Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel set up his team well defensively but got it horribly wrong offensively in the 1-0 FA Cup final defeat to Leicester City on Saturday.
Tuchel had a clear defensive plan. The goal was to stop Leicester City’s two counter-attacking threats; Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho, and Chelsea successfully did that.
The introduction of Reece James in the back three made it difficult for Vardy. In fact, neither Vardy nor Iheanacho managed any shot on target throughout the game.
The problem lied in the final third.
Wrong front three selection?
Tuchel likes to rotate his front three. But he has a tendency to rely on two attackers against tougher oppositions, in particular. These two are Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner.
It is easy to see the reasoning behind it. Ziyech is an incredible passer with an incredible vision, while Werner is Chelsea’s best forwards in terms of finding space behind the defenders.
It worked well on several occasions previously. The wins over Atletico Madrid (second leg), Liverpool, and more recently, Manchester City. The link-up between Ziyech and Werner was crucial to these wins.
However, at Wembley, the opposition did not play a high defensive line. Ziyech and Werner had to work in tight spaces as Leicester defended deep and ultimately failed to perform.
Tuchel might have realised the problem when Christian Pulisic came on for Ziyech after Youri Tielemans gave Leicester the lead with an outstanding strike.
Lack of presence in opposition box
It clearly did not solve the issue. Leicester dug their heels and defended with even deeper. Chelsea, on the other hand, still did not have anyone to hold the ball up front or any target man to send the ball to from wide.
The statistics illustrated Chelsea’s lack of presence in the opposition box. They attempted 30 crosses and only five successfully reached a teammate. They also had 10 corners, and only one successfully found a Chelsea player.
Werner clearly struggled as a No.9 against Leicester’s low block. He had some desperate shot attempts, but unsurprisingly none was going towards the goal.
Tuchel wrongly predicted that Leicester would be more open at the back. That was rather forgivable. After all, Ziyech and Werner’s combination had proven successful prior to this game.
You could argue that Pulisic and Kai Havertz, who are arguably more comfortable in operating in tight spaces, might have caused more problems for Leicester City if they had started.
Although, given their displays in the Arsenal defeat, it is also understandable that Tuchel wanted to make some changes.
But the fact that it took Tuchel 82 minutes before he took Werner off for Olivier Giroud certainly raised some eyebrows.
The team’s solid defence has bailed the inconsistent attacking performances more often than Chelsea fans would like to admit. Unfortunately, it did not happen this time.