FootballPremier League

Chelsea have a creativity problem and Thomas Tuchel’s system is to blame

October 20, 2021April 19th, 2022

Chelsea need to change their tactics in order to create more chances, writes Graham Ruthven.

At first, the signing of Romelu Lukaku looked to have completed Chelsea as a team. While Thomas Tuchel’s side went all the way in the Champions League last season, they lacked a reliable goalscorer to lead the line. As one of the best goalscorers in Europe, Lukaku certainly fit the bill, but Chelsea now have other problems.

Despite boasting a centre-forward of Lukaku’s obvious quality, Chelsea haven’t been the most potent of attacking outfits this season. The Belgian has netted three times in six Premier League appearances, with Tuchel’s side the joint-second-top goalscorers in the division, but they are lacking the creativity to truly get the best out of their $165m striker.

This has been noted by supporters, experts and even Tuchel himself. “We try our best to create chances,” the German coach said after the narrow 1-0 away win over Brentford on Saturday, which saw the newly promoted side out-fire Chelsea by 17 shots to five (seven to one on target) over 90 minutes.

“In general, Liverpool and Manchester City have proven in the last years they are the benchmark in terms of quality and consistency. They have shown what it takes to become champions. We have to improve in every aspect of the game, offensively and defensively, and we will not stop trying to create more for our strikers.”

Tuchel might have to look at his own system to address Chelsea’s creativity deficiency. While the German has given his team structure since taking over at Stamford Bridge in January, a sacrifice has been made in terms of invention in the final third of the pitch. For a team with the attacking talent of Chelsea right now, this is a waste.

Of the Premier League’s current crop, only Manchester City and Manchester United can claim to currently have similar depth in attack. Chelsea are spoiled for choice with Lukaku, Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Christian Pulisic, Mason Mount, Hakim Ziyech, Callum Hudson-Odoi all capable at the elite level of the game.

However, the 3-5-1-2 shape favoured by Tuchel this season has stifled his attackers and midfield creators. The formation gives Chelsea control in the centre of the pitch, with the back three protected by the midfield platform of N’Golo Kante and Jorginho, but it doesn’t give them much in the way of forward thrust.

Mason Mount is given the freedom to make something happen as the link between the midfield and attack, but this is a lot of responsibility to place on just one player. With Mount out injured for a period recently, Chelsea found they lacked an attacking spark. They must do more to translate their quality all over the pitch into goalscoring opportunities.

At present, Chelsea’s wing-backs provide them with width. Tuchel, however, has the players to push that width higher up the pitch with Hudson-Odoi, Pulisic and Werner all at their best as wide forwards in a front three. This might also give Lukaku the right mix of space and support he needs to truly thrive.

It’s not just about harnessing Lukaku, though. Havertz has the potential to be a genuine difference-maker for Chelsea, yet he isn’t being allowed to influence games in the way he is capable of. The same could be said of Pulisic, a player not so long ago seen as the natural successor to Eden Hazard at the club.

There’s no doubting Chelsea have the talent to win this season’s Premier League title, as demonstrated by their current position at the top of the table. However, Tuchel could be making better use of the players, particularly the attackers, at his disposal. The problem isn’t the players, but it might well be the system currently favoured by the man in charge at Stamford Bridge.

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