On Thursday morning, Thomas Tuchel sat down with his Chelsea players at Cobham and delivered a few stern and choice words after the back-to-back defeats to Brentford and Real Madrid. Seven goals had been conceded in those two games at Stamford Bridge; it simply was not acceptable.
A response was needed and Chelsea delivered in a big way at St Mary’s. Six goals – four of which were scored in the opening 31 minutes – and a clean sheet were recorded against Southampton. It was a victory that firmly established the Blues in third in the Premier League table with eight games to play.
Tuchel was a happy man., that was in stark contrast to his dark mood on Wednesday evening after Chelsea botched the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final first leg against Real Madrid. “It was a very good performance offensive-wise but also defensive-wise,” the German said in his post-match press conference.
“The percentage of won challenges at half time was extraordinary and was also key to this performance because it’s not only a passing game, it’s not only a possession game against Southampton, it’s about winning the duels, accepting the physicality.
“By winning challenges, we had chances to be dangerous in offensive transition and not only through a ball-possession game. There was a good mix in all areas of the pitch: mentality and commitment. It was very, very good.
He added: “It wasn’t necessary to change everything [after Real Madrid]. But it was the moment for us – or I had the feeling – that it was the moment to tell the group the truth, give my honest opinion, and tell them as a part of the group this is how I feel. So the message was clear and obviously, everybody took it in the right way, I included myself in the message and so it was necessary to step up today.
“It is on the players to live up to what we play and they did it in an impressive manner. So it’s now a time to move on because we’ve re-found what makes us strong and it was another proof of that and we keep on going.”
The victory at St Mary”s ensured Chelsea got back on track. And it was also the Blues’ seventh consecutive away win across all competitions. They have only achieved the feat twice in their history (April 1989 and November 2019). The opportunity to claim the record outright will come at the Bernabeu on Tuesday. No pressure, then.
Turbo Timo’s tricky turnaround
Ahead of kick-off, very few Chelsea supporters expected Timo Werner to start at St Mary’s. The German’s form in recent weeks simply didn’t merit a place in the attack ahead of the likes of Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech. But the opponent the Blues were facing was perhaps not taken into account enough.
For all his struggles at Chelsea, Werner has been able to score against Southampton. He netted twice when the Saints visited Stamford Bridge last season and also struck when Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side came to west London earlier in the current campaign. The high defensive line deployed by Hasenhuttl is the German forward’s dream.
That was evident early into yesterday’s game. Werner hit the post early and then struck the crossbar with a header with close range – the latter was a chance he should’ve scored. The 26-year-old was then presented with another opportunity moments later but was denied by Fraser Foster in the Southampton goal.
After that chance, Werner threw his arms into the air in anger. He was frustrated with himself and flustered. He needed something to go his way. Thankfully, James Ward-Prowse was on hand to provide that. The midfielder overhit a header back Jan Bednarek and that gave Werner the entirety of the Southampton half to break into in chase of the ball.
Muscle memory then kicked in – it was like Werner was back at RB Leipzig. He had time to bring the ball under control, cooly round Forster, and then finish into an empty net. There was a release of emotion in his celebration. Further chances for Werner came and went; he hit the post again from close range but was fortunate the ball fell to Havertz to score.
In the second period, he did add a second after Christian Pulisic was denied and that took Werner’s tally in the Premier League this term to three goals. All have come against Southampton. But perhaps more incredibly – or disappointingly – 23.8% of all the goals Werner has scored for Chelsea since he arrived in the summer of 2020 have been against the Saints. If only he could play them every week.
Tuchel outlines what’s need to beat Real Madrid
Everything that was absent in midweek against Real Madrid was on display against Southampton. Of course, the quality of opposition played its part in that, but Tuchel was also quick to stress the differences in the mindset of his players at St Mary’s. And that is exactly what is going to be needed at the Bernabeu on Tuesday night.
“We are not the team that can escape with results if our input is at 90% or 80% of our energy, commitment and investment,” Tuchel said. “We are a special group when we have the priorities right. If we are committed, if we defend with courage, if we have the attitude right and the hunger right and win challenges.
“If we have the priorities clear, this is our foundation to then show the quality. Then we are a strong group and a special group of players who have a right to believe in ourselves. There is nothing to be ashamed of, but we are not the fancy group that comes with a priority of quality and see if we can get away with an 80% or 90% investment and commitment in all aspects of the game. If we have it right, we can show our quality – because we have the quality. It’s what makes us a dangerous and special group.”
Chelsea will head to the Bernabeu needing to win by three clear goals. It is not quite mission impossible but few expect them to make it through to the semi-finals of the Champions League. Yet as Tuchel has highlighted, the Blues are a team to be reckoned with when everything is on point. They must still believe.