Chelsea get a boost with Thomas Tuchel’s new midfield tactics
Thomas Tuchel launched new midfield tactics for the first time this season against Crystal Palace a few weeks ago, specifically tweaking the positioning of N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and Christian Pulisic. The Blues started the match in a 4-1-4-1 formation, which also included a bit of 4-3-3 in preseason play. It was very dynamic and made it easier for the players to get into good positions, despite the sloppy play, which Tuchel blamed on the FIFA Club World Cup time difference.
The midfield trio of Kante, Jorginho and Pulisic evolved in tandem and had plenty of freedom. For example, Pulisic was able to play both as a No.10 and a right midfielder with roaming license. The American would take positions on the right side of midfield three to create balance or the No.10 spot when looking to attack in the middle. This role is more suited to a player like Mason Mount in the grand scheme of things, but due to injury Pulisic was given his chance. There were several moments when the 23-year-old found himself cutting in the middle of chances and even receiving crosses from the right wing in dangerous positions. This is due to the balance Tuchel has provided with his tactics, especially in the middle areas.
Chelsea get midfield boost with Thomas Tuchel’s new tactical approach
Overall, the most intriguing part of this midfield experience was undoubtedly Kante. At the start of the match, the Frenchman almost inserted himself in the bottom right of where Jorginho was sitting. But as the game progressed, he took various positions on the right, almost as a second striker to Hakim Ziyech. This became evident as the game went on, especially when Malang Sarr played a through ball to Kante, who was making a blistering run through the defense on the right wing. It saved the shot from midfield, but it was still a notable event that was so unique due to the 30-year-old’s role.
Kante was relieved of his usual defensive duties with Jorginho anchoring the 4-1-4-1 in the middle. This saw him constantly playing tight alongside Ziyech to provide a second outlet on the right side, playing almost like an inside striker when attacking. Kante buzzed on the pitch – as usual – as he was able to choose when to come back and defend, and when to attack. Usually Kante is given more defensive responsibilities, but Tuchel noticed that the Blues needed to take more attacking positions to score more goals, hence the return to a role similar to the one he had in the Maurizio Sarri’s 2018/19 Chelsea squad.
Finally, Jorginho was played as a solo midfielder with less freedom to move forward. The Italian usually enters the final third more often to trigger forward passes when in possession against low blocks, but Tuchel has asked him to be more defensive and focus on passing through. This gives Jorginho less responsibility for orchestrating attacks and protects him defensively by placing him deeper, in front of the back line. Too often the regista has been caught out of position as they usually play a more forward role in a pivot. Playing him more as a midfield role allows the blues’ attacks to be less telegraphed and provides greater defensive durability when they employ a full-back four.
These new midfield tactics were very inspiring, and while they may not have seemed as effective, they definitely were. Chelsea have seized many more attacking opportunities against a low block than they have since the start of the season. During the round of 16 first leg of the Champions League against Lille, it was a bit surprising to see the Blues not playing in the same way. Nonetheless, Tuchel’s tactical focus worked against the reigning French champions, but we certainly haven’t seen the last of the 4-1-4-1.
What do you think of Tuchel’s new tactical approach in the middle of the park? Let us know your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter!