Thomas Tuchel has revealed the most difficult selection choice he has had to make this season is on the right-hand side of the pitch, where he has opted for Ruben Loftus-Cheek instead of Cesar Azpilicueta in our past two fixtures.
That has moved Reece James into the back three, and he and Loftus-Cheek combined to excellent effect down our right against Tottenham, before a positional change for both later in the game.
He stuck with that duo at Leeds and, like the rest of the team, they didn’t hit the same heights, but Tuchel is clear on the thinking behind their selection, with the versatility of James increasing his options.
‘It is more due to the fact Ruben was so strong in training and in pre-season games that we wanted to have him on the pitch, and also his physicality and his height,’ said the boss.
‘It was a decision to go for Ruben and for Reece instead of Azpi, which is a very hard decision because Azpi is fantastic every day in training and as a leader and as a player.
‘Leaving him out is the toughest decision at the moment, but we need a bit of height. Set-pieces become a little more crucial, and we struggle a little at the moment in the battle for the first contact, so we cannot ignore height.
‘We played a little bit different against Tottenham,’ added Tuchel.
‘We attacked with a back four and played [defended] with a back five, so it was a bit of a hybrid position for Reece. He did very well and he can play both positions.’
In an ideal world Tuchel said he would like to add one more experienced centre-back to his stable of defenders before the window closes, but if not James and others, like Azpilicueta and Marc Cucurella, give him additional possibilities in the back three.
Tuchel has also had to think hard about central midfield this season. Mateo Kovacic has yet to play a minute and since N’Golo Kante went off injured against Tottenham, we have conceded four unanswered goals.
The World Cup winner has missed a lot of football in the past couple of campaigns and his absence is of course keenly felt, perhaps more than any other member of the squad. The boss has admitted it is significantly harder to challenge for trophies and titles if he cannot rely on a fully fit Kante.
‘You see the impact in the amount of goals and points we get when he plays, the amount of goals we concede.
‘He makes players around him better. That is unique. Don’t forget he instils confidence, too, which you maybe cannot measure.
‘Of course you can count the matches he’s missing, but what about the first two, three, four matches [when he returns] where you need to re-find your rhythm. Nobody counts those.
‘We had huge hopes we could turn things around, but this is a bad start.’