Adaptation may be key for Thomas Tuchel in the early weeks of the new season and the boss is open to finding new solutions in order to solve any selection dilemmas on the horizon…
The progress of so many Chelsea players to the latter stages of Euro 2020 and the Copa America this summer means the Blues head coach has been working with a hybrid group in pre-season, featuring many of those who spent last term out on loan.
Two featured from the start in Sunday’s victory at Arsenal as Trevoh Chalobah and Ruben Loftus-Cheek began the game, while eight came off the bench after the restart, as goals from Kai Havertz and Tammy Abraham sealed victory in north London.
Yet Tuchel spoke afterwards about the challenges posed by such a staggered return for much of his squad, with six only training for the first time the morning after the London derby, and he expects the varied fitness levels to be a factor ahead of the Premier League opener in less than a fortnight.
Opportunities may be presented and one player the boss is keen to step up is Loftus-Cheek, who spent last season on loan at Fulham.
‘I’m generally happy with him and that why he’s been playing,’ said Tuchel in the aftermath of the game. ‘He deserves to play at this point of the preparation but I believe he can do even more.
‘He can show up more, he can show more physical capability, he can drive more with the ball. I’m never satisfied with him. I have the feeling that we need to push him to the absolute limit but it’s too early to judge Ruben.
‘He has everything in his hands so it’s on him to decide his own future, like it is for every player. He has to keep on going 150 per cent because 100 per cent is not enough.’
With Billy Gilmour having joined Norwich City for the season and other midfielders among those late returners, Tuchel feels that is one area he needs to consider carefully, even if he believes the young Scot’s move to Norfolk was the right decision.
‘There is one space minimum there because Billy left us, which is good for his personal development because he was fighting with N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic in midfield,’ continued the boss.
‘He was fighting in one of the best midfields in the world and he was very helpful last season but now he goes on loan for minutes because this is how to improve. It’s a good decision but he was very important so we have to be careful.
‘We come from a situation where Kovacic was on the pitch [against Arsenal] but N’Golo only played 30 minutes and Jorginho is coming soon so we have to be careful that we don’t over-use them. We are also prepared for maybe some little injuries and that’s why we are still scouting.’
If Tuchel sticks with 3-4-3 then wing-back could also be a role that needs filling. Reece James, Ben Chilwell and Emerson Palmieri, who all played the position at times last season, were Euro 2020 finalists and only reported back to Cobham this week.
Marcos Alonso also missed the Emirates run-out so Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic were deployed on the flanks, as Tuchel admitted he was using pre-season to try out new things.
‘Christian played there with me in Dortmund and we also played it many times with Callum,’ he added.
‘Marcos was not able to play so we put Callum on the left side and that was something I’ve wanted to see for a long time, whether he can be more dangerous from that position and dribbling inside, which he loves and did well.
‘We have Azpi and Reece for this position as well but they did not even start yet so we need to have solutions. We start on the 11th against Villarreal and then on the 14th we start the season. We cannot try things then so now is the time to see.’