Machine-like Chelsea get the job done again in Malmo after Thomas Tuchel signs off on tactical masterstroke

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·3-min read
Machine-like Chelsea get the job done again in Malmo after Thomas Tuchel signs off on tactical masterstroke
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Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel was pragmatic after a far from vintage performance from his European champions in Malmo.

“Well, we got the job done,” he said after the 1-0 win. “I think that maybe now we are judged by results, but who isn’t? We needed the result, we wanted the result and we got the result.”

Chelsea returned from Sweden in the early hours of Wednesday morning in a much better mood than after their last Champions League away day.

That 1-0 defeat to Juventus last month came straight after a loss to Manchester City, prompting the most severe examination of Tuchel’s short tenure at Stamford Bridge.

The response has been emphatic. Unbeaten in their next seven games, including six wins and a penalty shoot-out triumph in the Carabao Cup.

Tuesday night’s victory — courtesy of Hakim Ziyech’s second-half strike — puts Chelsea on the verge of qualification to the knock-out stages of the Champions League, while they head into Saturday’s game against Burnley three points clear at the top of the table.

Their progress on all fronts comes despite the absence of key players and an overriding sense that they are still to fully click this season.

There is a machine-like quality to Chelsea’s ability to get the job done, which is why back-to-back defeats to City and Juve sparked such concern. It was just so unlike Tuchel to fail to come up with an answer.

But their reaction has been that of champions. Champions of Europe. Premier League champions-in-waiting perhaps.

Tuesday night was not convincing but it did leave Chelsea one point away from ensuring safe passage through Group H. Even with Juve next up at Stamford Bridge it is hard to imagine Tuchel not coming up with the necessary result to avoid a potentially nervy trip to Zenit St Petersburg in their final game.

It was a tactical masterstroke that made the difference here at the Eleda Stadium, with Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ziyech being ordered to switch wings in the second half and the pair combining for the only goal of the game. Tuchel later explained it was the brainchild of his long-time assistant Arno Michel — but whether or not that was modesty on his part, the buck stops with the manager.

His decision to follow that advice proved the game-changing moment — and when Thiago Silva rushed over to congratulate him following Ziyech’s 56th-minute goal, it felt like acknowledgement from the Brazilian of his manager’s contribution.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Tuchel has proved himself Chelsea’s ultimate match-winner in less than a year in charge.

For all the glittering array of talent at his disposal, he is the man who makes the difference more than any other. So while he was happy to pass the credit to Michels, it does not erase the fact his own in-game tactical dexterity is what has kept Chelsea’s momentum going this season.

On this occasion he deferred to his assistant, but great leaders surround themselves with people they trust.

Yet it was still Tuchel who had to take the decision to switch Ziyech and Hudson-Odoi. He said: “We had the feeling that maybe we could enter into the spaces behind Malmo’s low block, that we maybe lose important seconds if they have to switch the ball back onto their strong foot.”

It all sounds so simple — and it was, with a right-footed winger sweeping a cross into the path of a left-footer to finish at the far post.

Yet had it not worked, you can be sure Tuchel would never have outed Michels as the architect. He would have protected his assistant.

Man-management is not limited to the players — and if Tuchel’s coaching team feel empowered enough to make such suggestions, Chelsea will be the main beneficiaries.

But he remains the guiding force and the man who, more often than not, just gets the job done.

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