EReece James’ very thunderous challenge drew a roar of approval from Thomas Tuchel and his assistants. Chelsea were in control against Everton, 2-0 and cruising, and they weren’t about to lose their focus at the back. Every potential path to the goal has turned out to be a dead end, providing further evidence of the great improvement in Chelsea’s defense since Tuchel arrived in January.
This defensive security was rarely present under the previous regime. Chelsea have often been a mess under Frank Lampard, conceding 54 Premier League goals last season. They were disorganized to set pieces, vulnerable to counterattacks, and prone to individual mistakes.
Opposition strikers were thinking about their chances. Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been a devastation in the past, winning the penalty when Everton beat Chelsea last December and the bullying of Andreas Christensen in a Loud 3-1 win for Merseyside club at Goodison Park last season. On Monday, however, the tables were turned. Christensen was poise personified and didn’t give Calvert-Lewin a flair for goal. Chelsea goalkeeper Édouard Mendy only faced one shot.
It’s like watching Chelsea when they won the league under Antonio Conte in 2017 or conceded just 15 goals under José Mourinho in the 2004-05 campaign. It’s a more difficult proposition under Tuchel, who has conceded just two goals in his first 11 games. To put this feat in context, one of those concessions was a goal against his freak camp of Antonio Rüdiger last month in the win against Sheffield United.
Tuchel, who has overseen shutouts against Atlético Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham, deserves huge credit. The supposedly lost causes seem to be reborn. Rüdiger impressed after regaining his place and moving to the back three suits César Azpilicueta, whose declining pace is easier to hide as a right center-back.
That leaves Chelsea, who dropped from ninth to fourth, with some interesting decisions to make given they are considering signing a center-back this summer. They took a look at Bayern Munich’s David Alaba, available for free. There is also interest in Niklas Süle from Bayern, Ibrahima Konaté from RB Leipzig and José María Giménez from Atlético.
Still, there should be sales if a new defender arrives. Lampard found themselves with a delicate balance when Chelsea found themselves with five center-backs after signing Thiago Silva last summer. Tuchel’s predecessor had a selection headache when efforts to sell Rüdiger failed and Fikayo Tomori rejected a loan transfer to West Ham.
Tomori has since joined Milan on loan, impressing in Serie A. The Italian club have the option of buying the England international, but there is no guarantee he will use him. If Tomori returns, the competition for places increases. Tuchel already has Kurt Zouma, who did well after replacing Rüdiger against Everton, and Silva, who is expected to sign a one-year contract extension.
Silva remains in good shape at the age of 37 and was one of the best under Lampard. Yet Chelsea are not dependent on the Brazilian. Christensen has thrived since leaving the bench when Silva suffered a thigh injury against Spurs last month. The 24-year-old is unrecognizable from the wayward figure who started the season with a silly red card when Chelsea lost at home to Liverpool, who couldn’t get around it when Tuchel’s side won at Anfield Last week.
Christensen is a good player. He reads the game well, his positioning in the middle of the three full-backs is astute and his distribution is excellent, allowing Chelsea to play from behind. He looks stronger too and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Chelsea decide to offer him a new deal, with his contract expiring at the end of next season.
Tuchel sees why Conte rated Christensen. Still, the German was keen to stress that these were not individuals after beating Everton. “At the end of the day, it’s always a team effort,” Tuchel said. “It’s not about parking the bus. It’s a certain style of defense, which we try to do as high as possible. But sometimes it is necessary to defend yourself deeply.
It’s not that Chelsea keep the sheets clean, it’s that they hardly leave a chance. The wingbacks are assiduous and the high line works. Tuchel brought tactical discipline and structure. The midfielder is smarter and less open. Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic make it harder for opponents to break between the lines, while N’Golo Kanté looks sharper.
There is also a commitment; a union summed up by the way even Chelsea substitutes celebrated James’ tackles against Everton. “Defense is a matter of reliability, of confidence, of courage,” Tuchel said. “You can bravely defend if you know the guys around you will help you when you lose a challenge. They are very hungry to fight and limit the chances. It gives us a good feeling.