Guardiola’s Kryptonite: Are Chelsea The Team To Dethrone City?

This image is a derivative of Chelsea FC Stadium Viewing by JC (CC BY 2.0)

When Thomas Tuchel took over at Chelsea, he had one aspiration in mind; building a team that nobody would want to play against and doing it as quickly as possible.

If ever there was a way for Tuchel to prove he was a man of his word then this was it.

Chelsea was ninth and far from a united football team, and despite all the individual talent at their disposal, they were disjointed, easy to score against and simply a shell of a club who were a dominant force in Europe.

No-one foresaw what Tuchel would do next.

He successfully reinvigorated and re-energised the squad with a barnstorming second-half of the season – taking Chelsea back up the table and into fourth place.

However, it was their feats in Europe which had fans believing again as Tuchel, like Roberto Di Matteo (who also took over mid-season) did nine years earlier, taking the Blues to the summit of European football.

By knocking off Premier League champions Manchester City in the Champions League final – it made Chelsea a ‘de-facto’ number one contender for the Sky Blues’ crown in the league.

Some even coined his system the ‘Kryptonite’ to Pep Guardiola’s system.

Fresh off their success in Porto, Chelsea fans are optimistic and have every right to believe they can make further inroads in the league.

If Tuchel could engineer all that in five months, imagine what he may be able to achieve with a transfer market and full pre-season?

Here’s why Chelsea are ready to take the next step.

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Rock-solid defence

As the old saying goes – the best form of attack is defence.

In Chelsea’s case, this couldn’t be more apparent under Tuchel as he orchestrated a massive improvement upon their once leaky defensive set-up from the moment he took over – switching from Frank Lampard’s 4-3-3 to a more rigid 3-4-3/3-4-2-1 setup.

Their ability to suffocate sides defensively comes from their ability to overwhelm the opposition with numbers through the middle and out wide.

The likes of Antonio Rudiger, Cezar Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen and Marcos Alonso benefited from the switch in system, thriving and playing a higher volume of minutes in the new set-up – while Callum Hudson-Odoi also saw minutes at wing-back.

Lampard regulars, Reece James, Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell also saw plenty of minutes as Tuchel tinkered with his best defensive unit – all while juggling a fixture congested with league, FA Cup and Champions League fixtures.

Throughout his first five-months in charge, no side was better defensively than Chelsea.

Perhaps there is no better way to compare their drastic change defensively than by looking at the 19 games both Tuchel and his predecessor Lampard had in charge last season.

Under Lampard, Chelsea’s xG for conceded shots stood at 19.33 from 189 shots, while under Tuchel it dropped to 10.74 from 144 shots – showcasing that not only were they conceding a lesser volume of shots, but forcing opponents into more difficult ones too.

Their already deep defensive stocks will be further bolstered by the potential arrival of Sevilla defender Jules Kounde whose ball-playing abilities suit Tuchel’s desire to play out from the back.

Kounde completed (2024), attempted (2351) more passes than any centre-back in La Liga last season along with ranking first in key passes (ten) and dribbles (30).

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Midfield one-two punch

You’d be hard pressed to find a better midfield double pivot in club football right now than N’Golo Kante and Jorginho.

Two tireless midfielders who bring two different skill sets to the table but complement each-other brilliantly – creating the perfect duet which fits the Tuchel system brilliantly.

Kante is everywhere. Literally, everywhere.

Not many midfielders can cover as much ground as the French midfielder does and his sometimes-audacious style of play is complimented perfectly by Jorginho who acts the metronome and the steadier in behind.

They may not do the flashy tricks and skills which feature on YouTube highlight reels, but they are the tandem which keeps Chelsea ticking over and are the heartbeat of the Tuchel system.

Further up the pitch, Mason Mount and Kai Havertz fit in brilliantly just in-front of the double-pivot.

Mount, who was voted Chelsea’s Player of the Year, thrived in his new role closer to goal under Tuchel, ranking in the 85 and above percentile among attacking midfielders and wingers in shots, touches in the box, open play xG assists.

Throughout the entire season, Mount ranked second in the league for shot-creating actions with 163.

Havertz, however, was utilised as a false nine due to Chelsea’s inefficiencies in attack (which may change with the arrival of Romelu Lukaku) – despite featuring in the same role in their last two pre-season games.

After a slow start to his career in London, the German midfielder also experienced an up-tick in the second-half of the season – increasing his shots, final third touches and take on attempts per 90.

Hakim Ziyech has also thrived this pre-season, scoring twice against Tottenham last week and impressing in his 63 minutes on the pitch – despite being linked with a move to Milan.

The former Ajax midfielder ranked third in the league for shot creating actions per 90 with 5.38 but due to a lack of game-time – he only accumulated 70 for the entire season.

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Lukaku – the final piece

If Jorginho is your top scorer in the league then you know there’s a problem that needs rectifying.

Chelsea’s gaping chasm in attack couldn’t be more than apparent and were at times papered over by their brilliance in defence.

Last season, Timo Werner failed to fire and subsequently became a permanent winger while Olivier Giroud has now been sold and Tammy Abraham looks set for the exit door as well.

However, if they are to take the next-step they’ll need a prolific number to round out their line-up.

Enter Romelu Lukaku.

The Belgian forward, who was once signed by Roman Abramovich a decade ago is set to return to the Premier League after a dominant season in Serie A leading Inter to their first Scudetto since 2010.

Some Premier League fans may (unfairly) remember Lukaku due to his struggles at Manchester United but has since turned his career around with two sensational seasons in Italy.

Not only is he prolific around goal, he is an intelligent complete forward who added 11 assists to his 24 goals in the league and his movement patterns will open spaces for the likes of Werner, Mount and Havertz to exploit.

His physical presence makes him an extremely hard match-up for any defender and has an innate ability to score with both feet and his head – all while possessing raw speed to compliment his towering 6’3’’, 93-kilogram frame.

In terms of fitting in the Tuchel system remains to be seen, especially if it means the German coach opts to play more attacking with a prolific number nine at his disposal.

After being hounded out of the Premier League two years ago, Lukaku would still have his receipts, and a solid tenure at Chelsea may prove to be the ultimate redemption arc if he forces his doubters to bite their tongues.

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Tuchel lived up to his promise of making his side a team no-one wanted to face and he did it as quickly as possible.

Now the question remains as to whether they can take the next step in the league and build upon last season’s foundations.

With the impending arrival of Lukaku, on paper, Chelsea is in prime position to pounce and claim top spot for their own but questions still remain as to how they’ll opt to play with an out-and-out number nine.

Tuchel’s style wins games but ultimately, they may need to tinker long-term with the ever-changing way football is played akin to that of Jurgen Klopp’s gegenpressing and Pep Guardiola’s tiki-taka.

However, they undeniably tick all the right boxes and are as of now in as good of a chance to be the team to dethrone City next season.

Now, we wait to see if five months of great football can turn into a full season.

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Nick D'Urbano

Nick D'Urbano is a freelance sports writer. Throughout Nick's career, he's worked for numerous multimedia companies in print, radio and TV. Currently, Nick covers the A-League, W-League, AFL and AFLW for News Corp Australia's Newswire along with co-hosting Twilight Football on FNR Football Nation Radio. Nick won the Antenna Award for the 2019 Youth Personality of the Year for his work on Channel 31's AFL talk show 'The Rushed Behind.

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