In his column this week, Chelsea legend Pat Nevin writes about how the Blues caused Burnley big problems in the weekend win…
Two games into his new job and Thomas Tuchel might be wondering what’s the deal about these famous strikers in the Premier League. That is over 180 minutes so far, and not a single shot on target against Chelsea.He has also enjoyed 75 per cent of the possession and although it is only four points from the six, he must be wondering how on earth it isn’t the full half-dozen, after a combined score of 33-5 in shots at goal.We have lived through times like these before when games have been dominated, but all the points aren’t forthcoming, but in the second half against Burnley the signs were very heartening. There will be far sterner tests against better-quality strikers, but certainly the centre-back pairing of Thiago Silva and Toni Rudiger looked very solid in this system. I suppose it helps when you have Cesar Azpilicueta beside you as back-up and there are also two deep-lying midfielders in front of them, but even so Toni and Thiago were very rarely rattled.
The new manager will have also been delighted that two of his biggest decisions, to play Cesar and Marcos Alonso, paid off so handsomely and so obviously with the two goals. It was particularly interesting to watch the reaction of the team towards Marcos after he scored the cracker that wrapped up the points. He was immediately surrounded by just about every member of the team.Now it is not worth hiding the fact that he was pretty close to persona non grata for a large part of the season, so some may think that the show of affection was aimed elsewhere. I suspect you would be wrong in that assumption. In every club players go in and out of favour with the managers, it is part of life and more often than not the rest of the team do not take sides because they have their own work to be concentrating on. However, when their mate is back in the fold, the welcome is honest and heartfelt, and aimed specifically at him, no one else.It is great to see Marcos back in contention, especially with Spurs coming up in a couple of days, I am sure he particularly likes playing them with his impressive scoring record against the Lilywhites.
The system itself, which is a bit of a hybrid, caused Burnley all sorts of problems, particularly on their left-hand side. The number of times Callum Hudson-Odoi found himself one on one with a defender in the last third was scary. Well it was scary if you were a Burnley fan or player.This may well be the best run of form Callum has had in his time at the club. You can see the confidence just grow and grow as the games go on. He almost scored against Burnley when he hit the post, he put in a shed-load of dangerous crosses and of course, he had the assist for the opener. On top of that he was the best player on the field against Wolves. Interestingly, when Reece James came on later in the same area of the pitch on Sunday, he got the ball in great areas too and looked just as dangerous. The system definitely flummoxed Sean Dyche’s men.
The highlight for me however in these early days of Thomas Tuchel has been the attitude and form of Mason Mount. Plenty of people have suggested he has been, on balance, Chelsea’s best player this season. He has certainly been the most reliable, but his brief showing against Wolves stole the show and against Burnley, I honestly think he just shaded it over Callum for Man of the Match.He has been finding great space in that area between the opposition defence and midfield while his control of the ball when he receives it looks as good as anyone in the club. He is always on the half turn, his vision is great, always knowing who and what is around him and he is as willing as anyone to make runs beyond defenders to give others a pass option.This is all fine, but it is his understanding with Callum that has been the most exciting innovation. More often than not Mason has been posted further left when Callum has been either wide on the right, or even slightly wider still, on the substitutes’ bench. You always want to look for players who have an understanding, but it is really only in these last couple of outings when they have been playing close together in that area of the field that I have realised just how special that understanding could become.
Time and again they linked and moved for each other with an almost telepathic understanding, so why hasn’t it been quite as obvious before? Maybe it was that distance between them on the field, but sometimes it is a case of a manager seeing a little something in training and has a hunch or sometimes it is just a bit of luck. The trick is to spot that bit of luck or see when that hunch comes to fruition. Then you have to pick it up and run with it.I really do hope there are plenty more occasions when we will see Callum and Mason playing right beside each other this season. I will be honest and admit that my suspicion was that it would be Reece James and Callum who would be the more likely to gel like that. Now there is a thought, what about a system were all three could play in the same vicinity at the same time? I am sure we will see that at some point as the new manager shifts things around and tweaks the system to get the best out of the players he has. Fresh eyes sometimes see different things.The suggestion in the media is that Thomas Tuchel was brought in partially to get the best from Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, but apart from that being far too simplistic, it is also only part of the deal. Getting the best out of the home-grown talent is just as important. As time goes by, I think Thomas will be very pleasantly surprised with the quality he has at his disposal. I think most people agree there is a fine team in there somewhere bursting to get out, the manager just has to get the right chemistry. The pairing of Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi has already hinted at his alchemy skills.