Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel has shown potential weakness despite Zenit win

Chelsea continued their impressive start to the season with victory over Zenit St Petersburg in the Champions League on Tuesday night.

There was another goal for Romelu Lukaku – his fourth in four games this season – and another clean sheet, Chelsea ’s fourth in their last five games.

The Blues looked organised, cohesive and determined, as they always do under Thomas Tuchel’s management.

They won 1-0 and can therefore reflect on a job well done at Stamford Bridge against a difficult opponent who provided a stern test for the defending champions.

Chelsea have undeniably carried their momentum over from the events in Porto on May 29 and look a good bet to add to their silverware in 2021/22.

Thomas Tuchel’s approach against Zenit did not pay off in the first half
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DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)

Yet, if they are going to build on their work under Tuchel, the win over Zenit also offered an idea of where they can still improve.

While Chelsea fans were likely talking about Lukaku’s impact, Antonio Rudiger’s burgeoning reputation as a cult hero and the joys of being back inside a packed stadium when they got on the District Line at Fulham Broadway last night, they might also have had a nagging doubt at the back of their minds.

A win is a win and 23 clean sheets in 36 games under Tuchel is a statistic worthy of celebration, but the match was far from straightforward.

Chelsea went in at half-time without having mustered a single shot on target. Zenit sat deep in their 5-4-1 formation and soaked up the pressure.

Tuchel’s side did not move the ball fast enough. They did not make the most of the width provided by Marcos Alonso and Reece James and Mason Mount and Hakim Ziyech – their “half-strikers”, as Tuchel termed them in his pre-match interview – were ineffective.

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Chelsea struggled to break down Zenit’s deep-set defence
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Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

“What Chelsea didn’t do [in first half] was have any conviction,” former Chelsea winger Joe Cole explained later on BT Sport.

“[There were] no runs going forward, the ball was delayed. Chelsea could’ve played the first half 20 times and they still wouldn’t have scored.”

To their credit, Chelsea did pick up after the break, with their first shot on target coming just two minutes after the restart from Ziyech.

However, that weak effort from the edge of the box, which was comfortably saved, ended up being one of only two efforts on target in the entire 90 minutes.

It took a brilliant piece of movement and downward header from Lukaku – and a pinpoint cross from Cesar Azpilicueta – to ensure the other was decisive.

Romelu Lukaku provided the game’s defining moment for Chelsea
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DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)

It easily could not have been decisive either. Antonio Rudiger had to make a crucial last-ditch intervention to stop Sardar Azmoun being through on goal, while Artem Dzyuba poked wide on the stretch with the goal gaping late on.

In one sense the game highlighted where Chelsea have improved this season. With Lukaku in the side, they will sometimes be able to get away with fashioning just one good chance, which last season might well have gone begging.

But in another, it shows exactly where they need to improve. Tuchel is a perfectionist and he should want to diversify Chelsea’s approach and develop a Plan B for such occasions.

Artem Dzyuba nearly grabbed a point for Zenit in the latter stages
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DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)

The German coach has drilled his side brilliantly in their typical 3-4-3 formation, yet their set-up appeared stifling against Zenit. Tuchel had five substitutions up his sleeve and 12 top-class players to choose from.

He brought on Kai Havertz for Ziyech, but his side’s approach remained the same. Ultimately it was Lukaku’s efficiency that made the difference – not the tactical set-up.

On another day Zenit could have continued to repel Chelsea’s attacks.

“It was not frustrating, it was tough against a very strong opponent, good players who gave pressure,” Tuchel told BT Sport post-match.

“We tried to keep the intensity on and off the ball which took time. We struggled a bit to create chances and shots in the first half. Second half was a bit easier to find little spaces and moments to shoot and create chances.”

Tuchel is right in his assessment. But deeper into the Champions League, when up against better sides and when playing with higher stakes, he may well have to change tack.

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