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Thomas Tuchel was exasperated on the touchline, turning to his assistant Arno Michels near the end of the first half and mouthing, “I can’t believe this.”
Was he stunned by how an exceptional midfield trio, compromising Jorginho, N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic were incapable of breaking the press and creating any sort of supply for Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner?
Was he taken aback that link play was in quarantine, along with holding the ball up effectively and breaking with proper intent?
Was Tuchel wondering how his champions of Europe were even failing at an impression of Burnley: bodies behind the ball but without offering the offensive aggression that Sean Dyche’s men at least attempt?
The exact answer is anyone’s guess, but these all apply. There has been dialogue as to whether Chelsea are a defensively solid team or one that is actually Mourinho-ball masked.
Anaemic showings like Saturday afternoon’s encouragement of City’s strengths – come and attack us, and again please – will speak to that second description. A side with title ambitions, at home, should impose more of themselves even against the defending champions.
Chelsea left it until the hour mark to come alive in the contest, after Gabriel Jesus’ deflected strike had finally reflected City’s dominance on the scoreboard.
The introduction of Kai Havertz helped, but it was still Pep Guardiola’s men generating the better chances. Thiago Silva cleared off the line, the brilliant Jack Grealish went agonisingly wide, and despite forcing the issue, Chelsea ended the match without a shot on target.
Their staggeringly weak offensive approach would have been less alarming had their defensive steel worked overtime. But Tuchel’s charges allowed City 15 shots – a mammoth 10 inside the box – and if their opponents possessed a ruthless finisher, the gap between the teams would have been made more obvious.
The game’s numbers are an eyesore for Chelsea, but statistics didn’t need to tell the story here. The eyes watched Bernardo Silva run the encounter, a mix of tenacity and intelligence that leaves you scratching your head as to why he was deemed surplus to requirements in the summer.
Grealish was so effective that he coaxed the most aggression seen by Chelsea, who were constantly frustrated by his habit of being rather good at playing football. There was no department that City didn’t control at Stamford Bridge as they designed the match on their terms.
Tuchel’s rapid transformation of Chelsea, his winning of the European Cup and creating a team that can be considered early challengers means he has rightly earned some grace over his decisions.
If this had been Mourinho…
Such meekness won’t be tolerated for long and it would be jolting if it actually continued. Not least as it doesn’t spell a convincing recipe to be champions of England, but Tuchel has historically favoured a progressive, high-energy attack and has expensive tools at his disposal to produce just that.