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- German association football manager and former player
Thomas Tuchel described Chelsea's defeat at West Ham as a mere bump in the road, and insisted: “There is no need to question the big picture and no need for major doubts.”
Having slipped from first to third in the table in the space of a few hours on Saturday, however, there are issues which need addressing if Tuchel's side are to avoid a repeat of the disastrous December last season that effectively ended Chelsea's title challenge and the tenure of his predecessor Frank Lampard.
A year ago this weekend Chelsea beat Leeds to return to the top of the table, but they won only one of their next seven games, collecting four points from a possible 18. Lampard was gone by mid-January, replaced by Tuchel, who admitted his side are struggling to cope with a schedule of 13 games in six weeks.
In their past five league games Chelsea have been held at home by Burnley and Manchester United, and lost to West Ham, dropping seven points from a possible 15. With fixtures coming thick and fast, starting with a trip to Zenit St Petersburg on Wednesday, Tuchel has to find a way to overcome the twin problems of injuries and mistakes caused by players whom he admits are 'overloaded.'
Here are the areas that need addressing.
Chelsea have a large squad with a combination of expensive signings and exciting home-grown talent, but it is being stretched now by a rash of injuries. Mateo Kovacic has been out for six weeks, Ngolo Kante has missed the past three games, Ben Chilwell is out until January at the earliest and Trevoh Chalobah was injured at Watford on Wednesday.
The weekend brought more problems, with Kai Havertz and Marcos Alonso limping out of the action, and Tuchel revealed that Jorginho has been having to play with a hip problem that causes him pain.
His first-choice strikers Timo Werner and Romelu Lukaku have just returned from injury, and Tuchel admitted that the latter is still not ready to play a full game.
The Belgian's anonymous performance after replacing Havertz at half-time would support Tuchel's assertion, and he said: “It is my fault because he is not ready for 45 minutes physically but still we decided to bring him because we lost Kai and Kai had a crucial role in defending set pieces, which is a huge threat from West Ham. So this is on me and I took the decision so it is my responsibility.”
Tuchel has to decide whether to play his strongest eleven against Zenit. Chelsea have already qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League, but victory would confirm them as winners of Group H.
Edouard Mendy was the fall guy on Saturday, at fault for two of West Ham's goals. He conceded the penalty from which Manuel Lanzini scored West Ham's first equaliser, and then failed to stop a late mishit cross from Arthur Masuaku, which proved to be the winning goal.
The once rock-solid keeper has looked shaky in recent games and Tuchal admitted his confidence may be low. Late in the game against Manchester United last week he gave the ball away to Fred, and was thankful that the United midfielder chipped it back to him tamely.
Tuchel defended his keeper, though, saying: “I don’t see at all why we should have major doubts with Edou. Every single goalkeeper has tough days and tough moments and they are in the spotlight because it is an exposed situation and position.
“Every little mistake and every ball loss or decision-making when you struggle is so obvious. That environment starts pointing fingers. This is absolutely normal. We don’t want this to happen because he is crucial for us in our defensive performance.
“Maybe on his very best day today we could have won the game 2-1. But now it is on us to also be there for him and to go through there with him. We would not do anything else with anybody else and that’s it.”
Tuchel has the luxurious option of recalling Kepa Arrizabalaga, the world's most expensive goalkeeper when he was signed from Athletic Bilbao three years ago.
Although Mendy took most of the blame for West Ham's opening goal, he was not helped by a poor back pass from Jorginho that put the keeper under pressure from Jarrod Bowen. It was not the first time the Chelsea midfielder has caused problems for his team in recent weeks.
He made a hash of controlling a high ball last weekend, allowing Jadon Sancho to equalise for Manchester United, and Chelsea also lost possession in midfield when Watford scored an equaliser on Wednesday.
When it was put to Tuchel that perhaps Chelsea are 'overplaying' in their own half, he responded with a more general comment about mistakes creeping in though tiredness, also pointing out that Jorginho is carrying a hip injury.
“We have crucial ball losses in situations where you simply cannot have them if you want clean sheets and want to dominate games. If you want to protect against counter attacks, it is impossible to make these kinds of mistakes, three times in a row. It is simply too much," the German said.
“It is absolutely normal to be tired through the Premier League in winter, it is a question of precision, details, risk management, where you take it and where you absolutely don't.”
But he says the devil is in the detail, and can be fixed on the training ground. “You can always sort the details. No need to question the big picture and no need for major doubts. In my opinion it is obvious why we did not have the result we wanted against United and why we did not have the result today.
“It is about details and that is why I think we can sort it out straight away. Nobody wants to make mistakes and it will not help if we just say 'hey don’t make mistakes anymore'. We have to go through it, we need to be better in decision-making in crucial moments of matches to be able to have clean sheets or concede maximum points.”