Analysis

The Debrief: Brilliant balance and champion’s aura make Blues ominous opponents

On a decisive night in the Champions League, the holders put in a statement performance as we thumped Juventus 4-0 at Stamford Bridge to book a place in the last-16. We take a closer look here at the key match statistics and talking points…

The familiar sound of Madness hit One Step Beyond in SW6 often signals a keynote home win for Chelsea and so it was again last night as the Blues supporters danced away the early winter chill after watching their men dismantle our Italian opposition.

The Old Lady was left weary and bereft, confused by the interchanging positions of the home side’s attacking options and shut out swiftly by a Chelsea defence playing with supreme confidence.

Thomas Tuchel’s side had the aura of champions about them and never looked back from Trevoh Chalobah’s opener midway through the first half, with further goals from Reece James, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Timo Werner putting a dent in the Bianconeri.

While the issue of taking back control in Europe continues to dominate political discourse, the Blues made light work of seizing back the initiative in Group H, moving level on points with Juve but above them courtesy of our now superior head-to-head record. Matching their result on matchday six in a fortnight will guarantee our progress as group winners for the 13th time.

Attack in sync

Kai Havertz’s slight hamstring issue and the gradual return to full match fitness of both Timo Werner and Romelu Lukaku meant there was a berth to fill at the apex of our attack. Tuchel opted for Christian Pulisic to fill in as makeshift centre-forward, the American moving freely into areas that left defenders Leonardo Bonucci and Mathias De Ligt uneasy.

Although Pulisic failed to register an effort of his own at goal and claimed fewer touches (20) than any starter on the field, his work-rate and clever movement set the tone for Chelsea out of possession. Juventus were suffocated in the early stages, with N’Golo Kante pushing forward to join the pressing ranks, which provided the platform for our bright start.

Ben Chilwell, Hudson-Odoi, Hakim Ziyech and Pulisic all dovetailed to great effect, often from left-sided starting positions, and the visitors’ midfield was forensically pulled apart as a result, leaving spaces for the wing-backs to consistently exploit.

Tuchel’s tactical tweaks, so subtle from game to game yet so effective in combating the opposition and accentuating our strengths, worked a treat once again.

Set-piece specialists

Just like at Leicester City at the weekend, a set-piece provided the breakthrough, our ninth goal of the season from such a route.

There was perhaps a touch of fortune with how the ball ricocheted off Antonio Rudiger and into the path of Chalobah, not to mention the nervous wait for VAR to rubber-stamp it following appeals for handball from the visitors, but the close-range finish was as emphatic as you’re likely to see.

It gave the 22-year-old his third goal of the season, a useful trait for a centre-back, as he followed his goalscoring Premier League debut by notching on his first Champions League start.

Ominious opponents

Tuchel stated at his unveiling press conference back in January that ‘we will build a team nobody wants to play against’ and that is as true now as it has ever been during the German’s reign. Chelsea have momentum both at home and abroad, a self-assuredness built upon our measly defence.

In Tuchel’s 50th match in charge of the club, we kept a 31st clean sheet, more than any other side in Europe’s big five leagues during that period. Only 24 goals have been conceded on the Bavarian’s watch (0.48 per game). In 2021/22, we have conceded four times in the Premier League and just once, away at Juve, in the Champions League; both are competition bests.

On the rare occasion our backline was breached last night, a combination of anticipation, agility and bravery preserved the clean sheet. Juventus had two shots on target, one in each half.

Alvaro Morata had seemingly equalised before the break until Thiago Silva arrived on the scene to hook the dropping ball off the line, while Edouard Mendy made a decent save up high from Weston McKennie.

The visitors mustered an expected goals (xG) score of 0.75, compared to 3.09 for Chelsea, our highest in six games since the 7-0 thrashing of Norwich City. We had 21 shots in total compared to Juve’s eight, with eight of our own on target and seven blocked.

Viva la Cobham

For the first time in Chelsea history, we had three different Englishmen on a Champions League scoresheet, only the third time that has happened for any team in the competition, and that trio were all Cobham-produced Academy graduates.

The cream of the crop was arguably James, who notched his fifth goal of the season to take him clear at the top of our goalscoring charts. The 21-year-old had more shots (five) and shots on target (three) than any other player on the pitch, while only Rudiger had more than his 82 touches and only Ziyech could match his tally of three key passes.

His sledgehammer finish for our second of the night was another memorable strike for the collection, his outrageous pinpoint pass on the half-volley out to the left in the build-up to Werner’s fourth another treat from the top drawer of bewildering distribution.

Chalobah was solid and steady at the break while Hudson-Odoi, making his seventh consecutive start for the Blues, continued his impressive work in attack, scoring for the second time during that run.

‘It’s another excellent day for the Academy,’ Tuchel said after the game. ‘To have these talented, humble guys full of quality, and it’s their biggest dream to perform in blue at Stamford Bridge, it’s so nice to be part of it.’

The future may be prosperous for Chelsea but the present isn’t looking too bad either right now.

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