Football

Chelsea's mean defence is down to trust and courage: Tuchel

Thomas Tuchel became the first manager to secure clean sheets in each of his first five home games in the English Premier League when Chelsea beat Everton 2-0 yesterday morning (Singapore time), something the German put down to his players’ “trust and courage”.

The Londoners have conceded only two goals in an 11-game unbeaten run in all competitions that began when Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge in January, and one of them was an own goal.

“It’s about principles, it’s about being reliable, it’s about trust that your back is covered if you step out and attack,” Tuchel said.

“It’s a high quality of defending right now in the group and of course they’re super hungry to fight to not give chances away because it’s a good feeling and it makes us confident.”

As well as snuffing out Everton yesterday, Chelsea have also recently stopped Liverpool and Manchester United from scoring in the league and Atletico Madrid failed to get past the Blues’ backline in the Champions League.

That defensive consistency belies how Tuchel has chopped and changed who plays in front of goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, alternating Marcos Alonso and Ben Chilwell at left-back and yesterday replacing Antonio Ruediger with Kurt Zouma in the back three.

“It’s not about having clean sheets and parking the bus in front of a goal,” the German said.

“It’s about a certain style of defending and we try to defend up as high as possible to have high ball recoveries... It’s about trust, it’s about courage.”

Also starring on the night was Kai Havertz, whose influential display helped Chelsea move into fourth place in the league standings.

Havertz has endured a disappointing first season following his £70 million (S$130m) move from Bayer Leverkusen last year. But the Germany midfielder was given a rare start by Tuchel and he responded by playing the key role in both goals at Stamford Bridge.

Havertz’s shot was deflected into the Everton net for a Ben Godfrey own goal in the first half.

The 21-year-old has not scored in the league since October but Tuchel entrusted him with an important role as Chelsea’s false nine. His intelligent movement earned his side a second-half penalty that Jorginho converted.

“We deserved to win, we controlled it completely,” said Tuchel.

“Second half, we increased our level and had a lot of dangerous attacks. Very pleased with Kai. It was the trust we gave him. He used that trust. He is a player who has all the ability to be a dominant figure in the attack and he stepped up.”

Chelsea are now two points clear of fifth-placed West Ham United, who have a game in hand.

On current form, Chelsea look a good bet to qualify for next season’s Champions League via a top-four finish, while they still have aspirations to win this season’s competition after beating Atletico 1-0 in the last 16, first leg.

“You see the quality of the players. It is a pleasure to be on the sideline and work with the team. Everybody in the club is doing everything to compete at this level,” Tuchel said.

Sixth-placed Everton’s first away league defeat since November was a significant blow to their hopes of a top-four place.

“We have to be honest, we are not at the same level as Chelsea,” said Toffees manager Carlo Ancelotti.

“We cannot play an open game against this kind of team.  We are looking to fight for Europe. We are disappointed for this defeat, but no tragedy.”  – REUTERS, AFP

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