What Hakim Ziyech did after Mason Mount penalty miss as Thomas Tuchel lays out Chelsea blueprint
Chelsea suffered their third consecutive FA Cup final defeat as Thomas Tuchel’s side were beaten 6-5 on penalties yesterday by Liverpool at Wembley
Chelsea must emulate Liverpoolstrategy
It’s become clear over the course of this season that Chelsea can go toe-to-toe with Liverpool. The two sides have faced each other on four occasions this term and every match has ended level after 90 minutes – and in the case of the Carabao Cup final and FA Cup final, after 120 minutes.
Penalty shootouts are why Liverpool have claimed two pieces of silverware from those meetings; Chelsea have twice lost the lottery from 12 yards. When it comes to the Premier League, however, it’s somewhat a different story with Thomas Tuchel’s side 16 points behind the Reds.
That is because Chelsea, at this moment in time, lack the mentality to produce peak performances game in, game out. Too often performance-levels drop and that must change if the Blues are to ever get back to competing for the top-flight title in the near future.
“We have the mentality in the club to shape the mentality of the players to have these peak performances, ” Tuchel said in the bowels of Wembley after yesterday’s FA Cup final defeat. “But over the last years, Man City and Liverpool have proved you need to show that at a level of consistency we don’t have and that we have struggled with. So we need to find it, build it, or create it – although t’s a bit harder given the last months.”
That is, of course, because Chelsea have been operating under strict conditions since owner Roman Abramovich was sanctioned by the UK government in March. All contract talks have been placed on hold and there has been no progress made heading into the summer transfer window.
Fortunately, the moment Chelsea are sold to a consortium led by U.S. billionaire Todd Boehly, which football.london understands could happen as soon as Monday, the situation very much changes. And there will be an onus on the new the ownership to provide Tuchel with the tools to compete against Man City and Liverpool next term.
That may be difficult to do in a single summer. Perhaps even impossible. Yet by highlighting the progress made by Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp after yesterday’s FA Cup final, Tuchel has laid out a blueprint that can be followed in order to build toward and then maintain success.
“The difference for me throughout the season is they (Liverpool) can do it on Wednesday again, and then Saturday, and then Wednesday, but we struggle, ” Tuchel explained. ‘So this is where the gap comes. They can produce these kinds of performances more often.
“They build this team for many years now and have improved it – this is where the gap is. The sanctions haven’t made it easier for us to close it, and will not make it easier for us [to in the immediate future]. That is why given the circumstances, given where we come from, after we finish the season we will see.”
A painful repeat
For large periods of yesterday’s game at Wembley, it felt as though a re-run of the Carabao Cup final was being played out. Both teams fashioned chances only to waste them. Extra time was required in which Chelsea appeared to take control but they waned. And eventually, it was penalties that separated the two sides.
That’s where things changed up. There was no Kepa Arrizabalga on the pitch this time around as Tuchel opted to stick with Chelsea’s number one goalkeeper Edouard Medy for the shootout, and it appeared the right call after the Senegal international produced a big stop to deny Sadio Mane from winning the trophy for Liverpool.
Unfortunately, it proved in vain as mere minutes later, the Reds were celebrating on the Wembley pitch in a haze of red after several smoke bombs had been released by the Liverpool supporters. That it was Mason Mount who missed Chelsea’s decisive penalty was a cruel twist of fate; the academy graduate has been one of the most reliable performers of the last three seasons.
His penalty was poor and the moment Alisson guessed right, he was always going to make the save. Mount could only turn around and raise his t-shirt to his mouth in despair. To his credit, Hakim ZIyech strode forward from the halfway line and was the first player on hand to try to console the 23-year-old. Club captain Cesar Azpilicueta followed suit seconds later.
Amid the Liverpool celebrations, it was the turn of Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson to cajole his England colleague. Not that it had much effect. Mount was hunched down and stared into the difference. When the Reds lifted the trophy, he could barely watch. And it was a similar story for many of his teammates: Jorginho, for instance, had started to make his way down the tunnel before Henderson had even raised the silverware.
Untimely injuries prove costly
Ahead of the final, there was much debate as to who should lead the Chelsea attack: Kai Havertz or Romelu Lukaku. But when it came to picking his side, the decision was taken out of the hands of Tuchel with the German forward ruled out due to a hamstring issue.
Then came the unwelcome news after the warm-up that Timo Werner had also felt a problem with one of his hamstrings. And while the German was named among the substitutes, he barely left his seat for much of the 120 minutes. He was never going to be introduced.
Those injuries alone would disrupt many a team. Yet Chelsea also came into the game with an unfit N’Golo Kante, who was named on the bench, and Mateo Kovacic, whose ankle remained very swollen having been hacked at by Leeds United winger Daniel James on Wednesday evening.
Throw in long-term absentees Ben Chilwell and Callum Hudson-Odoi, and the fact Andreas Christensen was ruled out once more for a big occasion, and Tuchel had very few options to turn to in order to change the final. Not that the vast majority of those who started let him down.
Trevoh Chalobah endured a difficult opening 15 minutes in which Luis Diaz threatened time and time again. Fortunately, and as has often been the case this term, the centre-back improved as the contest progressed, something that was aided by Reece James and Mason Mount keeping a closer eye on Andrew Robertson.
Thiago Silva, barring one loose pass out, was his imperious self and Antonio Rudiger did well. Jorginho was impressive in midfield. Marcos Alonso a threat from from left wing-back. Christian Pulisic had plenty of chances but couldn’t take them and while Romelu Lukaku wasn’t able to maintain his goalscoring form, he did at least win a flick on or two and teed up a wonderful second-half chance for Pulisic.
What Tuchel didn’t have were game-changing options off the bench. Kante was introduced for Kovacic on 65 minutes but there were only flickers of his true self. Ziyech, meanwhile, was quiet. Ruben Loftus-Cheek too, who was introduced and then brought off in extra time for Ross Barkley; the former Everton star was one of Chelsea’s penalty takers.
It’s impossible to know how things would have played out had Havertz and Werner been available, or had Kovacic and Kante been 100%. Yet it’s a testament to Tuchel’s side that they, for the second time this season, were able to push one of the strongest teams in world football all the way.
“I was sure we would win today,” Tuchel said after the game. “I was sure before and during the match that momentum is today on our side. I was sure until the very last minute. Unfortunately, I was not right. We had to digest it and keep going. It’s life in sports.”