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Thomas Tuchel must fix familiar Chelsea problems to keep title hopes afloat as Man City threaten to pull away

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In Thomas Tuchel’s defence, he always dismissed the idea of Chelsea as title favourites. But at this moment in time, he has a fight on his hands just to keep them in the conversation.

While Chelsea toiled to a goalless draw at Wolves, Manchester City opened up a six-point lead over the European champions, who had briefly held a similar advantage at the top of the Premier League just a month ago.

There were so many mitigating factors surrounding yesterday’s match that it would be easy to forget the fact that the result ultimately went with form.

It was Chelsea’s third draw in their last four games – and the fifth time they have failed to win in their last eight in the league.

Whatever the legitimacy of their argument to have the game postponed – which is open to debate – it extended a slump that is in danger of seeing them lose sight of Pep Guardiola’s champions.

City are in the kind of mood where it is hard to see where their next defeat is coming from. Chelsea, meanwhile, look like a team that has forgotten how to win.

In the context of having six players test positive for Covid, a draw at Wolves could be framed as a point won. In the context of their current form, it was business as usual – and business right now is not good.

History dictates that City do not let commanding positions in the table slip. They are a team that sets the pace before leaving rivals in their wake.

So while six points before Christmas is certainly not an insurmountable lead, it represents a daunting gap for Chelsea – particularly at a time when they look at their most fragile under Tuchel’s reign.

A run of eight straight wins for City is the type of relentless sequence that crushes the spirit of their rivals. It is the type of form that places jeopardy on every game Chelsea – or second-placed Liverpool – play. Put a foot wrong and it will be punished.

 (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
(Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Chelsea’s position was uneasy enough even without a Covid outbreak. But the loss of so many key players at a time when Tuchel needs all the help he can get has only exacerbated their problems.

While the German was still able to name a starting XI of top-class talent at Molineux, he was robbed of the game-changers required to edge out such tight contests.

No Romelu Lukaku, Kai Havertz or Timo Werner to provide the cutting edge – or Callum Hudson-Odoi to unlock Wolves’ defence.

As a result they registered just a single shot on target from Christian Pulisic, who really should have found the back of the net when one-on-one with Jose Sa in the second half.

Had the chance fallen to one of Chelsea’s recognised strikers, would it have been a different story? Maybe. Maybe not – which is what makes it so difficult to assess this game in isolation.

With a fully available squad, Chelsea are wholly capable of wasting such opportunities – as has been the case during their current slump.

Tuchel was honest enough to acknowledge as much, saying: “The problem is not the points we dropped today.

“The points that hurt are the ones we lost at home against Man United, Burnley and Everton. These are the six points that hurt and not today.”

It is now a case of where Chelsea go from here. They did not want this match to go ahead – and the very real possibility of further Covid cases could soon ensure the Premier League cannot ignore further pleas.

While football may well need a circuit breaker, Chelsea look like they could personally benefit from a reset.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The problems did not begin with the outbreak that beset them last week. They have been evident since the 1-1 draw with Manchester United last month – but Tuchel has not been able to arrest them.

Instead the same errors have been repeated with almost each dropped point – be it defensive fragility or wastefulness in attack.

The assumption is Tuchel would relish the opportunity to get back to basics on the training pitch and re-instil his core values.

If there was anything to be encouraged by yesterday, it was the resolve of his team in difficult circumstances.

Having looked like they felt sorry for themselves in the first half, they took control in the second – even if they rarely looked like finding a winner. It also ended a run of six games without keeping a clean sheet.

But, ultimately, it was a case of further ground being lost on City in a race for the title that could soon get away from them.

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