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Pat Nevin: Why the Blues are horrible to play against and what to expect from Klopp vs Tuchel

Chelsea legend Pat Nevin gives himself more time than the Manchester United midfielders had on Sunday to analyse that game before quickly moving his focus to another massive match, and a maiden meeting between Thomas Tuchel and Jurgen Klopp in the Premier League…


Coaches like their teams to be described as many things: attacking, exciting, imaginative, as well as maybe organised or even smart.
There are other descriptions that go down just as well, even if they do not sound quite as positive or as pleasant.

Most coaches would secretly also like their teams to be described as ‘horrible to play against'. It sounds so negative but you will rarely find a top team who do not fit that description in one way or another.

When I say horrible to play against, I don’t mean they will foul constantly as well as kick, nip and sledge you off the ball. Another way to be horrible is to scarcely allow your opponent a kick of the ball and then when they do get possession, you hunt them down mercilessly until you get it back. Now that is seriously horrible to play against and there were long periods, particularly in the second half against Manchester United, when we were very much like that.

All football players love time on the ball. Creative midfielders not only love it, they need it. The most important thing they do is try to manipulate situations so they can have just a little time and a little space to work their magic. Well good luck getting those luxuries on Sunday, I thought, every time the likes of Bruno Fernandes got near the ball. Our midfield was all over him like a rash, but more often than not, the ball didn’t even get that far up the field before we won it back.

Mason Mount was exceptional in this area yet again, but of course we also had the machine that is N’Golo Kante nipping at the heels of anyone in red who had more than one touch on the ball. He was back to his breaking-up best again and it made it impossible for United to get a foothold in the game, or even just a foot on the ball with their heads up.

What was just as noticeable was that Mateo Kovacic was as impressive with his closing down. His ball retention under pressure in the midfield was superb as he dummied and weaved his way out of trouble time and again.

It is interesting to watch this high-tempo football, that is so difficult to play against, upset so many opponents. United were incredibly frustrated that they couldn’t impose their game-plan on us. In reality they couldn’t argue they were the better side. If anyone deserved to win it was Chelsea and they knew it.

The other thing that is infamously horrible to play against is a mean defence, and boy is our defence looking miserly. You can’t ignore yet another clean sheet under Thomas Tuchel and the fact that there were precious few opportunities for our opponents. I watched Marcus Rashford closely and although a class act, his involvement in the game was seriously limited to the point of being peripheral. That is a mighty feather in the caps of our defenders.

If we talk about the high tempo in midfield, you cannot ignore the same thing at the back. I honestly think that Cesar Azpilicueta is playing with as much energy as he has at any point in his Chelsea career. Just watch how incredibly quick he is to close down any attacker at the moment, it is a joy to watch.

It is certainly a joy to watch for Tuchel as he clearly demands this level of intensity from everyone in his team, for every moment of every game. Does that remind you of anyone?

This was the precise modus operandi of Jurgen Klopp when he had Liverpool at their very best. For all that there are not always great feelings between Chelsea fans and Liverpool fans, we must admit they have had a period of brilliance built not only on superb talent but also an incredible work ethic. As Klopp initially described it, ‘heavy metal football’.

Clearly it has been impossible for Liverpool to keep that up this season, which is no surprise. It is a wearing style and certainly Klopp has adapted it over the last year or so to try to save the legs of some players, but this softer rock style does reduce their effectiveness.

So with a trip to Anfield in a couple of days, will it be sensible to try to outrun the Reds? After all, that is their house style. Also just as importantly, will Thomas Tuchel put too many hard miles on our players’ clocks with this outlook, and will we eventually run out of juice the way Liverpool have to some extent this season?

I suspect we will get at Liverpool exactly the same way we have closed down everyone else since TT’s arrival. The energy is still there but something much more important is also available: vast reserves of energy on the bench and in the rest of the squad.

What Klopp would have given to be able to rest his top players a little more. Had he been able to do that then he could have continued his favoured style, but the squad depth, and quality in that depth, just hasn’t been quite enough for him this season.

In contrast, Chelsea fans are acutely aware that we could put out one XI on the Saturday and a different XI three days later, and the quality would be virtually the same. If you can make that number of changes and rest that many players, then you can play this high-tempo style.

Everyone has to buy into it, however. That was the message sent the other week via Callum Hudson-Odoi. CHO’s reaction has been superb. Quite simply, he and everyone else seem to understand the expectations now. Liverpool can expect the same and it will be interesting to see how they cope with a dose of their own medicine. Tuchel v Klopp could end up being one of the great rivalries in the Premier League over the next few years, and this first instalment is unmissable.

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