Since Thomas Tuchel took over at Stamford Bridge, no team in Europe’s top five leagues has a better defensive record than Chelsea. The boss has been explaining why he thinks that is.
Tuchel celebrated his 50th game in charge of the Blues in some style against Juventus, as his team racked up four goals without reply in one of the most convincing performances of his reign so far.
There was a comfortingly familiar feel to the way in which we shut out the Italian giants. Retaining possession and pinning our opponents back has been the story of much of Tuchel’s time at Chelsea thus far. On the two occasions outstanding defensive work was required, Thiago Silva raced back to clear Alvaro Morata’s lob, and Edou Mendy tipped over Weston McKennie’s drive.
An astonishing 31st clean sheet since Tuchel came in was secured with the minimum of fuss. We have conceded just 24 goals in that time. They are both comfortably Europe-leading statistics.
How have we managed it? Tuchel reckons it is a healthy blend of his team selection and tactics, ‘the mentality shaped by the club’, the Chelsea players’ quality and commitment, and, of course, a bit of luck.
‘Many times attacking is a good way to defend your own goal, and sometimes in the 50 matches we were forced to overcome difficult moments,’ he noted.
‘Sometimes we had to dig in and defend deep, which we don’t like too much, but I feel the players are very open to finding solutions and going through difficult moments.
‘It’s a team sport, it’s what we all love about it,’ he added.
‘We attack together and defend together. There are many ways to defend: high pressing, counter-pressing, sitting deep. They are all allowed, and every way is beautiful. We are constantly on it, but it’s not the case we spend 90 per cent of our time thinking about defensive solutions. It’s more or less the opposite.
‘The open-minded players and the quality of the players, in combination with the mentality of the club, is a very good mix to produce numbers like this.’
After the Juve win, Tuchel expressed gratitude towards his players for the ‘invisible work’ they put in.
But what does Tuchel mean by invisible work? He has given an example which demonstrates the lengths his players are prepared to go to in their quest for clean sheets and defensive excellence.
‘If you look at the goal from N’Golo at Leicester, I was surprised when I saw it again and realised Toni Rudiger was the first one to be there and congratulate and hug him. How fast did that happen?! He scored from the 18-yard box!
‘When you look at it in detail, while N’Golo is driving with the ball, you will see Toni is closing the space and doing this kind of invisible work to close a striker down, [Ademola] Lookman. If the shot was blocked, and the ball came into that area, Toni is the first one to counter-press. He takes the responsibility so Lookman cannot get the ball freely, turn and initiate a counter-attack that ends with Vardy scoring.
‘This is the kind of work where we are taking care with our roles. Toni’s work was very humble because it’s not often N’Golo scores from 18 yards on his left foot. He did not just step back and watch, he did his part.’
As, right now, is everyone in blue.