Profligate Chelsea again expose the flaws in Thomas Tuchel’s blueprint for success

There were 21 shots. Fifteen of them came from inside the penalty area. Six were on target. A further one hit the post, watched on to it by the beaten goalkeeper. There was 65 percent of possession, 44 touches inside the penalty area and an expected goals total of 2.47. And Chelsea scored once, led for 119 seconds and drew against Manchester United.

It wasn’t a one-off. It wasn’t even a two-off, even though Chelsea had 66 percent of possession, 24 shots and six on target the previous time they faced United. They drew 1-1 that day too. Rather they can feel a story of their season.

Not in its entirety, because Chelsea scored six against Southampton and seven against Norwich, because they hit Juventus for four and became a rare visiting side to score three in the Bernabeu.

But it has been a frequent tale, of Brighton and Burnley, of Everton and United, of profligacy where they needed to be prolific, of missed chances and dropped points.

“Not decisive enough, not clinical enough,” said Thomas Tuchel. “If you want to win on stages like this, you have to be clinical. We were very good but we did not take what was deserved.” They often don’t. If Chelsea are a club in limbo, waiting for a new owner, needing sanctions to be lifted to be able to renew contracts or sign players, part of that stasis dates back a year.

They can be a side with the same shortcoming they had in Tuchel’s first few months. They get outscored by Liverpool and Manchester City. And if that is an indictment of Romelu Lukaku, brought in to be the guarantee of goals and now with fewer strikes in the Premier League than Jorginho, his reunion with United was a brief affair: some 21 minutes as a substitute indicated the £98 million man’s place in the pecking order, but he was not the prime culprit in the latest display of wastefulness.

Kai Havertz was. He had five efforts, the two best directed too close to David de Gea, the other three all off target.

Perhaps the problem for big-game Kai, the scorer in Champions League and Club World Cup finals, was that United have regressed to such an extent that matches against them have lost their sense of occasion.

But a broader issue is that Havertz has not become every-game Kai, the player with the scoring habit. He has won the argument, showing Chelsea are a better side with his deft touches, elusive movement and eager industry, whether as false nine or twin striker, than Lukaku’s lesser contributions off the ball.

However, his Premier League goal tally stands at 11 in 52 games, only marginally better than Andriy Shevchenko’s nine in 48, almost identical to Timo Werner’s 10 in 52.

The Germans were removed together, a £120m duo taken off in a symbolic substitution by a seemingly frustrated compatriot, in Tuchel.

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“We had a lot of chances and the two did not reach their peak performance today,” said the manager. “We will not start pointing fingers.” If actions spoke louder than words in that respect, Tuchel argued his demands of his players blunted their edge in front of goal.

“When we look at the data and think about who plays and who does not play, we see a huge amount of intensity and sprints from Kai and Timo,” he added. “So they don’t arrive fully, fully fresh at the moment. The boys are still young and they will learn because they are good guys and have the right attitude. It is not always easy to arrive fully composed. We demand a lot off the ball and [with the] counter-pressing.”

Havertz can excel in that respect. But the kind of generational talents who are tipped as future Ballon d’Or candidates can be judged on their goal tally. Havertz had a flurry of six in seven matches. Now he has gone five without finding the net.

“He needs to fight to get back into his shape,” said Tuchel. “Hopefully he shows a reaction.”

Because his Chelsea blueprint seems to have a lone major flaw: the lack of a finisher. After a game where Chelsea’s classy strike came from Marcos Alonso, their three main wing-backs – the Spaniard, Ben Chilwell and Reece James – now have as many league goals this season as their German forwards. James remains level with Lukaku on five.

Tuchel’s Chelsea have shown that sharing the goals around has been a method that enabled them to win the Champions League. But it may only be a recipe for glory in the Premier League for City.


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