The aftermath of Chelsea’s last match against Crystal Palace was focused on Romelu Lukaku’s infamous performance. Seven touches over the course of 90 minutes will lead to a degree of infamy but it was not the only disappointment at Selhurst Park..
While Hakim Ziyech’s strike saw the Blues come away with three points, it was a very difficult afternoon for Thomas Tuchel’s side in the wake of their Club World Cup celebrations against Palmeiras seven days before. Tuchel did not believe Lukaku’s outing was particularly a reflection of his team however.
He said: “I’m not so sure if I have a good answer. I don’t know what it says. It says he was obviously not involved and could not make a point today. I am not sure if it says so much about us in general.”
It was far from the only issue for the Blues who were without Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Cesar Azpilicueta, and saw six players suffering from a cold, while Tuchel was unhappy with his players’ recovery following the time and temperature differences after their trip to Abu Dhabi.
The afternoon saw Malang Sarr at left-back and rare appearance on the right from Andreas Christensen with Reece James still recovering from his hamstring injury. Outside of the injury issues, Tuchel quickly had his intentions decided for the clash.
The German coach said: “We need to be creative. I had the line-up pretty soon in my head, and we analyse Crystal Palace and when we saw who had the minutes in the last match, and their shape. It was not too difficult.”
A simple decision, that saw a surprising set up. The Blues struggled for fluency as Christian Pulisic lined up in the No.10 position and Kai Havertz on the left. Both failed to make an impact, an accusation that could certainly not be levied at the German forward of late.
Pulisic’s central role was surprising, but the prominence he was given perhaps less so with the Blues ace having record five goals in five matches against the Eagles before that match. The combination only resulted in three shots on target however.
It is a mistake that is unlikely to occur at Wembley on Sunday. Romelu Lukaku has been struggling with Achilles pain, while Havertz has made the forward position his own and Mount has been imperious in behind his teammate against Southampton and Real Madrid. Pulisic might find it difficult to start at all, given the form of Timo Werner who has netted four times over the same period.
Tuchel has reflected on the American’s previous performances against Palace however. Ahead of February’s clash he said: “It exists you cannot hide from the fact that it exists that some players score more against certain teams. Maybe once the belief is starting and growing, maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Starting Pulisic would not be a guaranteed mistake, he has the talent to test any backline, but he must start in a position where he could thrive.
The second area Tuchel may want to consider a change to his tactics is in those full-back positions. Circumstances heavily dictated his decision to start Christensen and Sarr in those positions but the defenders’ positioning and incisiveness are not what the Blues have come to expect. It was no surprise on that afternoon that Marcos Alonso was introduced when Chelsea were searching for a goal. With James, Alonso and even Ruben Loftus-Cheek as options for Sunday afternoon, Tuchel will be able to expand upon the solid defensive outing his side showed in February.