The end of the season is approaching with alarming rapidity and come Sunday, Everton will be left with just three weeks to try to secure their status as a Premier League club; an astonishing thing to absorb for Blues fans unfamiliar with similarly bleak situations in the 1990s. One by one - with the exception of the cut-adrift Watford and Norwich City - the Blues have seen their relegation rivals turn their form around: first Brentford, then Leeds United and finally Burnley. The former are now safe on 40 points, the latter two still enmeshed in the battle, but Frank Lampard’s Blues need to find some consistency in the six games that remain for them if they are to survive. First up is Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea, so let’s take a look at what challenge they present.
Tuchel replaced Lampard at Stamford Bridge in January last year and hit the ground running in English football, improving the team to a fourth-placed league finish, along with an unprecedented victory over favourites Manchester City in the Champions League final. Last summer, a final piece in the form of elite striker Romelu Lukaku was added, with a serious challenge for the Premier League title expected, but this dissipated after a strong opening to the campaign saw the team top the table after 14 matches. A relatively poor run of form over the following nine games, in which Tuchel’s men picked up only two wins undermined a serious title bid and despite subsequently going on a run of five straight victories, Chelsea were unable to make up lost ground against runaway leaders Man City and Liverpool. Entering Sunday’s match at Goodison Park, the reigning European Champions have won four from eight in all competitions, exiting the Champions League at the Quarter Final stage to Real Madrid and come off a 1-1 draw against Manchester United on Thursday, in a game they largely dominated.
Style of Play
The German manager sets his team up in a variety of back three formations, most often a 3-4-3, though he’s switched to a 3-4-1-2 in recent weeks. Against Manchester United, he deployed Mason Mount behind a front two of Kai Havertz and Timo Werner. In attacking situations there’s a lot of fluidity in Chelsea’s movements, so Mount would appear on the right and the two forwards swapped positions frequently in order to confuse the defence. Tuchel likes his team to control play and they do this with the use of Jorginho and N’Golo Kante as a double pivot in midfield; both are highly press-resistant and are aided in ball retention by linking well with the three central defenders. Important to Tuchel’s attacking scheme are the wingbacks and injuries in these positions have played a part in disrupting Chelsea’s ambitions. Both will push high in possession, offering width, but also moving inside to add extra presence in the box.
Defensively, the team are very well organized, working hard to block central passing routes and to close down opponents. For the season, Chelsea allow only 8.86 PPDA (Passes per Defensive Action), a metric which measures effective pressure in midfield and the opponent’s third of the pitch, ranking fourth in the league, behind only Man City, Liverpool and Leeds United. Against Man United on Thursday, they measured an impressive 7.38, which reflected the Mancunian’s ineffectiveness with the ball quite accurately.
Mason Mount is a Tuchel favourite and to a large extent is key to Chelsea’s style of play. The attacker has scored ten league goals and registers an SCA90 (Shot-Creating Actions per 90 minutes) of 4.00. He is a creative force from open play and dead-ball situations and his mobility and tireless work make him a constant danger.
Another key player whose importance has been highlighted by frequent absence due to injury is right wingback Reece James. The England man is an athletic defender, leading the side in effective pressures (38%), but a real force going forward also. He’s racked up an SCA90 of 3.78 and has scored five goals.
At the heart of the defence is Tiago Silva. The 37 year old is a marvel: moving to the most physical and intense league in world football at an advanced age with this level of success shows what an intelligent player he is. The Brazilian veteran leads the team in clearances, is second in blocks and shows his technical qualities with an immaculate 92.8% pass completion percentage, the best in the squad.
This is an almighty challenge for Lampard, following on the heels of the Anfield derby defeat and one he must rise to. The basic blueprint from that match was a sound one, but being at home, Everton must combine mistake-free defensive play with much better quality when in possession. They cannot allow Chelsea to pen them back in their own third to anything like the extent Liverpool did and when pressure from the visitors relents, they must show the character to take the fight to them, not just rely solely on counterattacks. The fans at Goodison Park know exactly how much trouble their team are in and can be relied upon to provide vocal and emotive backing and this should help the Blues to play with more confidence. At home, the team have been pretty decent under Lampard and Chelsea, whilst a very strong and well-coached side are not unbeatable.