the top of the table.

Time

It is the commodity rarely afforded Chelsea managers, but Tuchel is a proven winner with a long-term vision.

Given the opportunity to build in the manner of Guardiola and Klopp, he could truly build a team in his own image.

The question is whether that is what Chelsea want. After all, they have a winning formula.

But with their wait for the title now looking to be extended to six years, will they have to rethink that model to regain domestic dominance?

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

Patience over possession

It is not often that Chelsea are on the wrong end of the possession stats, but Tuchel accepts the fact that City will dominate the ball.

That has not stopped the German enjoying the better of his rivalry with Guardiola in recent times, winning three of their four contests since he arrived at Stamford Bridge.

It is a matter of patience and hitting City at the right time to exploit the numbers they push forward.

But Tuchel admitted his side were too passive in their 1-0 defeat to the champions in September, with Chelsea barely laying a glove on their opponents and well-beaten, despite the narrow scoreline.

Unleash Hakim Ziyech

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

The Morocco winger has been a thorn in the side for Guardiola, even if he continues to frustrate Tuchel.

He scored twice against City last season in wins in the FA Cup semi-final and at the Etihad, with his speed on the break repeatedly exposing them in those games.

He was an unused substitute in the Champions League Final, as well as the September defeat, but whether used from the start or the bench, he has the potential to be a match-winner.

Big games, big names

Chelsea need their leaders to step up at the Etihad as they look to make a statement at the home of the champions.

Even if victory is unlikely to change the course of the title race, it is the chance to lay down a marker.

And they will need big performances from Kante, Thiago Silva and Antonio Rudiger if they are to halt City’s 11-game winning run in the league.

Rudiger underlined his influence on Chelsea with his towering performance against Spurs on Wednesday – and the return of Kante and Silva from Covid means Tuchel has two of his most trusted lieutenants for such a vital match.

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