Thomas Tuchel's honeymoon at Chelsea looks to be over

Thomas Tuchel showed his steel by getting tough with Hudson-Odoi and Abraham at Southampton… Now a nightmare run of games will make or break Chelsea’s season with Atletico, United and Liverpool next up

  • Chelsea were underwhelming in attack during 1-1 draw at Southampton
  • Thomas Tuchel asserted authority by subbing substitute Callum Hudson-Odoi 
  • German made it clear he wouldn’t tolerate anything less than maximum effort 
  • Tuchel also said it was his job to win games, not fix expensive signings
  • He is unbeaten in seven games but Chelsea now face testing run of fixtures
  • Two legs against Atletico sandwich Man United, Liverpool and Everton tests

Thomas Tuchel was maybe beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about. Managing in England was supposed to be difficult, the Premier League the most unforgiving competition in the world.

But after five victories and a draw from his first half-dozen games in charge of Chelsea, prior to the weekend, the German coach had taken it all in his stride.

Many managers enjoy a honeymoon period – a time when the whole squad gets a clean slate, a fresh opportunity to impress and any acrimony from a previous regime is swept away by the new broom.

Thomas Tuchel looks less than impressed as Chelsea draw at Southampton on Saturday 

The manager’s decision to hook Callum Hudson-Odoi after only 31 minutes on the field during the second-half was a clear assertion of his authority 

For Tuchel, a goalless draw with Wolves in his first game was swiftly followed by wins over Burnley, Tottenham, Sheffield United, Barnsley (in the FA Cup) and Newcastle United, elevating the Blues back to the fringes of the top four.

Despite limited preparation time on the training ground, Chelsea’s players seemed to have quickly embraced Tuchel and his flying wing-back system, forgetting the uninspiring and error-strewn football that marked the end of Frank Lampard’s tenure.

Players like Marcos Alonso emerged from the woodwork to become starters, there was a renewed verve about the forward line, solidity at the back and clean sheets. Even Timo Werner scored again in a league game.

But the good times can’t roll on forever and, with a testing set of fixtures ahead, there are already signs the honeymoon is over for Tuchel.

Only managing to draw with a Southampton side that had lost their last six league games on Saturday came as a surprise.

The German was very much underwhelmed by his team’s attacking creativity at St Mary’s

Striker Tammy Abraham (left) struggled to make an impact and was taken off at half-time

But it was the manner of Chelsea’s performance that was most disappointing. Falling behind for the first time during Tuchel’s time in charge, they at least salvaged a point thanks to Mason Mount’s second-half penalty.

Either side of that, however, they rarely looked like breaking down a stubborn Southampton defence. As the game progressed, Chelsea’s build-up became more and more ragged as frustration got the better of them.

In the end, they mustered just three shots on target and Tuchel summed it up nicely: ‘We controlled 80 metres, all counter-attacks, but in the last 20 metres we lacked quality and that is the truth.’

But the performance was overshadowed by a ruthless power play by the manager.

He first removed the largely ineffective Tammy Abraham at half-time. The England striker then sat in the stands with an ice pack on his ankle during the second-half, raising fears he might be injured and be doubtful for Tuesday’s Champions League match with Atletico Madrid.

A stunned Hudson-Odoi walks past Tuchel after being taken off again after just 31 minutes

Reece James rues a missed chance at Southampton but Chelsea didn’t create a great deal

Tuchel’s results so far 

January 27 Wolves (H) 0-0

January 31 Burnley (H) 2-0

February 4 Tottenham (A) 1-0

February 7 Sheffield United (A) 2-1

February 11 Barnsley (A) 1-0 FA Cup

February 15 Newcastle (H) 2-0

February 20 Southampton (A) 1-1

Chelsea’s next fixtures 

Premier League unless stated

Tuesday Atletico Madrid (A) CL

Sunday Man United (H)

March 4 Liverpool (A)

March 8 Everton (H)

March 12 Leeds (A)

March 17 Atletico Madrid (H) CL

But Tuchel said afterwards that Abraham wasn’t injured and that ‘it was hard for him to show his quality, he could not put his stamp on the game so we changed the formation.’

On came Callum Hudson-Odoi to offer a bit more speed. At least that was the theory. 31 minutes later, he was back in the stands, having been hooked for Hakim Ziyech.

Again, there was no injury. ‘I was not happy with his attitude, energy and counter-pressing. I feel he is not in the right shape to help us,’ Tuchel said.

It was a brutal move by a manager still relatively fresh into the job and evidently keen to demonstrate who is boss. Being subbed off having been subbed on ranks pretty highly in humiliations for footballers, so Hudson-Odoi must have been smarting.

There wasn’t a great deal of sympathy shown for misfiring Werner and other expensive acquisitions like Kai Havertz, Ziyech and Christian Pulisic either.

Tuchel didn’t seem to have a great deal of sympathy for misfiring Timo Werner after the game

Werner ended his Premier League goal drought against Newcastle but was poor on Saturday

‘My job is to win games, not to put some expensive guys together,’ Tuchel said at St Mary’s, at least showing he fully grasps the No 1 objective for any manager at Chelsea.

If they didn’t know already, Chelsea’s squad now fully understand Tuchel will not be tolerating anyone not giving their maximum for the team.

Previous Chelsea bosses have come a cropper after trying to assert their authority in the dressing room.

If the former Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain coach gets the desired reaction out of Hudson-Odoi, Abraham, Werner and the rest of the team, then it could prove a masterstroke.

But if the dressing room takes offence then there could easily be problems further along the line. Seeds of discontent could be sewn.

Either way, Chelsea now face a run of fixtures that are likely to illustrate just how much of a soft landing Tuchel had when he came into the job.

Tuchel celebrates Chelsea’s 1-0 win at Tottenham – the stand-out result of his reign so far

Chelsea remain unbeaten under their new manager but tougher assignments await them

The hardest fixture on paper was the away one at Tottenham but Jose Mourinho’s team have declined dramatically from their pre-Christmas peak and Chelsea duly claimed a narrow win.

Now comes the real acid test: Atletico Madrid, Manchester United, Liverpool, Everton, Leeds United and Atletico again.

Atletico is undoubtedly one of the toughest Champions League draws Chelsea could have received. Flying high at the top of LaLiga, they have lost just twice in the league all season and have dominated the title race with Real Madrid and Barcelona.

As you’d expect from a Diego Simeone side, they’re hard to break down, know every trick in the book and have 34-year-old Luis Suarez scoring regularly.

While the maze of Covid-19 restrictions means Atletico won’t be in their own stadium for the first leg – the tie has been switched to Bucharest – they will still present formidable opposition despite a surprise loss to Levante at the weekend.

Luis Suarez (centre) celebrates after scoring for Atletico Madrid in a recent LaLiga match

Manchester United returned to winning ways in the league against Newcastle on Sunday and are Chelsea’s opponents next weekend at Stamford Bridge 

Everton, who play Chelsea on March 8, celebrate in Saturday’s win over Liverpool at Anfield 

After that, United will represent a step up on every domestic opponent Tuchel has come up against so far. Their title chances may be fading but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men still need wins to safeguard their top four status in order to focus on cup competitions.

Liverpool have failed in their title defence and are ravaged by injuries but there has to be a backlash sooner or later, while Everton are hot on Chelsea’s tail and have their own top four ambitions.

It will then quickly come back round to the second leg against Atletico and we’ll have formed a much clearer picture of the direction of travel for Chelsea under Tuchel.

Most of the early signs have been promising enough but the nagging doubt remains that Tuchel hasn’t been properly tested yet. After the honeymoon, we’re now very much into the hard grind.

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