Alonso, Azpilicueta and Chelsea’s outdated guard assist Tuchel rebuild after Lampard
LONDON – When in doubt, trust the old reliable. They were on the verge of the final stages of the Frank Lampard era, but goals from the unlikely double strike by Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso secured Thomas Tuchel’s first win as Chelsea boss against Burnley on Sunday.
Chelsea dominated possession and territory against the well-organized visitor, but the blues relentless squeeze undone any Burnley threat – it was limited to just one shot on goal – and instead saw Tuchel’s side dominate the center of the field and half of the field Craft played. Half chance only for the two experienced Spaniards to lead the team home to a 2-0 win.
With all the talk about their expensive summer signings and how Tuchel has to find the right cocktail to reach their potential, it was the old reliable ones who delivered. This was Alonso’s first match action since September; Azpilicueta was sidelined towards the end of Lampard’s tenure, with Reece James being often favored, as was Antonio Rudiger. Another player on the periphery was Callum Hudson-Odoi, who was forever associated with a move to Bayern Munich. However, he has become Tuchel’s right-back and, like his midweek performance against Wolverhampton Wanderers, was again a constant threat flanking Burnley’s defenders.
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While they are looking for the real Timo Werner and Kai Havertz to move up, there is a quiet renaissance chance for a break elsewhere under the old guard, who in another world viewed the last 24 hours of this transfer window as one. This is certainly the case with Alonso.
When Alonso last appeared in September, Lampard’s side were just three games in the new Premier League season. The then manager’s confidence in Alonso dwindled in the 3-3 draw at West Bromwich Albion, compounded by an alleged breakdown between the two immediately after that game, and the Spaniard would never appear under Lampard again. Alonso saw new signing Ben Chilwell take his place as left-back.
Alonso emerged from the wilderness to put on a typical old-time performance: constantly chasing, frantic, and then shooting forward. He scored Chelsea’s second goal in the 84th minute as he set up for a classic finish, teeing off his own volley from the chest and thigh to get past Nick Pope at the near post.
“We opted for a little more size, that wasn’t a reflection on it [Chilwell]”Said Tuchel after the game.” Marcos is used to playing in that role and has good timing to get into the box. We are very happy that he scored the second goal that ended the game. “
Again, Chelsea played a flexible 3-4-3 with Alonso’s and Hudson-Odoi’s working speed keys for their transition game, but also for their defensive stability. Thiago Silva was a rock in the center of Chelsea’s defense, while Rudiger and Azpilicueta were licensed to carry the ball out of defense when space was offered. That move led to Chelsea’s opener, where they quickly moved the ball from their own penalty area through midfield to Hudson-Odoi, whose inside ball Azpilicueta allowed the end.
The first signs of Tuchel’s reign are a preference for defensive stability and attacks on the fringes of the opposition. It is reminiscent of Pep Guardiola’s use of full-backs, but this is a Chelsea that is now anchored in the press and counter-press. They effectively go out to smother the opposition, deprive them of opportunity, and then beat them with their own blows.
Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso drove Chelsea to the club’s first win under Thomas Tuchel. Darren Walsh / Chelsea FC via Getty Images
“Very complete performance, defensive and offensive again,” said Tuchel. “It was very physically strong with the long balls and duels in the air fighting for the second ball. We had a lot of active defenders, never passive ones.”
Chelsea had an opportunity to extend their lead, but a combination of Burnley’s tenacity in defense – led by the standout James Tarkowski – and Chelsea’s lack of clinical placement in front of goal kept it at two. Tuchel was happy with the two goals but said after the game: “It should be a signal for the boys that it is up to the defenders to score. We are missing the finishing touches and the delivery.”
Werner’s woes continued outside the gate and it is increasingly looking like it will be a long term project to get the best out of him. He operated mostly in his preferred position – left, in half-space to perfectly plan his runs – but it’s still a click with him. He had a handful of half-chances and even kicked the ball against his leg in the first half, which could have been his best opportunity, but you can feel he will continue to rediscover his confidence under Tuchel. The new manager said earlier in the week that the pressure on Werner is increasing, and that’s because Chelsea’s # 11 is taking care of it.
Those who have played for Tuchel say he bases his playful approach to motivation on whether they need a hug or a rocket. With Werner you will feel that it is the former, but that will take some time. He needs one of those happy, ugly targets to get the weight off his shoulders.
Mateo Kovacic was superb in the middle while Jorginho is the key wheel in her transition game. Mason Mount brought a lot of energy and drive to the table, but Tuchel needs to figure out exactly how he fits into this 3-4-3 setup. Havertz is the most likely long-term inside-right answer to this point, but his playing time was on 10 minutes off the bench while Hakim Ziyech was left out due to fatigue. Christian Pulisic added plenty of strength as a replacement for Tammy Abraham at halftime, but they need to hone their attack accuracy to see their embarrassment of wealth finally click in front of the goal. When it comes together, they will be ruthless.
This was comfortable for Chelsea and looked like one of those common wins for a team that plays with confidence and knows the importance of getting wins against spirited, tricky opponents like Burnley. But we are only six days in the Tuchel era, and so he went to the tried and tested to rebuild trust in the site. They may not be the main long-term actors in Tuchel’s Chelsea plan, but for now they are the glue that is slowly uncovering the cracks left by the turbulence of last week.