Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea reign starts without a finish as Blues play out goalless draw against Wolves

Miguel Delaney
·4-min read
 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The king is dead… the football was still fairly lifeless.

This is not to criticise Thomas Tuchel in any way, since he barely had enough time to prepare a training session, let alone a team, but it was the reality that the first game of his Chelsea reign was drab. His supporters might say this 0-0 represents progress from the farce that characterised some of Frank Lampard’s last matches.

For a very dogged Wolves, meanwhile, it represents a solid point as they attempt to stabilise a stuttering season.

The way they set up – and especially away from home – means this was possibly one of the worst games for Tuchel to start with in terms of getting the side to play. Everything had to be forced. There was so little free space.

READ MORE: What Tuchel’s Dortmund say about his Chelsea

Even after a day in the job, though, Tuchel did at least try a few different things. The formation was novel, and sources said beforehand that the level of tactical instruction per position was a step up and much more specific than Lampard’s. The English manager’s critics might say it was a step up in the simple fact that there was any specific tactical instruction per position at all.

It was still all a bit Maurizio Sarri rather than anything new, although we will only get a true sense of Tuchel’s football with a bit of time.

This game was really a free hit, before he expected to immediately start meeting the board’s demands of a Champions League place. To do that, displays will have to be better than this.

There were long periods where the only interesting thing about the game was Chelsea’s formation – a sentence that says a lot in itself.

It was mobile, with a lot happening, unlike the first half. The three-man defence often became a two in an instant, Ben Chilwell was frequently playing as a left-winger and there were times where Callum Hudson-Odoi looked like he was playing a sort of Chris Waddle winger libero role.

The young English forward – who was so often left out by Lampard, in a series of decisions that became issues in themselves – was regularly the main source of excitement, with driving bursts from deep. It begged the question of why exactly it was he was so often left out.

In the first half, he was regularly the only source of excitement.

For all Chelsea’s mobility in formation, there wasn’t much in the game. They actually played 433 passes between themselves, the most since Opta started taking records 16 years ago, to manage 78 per cent possession at some stages. It didn’t lead to 100 per cent entertainment.

Thomas Tuchel was animated on the sideline at Stamford BridgePOOL/AFP via Getty Images
Thomas Tuchel was animated on the sideline at Stamford BridgePOOL/AFP via Getty Images

Much of that, admittedly, must be put down to Wolves’ approach. They aren’t the most invigorating side, while Nuno Espirito Santo has never been the most indulgent manager. If there was a spectrum for Premier League coaches from conservative to risk-taking, he would certainly lean towards the former. His side here did well to congest a lot of the space Chelsea tried to move. This was the reason for so many passes. This was also an indication Jorginho was on the pitch.

And yet, as often happens in these games when it is a mostly attacking side against a mostly defending side, it was Wolves who had the best first-half chance due to the amount of space left in the other half.

Pedro Neto did brilliantly to create even more space for himself with a cut-back onto his right that took Jorginho out of the game, but Leander Dendoncker could only head his cross over. Neto later went closer with an attempted lob, from another sudden break.

Chelsea did at the same time generally look more sturdy, but that will be the case when you have so much of the ball.

It took them an hour to really use it in the manner Tuchel no doubt idealises, as Mateo Kovacic, Chilwell and Kai Havertz played a fine triangle that saw the left-back blaze over.

It was a start, at least, albeit without the finish.

Chelsea couldn’t muster enough chances to offer one. The best they had was a deflected effort that Rui Patricio pushed away.

There was some symbolism, and maybe a bit of irony, that came after Mason Mount was brought on. Lampard may have gone, but one of his favoured players still has a role to play. He offered one of Chelsea’s best moves.

This was not one of the club’s best opening games. And yet it was still so different from Lampard's last games.

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