Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel has not ruled out making a signing in the remainder of the January transfer window, but stopped short of making any guarantees.

The Blues have seen their title charge come to a grinding halt in recent games, having not won any of their last four Premier League outings and only claiming victory twice from their last nine.

They now sit 12 points behind leaders Manchester City having played a game more, and a point behind second-placed Liverpool having played two games more.

When asked at a news conference ahead of Sunday's game against Tottenham whether any January additions are likely, Tuchel replied: "I cannot say no to it. Also, I am not convinced it is a clear yes. Let's wait and see."

The game with Spurs at Stamford Bridge will be Chelsea's 16th since the start of December, and Tuchel believes that the hectic schedule coupled with injuries has played a significant part in his team's drop in form.

"The schedule that we had in particular was a bit too much," he said. "At the same time we struggled with injuries, first in midfield then in the second period it was strikers and now it's suddenly all defenders who are out. Yeah, it's a bit awkward.

"We struggled to deal with it and find the same rhythm, find the same consistency in our results... but still the way we played and approached the games was always okay."

Following a 1-0 defeat at Manchester City last weekend and a 1-1 draw at Brighton on Tuesday, the former Borussia Dortmund coach gave his players two days off in preparation for the Spurs game, and confessed that he spent his time at the dentist.

"You really disconnect at the dentist," he said. "It is hard to think about football when you are in the dentist chair.

"We needed [a break]. And I meant all of us. This is a team effort and I felt that the team was mentally tired, which I could understand. I felt them disappointed and frustrated after the result at City and it was harder for us to overcome the obstacles that for us are normal to overcome.

"There are reasons for it. Reasons that we talked about, reasons for which we cannot be blamed.

"I know it is always like this and we don’t want to make excuses, but we want to be adult enough and honest enough to look at the reasons why we feel this kind of fatigue."

Thomas Tuchel has spoken of his admiration for Ousmane Dembele amid reports the Barcelona outcast could be a transfer target for Chelsea.

Dembele looks to be on his way out of Barca due to a contract stand-off that has turned sour.

The France winger warned the Catalan giants that he would not be "giving in to any blackmail" after Barca director Mateu Alemany ordered him to find a new club "immediately".

Dembele is only under contract with the Blaugrana until the end of the season and Alemany declared he expects the 24-year-old to move on before the transfer window closes at the of this month as "we want to have players committed to the project."

Tuchel saw Dembele's talent first-hand when he played under the Blues boss at Borussia Dortmund in the 2016-17 season before the former Rennes man joined Barca for an initial fee of €105million.

 

The Barca contract rebel's chances created per game average of 2.36 this season is better than any of the Chelsea squad who can play in the same position, while his dribbles completed (6.69) also compares favourably.

Dembele has also had more shots per game (4.46) and made more crosses from open play (6.69) than the likes of Hakim Ziyech, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic.

And while Tuchel stopped short of declaring his interest in his former player, the Chelsea head coach is well aware of what he is capable of.

"He is a very good player when he is at his top level," Tuchel said. "I am very fortunate to have trained him in my time at Dortmund.

"It was only one year; it should have been longer. I needed to leave and he decided to leave. From there we are not in closest contact.

"We met here and there because of his duties for the French national team and of course I was in Paris so this was more or less when they were preparing for national duties."

Chelsea face a big Premier League derby with Tottenham at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

Thomas Tuchel can understand why questions are being asked about Romelu Lukaku's disappointing form is himself unsure why the striker is currently struggling.

The Blues' club-record signing has scored just once in his last five appearances, with that solitary goal coming against non-league Chesterfield in the FA Cup.

Lukaku's struggles, coinciding with his return to the side after being dropped in the wake of a controversial interview, have been laid bare in his recent Premier League outings.

He had 21 touches in last week's 1-0 loss to Manchester City – the fewest of any starting player for either team – and 18 in Tuesday's 1-1 draw with Brighton and Hove Albion.

From his three shots across the two games, the 28-year-old hit the target twice but could not get on the scoresheet, leading to some public criticism from Tuchel in the week.

And ahead of Chelsea's home league meeting with Tottenham on Sunday, Tuchel said it is hard to pinpoint exactly what is going wrong for Lukaku in his second spell at the club.

"Welcome to reality," he said at Friday's pre-match news conference when asked if Lukaku is perhaps unfairly targeted. 

"We are in the spotlight, we are judged, all of us and that's daily business. It's like this. If you are a decisive player, if things go very well, people talk about you.

"If not, the same people talk about you. This is part of the business, like it or not. Nothing more to say."

Tuchel added: "I don't know if I can explain his form. It's very rare in football that you have a situation or a problem with a one-thing solution.

"It's always a mix of a lot of influences. He was already more involved. He is struggling. We have already discussed the reasons.

"But he is not the only one we rely on to win games. There is nothing special to it."

Chelsea enter this weekend's London derby with Tottenham winless in four Premier League matches, leaving them 12 points behind leaders City having played a game more.

However, the Blues have already won three games against Spurs in all competitions this term, including twice in this month's two-legged EFL Cup semi-final.

The last Premier League team to win three games against a single opponent in the same month were Aston Villa against Blackburn Rovers in January 2010.

Tuchel does not believe his side's recent cup success against Antonio Conte's men will act as any sort of psychological advantage on Sunday, however.

"We play now three matches in such a short time which is pretty unusual, uncommon normally," he said.

"That's why I think they know what we do, and we know more or less what they do. It’s again for us to show up in games like this.

"They come from a late victory, that gives them a boost. We come from two wins in the cup.

"We play the match – it's not about having advantages and being philosophical about it. It's about delivering, being in the right mood and attitude to deliver a top performance."

When Thomas Tuchel arrived at Chelsea in January 2021, there were some raised eyebrows and curiosity as to whether the German could succeed where his predecessor, club legend Frank Lampard, had arguably failed.

It did not take long for Tuchel to do as another German coach had done on arrival in England and turn doubters into believers, leading the Blues to a top four finish (just), an FA Cup final and a Champions League triumph.

However, with the 48-year-old set to celebrate a year in charge at Stamford Bridge next week, he is experiencing perhaps his first rocky period in England, having won just one of his last seven Premier League games and sitting 12 points behind leaders Manchester City having played a game more.

Before Tuchel blows out the candles on his anniversary cake, Stats Perform has taken a look at his first year at Chelsea to try and figure out how much of a success it has been, and where things may go from here.

Welcome to the Premier League


In appointing Tuchel, who had been out of work since leaving Paris Saint Germain a month prior, Chelsea may have been trying to capture the lightning in a bottle that rivals Liverpool had when hiring Jurgen Klopp a few years earlier.

Tuchel's journey to England was eerily similar to Klopp's, aside from a stop in France, with an unremarkable playing career eventually leading to a management opportunity at Bundesliga outfit Mainz, via Augsburg's second team, and then on to Borussia Dortmund.

It was almost an impossible job to follow 'Kloppo' at Signal Iduna Park but Tuchel did well enough to catch the eye of PSG, where he won two league titles, two domestic cups and reached the 2020 Champions League final, before being sacked after a poor start to the Ligue 1 season.

He even began life in the Premier League with a 0-0 draw in his first game against Wolves, just as Klopp did against Tottenham, but from there you could see the shoots of improvement fairly rapidly, winning his next four and conceding only one goal.

In fact, Chelsea conceded just twice in Tuchel's 10-game unbeaten start in the Premier League, before a barely believable 5-2 home defeat to ultimately relegated West Brom.

They recovered to win five of their last eight league games, although a 2-1 defeat at Aston Villa on the last day of the season meant they were reliant on Tottenham for a favour, with Spurs duly obliging as they beat Leicester.

A promising start to the 2021-22 season saw the Blues lead the way, winning eight of their first 10 games, only dropping points to title rivals Liverpool and Manchester City.

However, since a 2-1 win at Watford at the start of December that even Mason Mount admitted was "one of our worst [performances] so far with the manager", Chelsea's form has plummeted, winning just two of their nine league games since, which has seen them fall well behind City.

The 1-1 draw at Brighton and Hove Albion on Tuesday was Tuchel's 42nd league game since arriving, with his record standing at 23 wins, 13 draws and six defeats.

When compared to previous Chelsea managers in the Premier League era who have also reached 42 league games, some of Tuchel's numbers are surprisingly lacklustre.

His win percentage of 55 is well below that of Jose Mourinho (79), Antonio Conte (79) and Carlo Ancelotti (74), and only Lampard (52) had a worse win percentage at this stage of managers who arrived at the club after Roman Abramovich took ownership in 2003.

He has lost the same number of games as Conte and Ancelotti (six), but no Chelsea manager in the Premier League era has drawn more than Tuchel's 13 after 42 games.

Goals scored has been an issue as only the teams of Glenn Hoddle (49) and Gianluca Vialli (63) scored fewer goals in their first 42 games in charge, but he has clearly tightened things up at the back with only Mourinho (15) conceding fewer than Tuchel's 31 goals against.

That said, only Pep Guardiola (2.48) and Klopp (2.00) can boast a superior points per game records in the Premier League since Tuchel (1.95) arrived, so you could argue that form is merely relative to the standard of competition.

Pressing matters

Under Lampard in the first half of the 2020-21 season, Chelsea ranked 13th in the league for high turnovers, but in the second half after Tuchel had arrived, they moved up to eighth.

So far this season for the same metric they sit fifth, behind only Liverpool, City, Brighton and Southampton, so while it has not necessarily become their defined tactic, their pressing has improved markedly under Tuchel.

The emergence of Reece James and Ben Chilwell also allowed Tuchel to utilise his favoured three at the back system, and to good effect as he has managed to get an impressive amount of goal involvements out of his wing backs.

Before their respective injuries earlier this season, James managed five goals and seven assists in 52 appearances under the German on the right, while Chilwell got five goals and three assists in 32 appearances from the left. Marcos Alonso has six goal involvements (G3 A3) from 41 games.

In terms of the Premier League, no defenders have scored more than James or Chilwell (four), which is particularly impressive for the latter as he has played just 17 times in the league under Tuchel, while only Liverpool duo Trent Alexander-Arnold (107) and Andrew Robertson (58) as well as Manchester United's Luke Shaw (73) have created more chances than James (54).

One night in Porto

Say what you will about Roman Abramovich's penchant for sacking managers, last year marked the second time he has installed a new one part-way through a season and ended up with a Champions League trophy in his cabinet.

Tuchel followed in the footsteps of Roberto Di Matteo in 2012 by only having to navigate the knockout stages, impressively getting past Atletico Madrid, Porto and Real Madrid before a tactical masterclass saw them overcome Manchester City 1-0 in the final.

It is no wonder that optimism was so high heading into this season, despite a disappointing 1-0 loss to Leicester City in the FA Cup final, and it seemed reasonable to think there was only one more piece to add to the puzzle.

The Lukaku conundrum

The reason many were tipping Chelsea to push Manchester City all the way in the Premier League this season was mostly based on the balance that Tuchel had in his team.

An exceptional goalkeeper in Edouard Mendy, an experienced backline including Cesar Azpilicueta, Thiago Silva and Antonio Rudiger, almost every kind of central midfielder a coach could dream of with Jorginho, N'Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic and Mount among others to choose from, while a young and promising attacking line including Callum Hudson-Odoi, Christian Pulisic, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz was supplemented by £97m man Romelu Lukaku.

Where were the weaknesses? Well in a twist that very few saw coming, it was in the returning Belgian.

In fairness to Lukaku, who was brought back to Stamford Bridge after registering 30 goals and 11 assists in 44 games in all competitions last year for Inter, he started well enough as he bagged four goals in his first four games back, while also getting three in two for his country during the season's first international break.

However, things have gone downhill since then, with Lukaku going 10 games without a goal between September and December and scoring just four goals in his last 19 appearances for the Blues, one of which was in the 5-1 FA Cup third round win against non-league Chesterfield.

It is not just the lack of goals, though. Lukaku's style of play seems entirely unsuited to what Tuchel is trying to achieve.

He thrived at Inter playing in a partnership with Lautaro Martinez, but does not look anything like the same player in Tuchel's system that uses one central striker, something that Lukaku himself acknowledged in a recent interview when he indicated frustration at the manager's use of him. 

Manager and player seemed to bury the hatchet, only for Tuchel to lambast Lukaku again after his showing in the 1-0 defeat to Manchester City that all but ended their hopes of the title.

"[Lukaku] had many ball losses without any pressure, many ball losses in very promising circumstances. He had a huge chance," the Blues boss said after the game.

"We want to serve him, but he is part of the team, and the performance up front, particularly in the first half, we can do much, much better."

Next steps

Almost a year into the job, it feels like a mostly positive experience for both is reaching a crossroads. Chelsea have no doubt improved under Tuchel, but their recent form has been concerning and we're now just waiting to see if it is a blip or simply form reverting to the mean.

If the German is to get things back on track you feel the key lies with the Lukaku situation. Either he somehow makes the former Everton and Manchester United striker work – and he has already stated he won't change the style of the team to do so – or he opts for a different approach.

His biggest achievement and definitive performance since arriving at Stamford Bridge was the Champions League win, and the difference in performances from Havertz, striker that night and scorer of the winning goal, and Lukaku's showing against the same opposition last week was night and day.

That is one big decision to make, but another area where Tuchel might be looking to evolve his team lies with Mount, arguably his most impressive player during the last year.

The 23-year-old has had more goal involvements than anyone else since Tuchel arrived (22, G13 A9) and the England international is the only attacker in the top 10 players with the most minutes clocked under Tuchel (4,025).

However, Mount was curiously left on the bench for the trip to City, where Tuchel explained: "We were simply opting for runners. We thought we could break the line more often with Hakim [Ziyech] as a left foot on the left side and going for Christian [Pulisic] as a right side because of the arrival of Christian in the box.

"Normally, he is a bit more offensive, a bit more of a runner than Mason and we expected the spaces more behind the last line and not in front of the back four from City. So that was the decision."

It was a curious decision, but was perhaps a way of trying to tempt a bit more out of Mount in terms of his running.

Tuchel has already achieved more than many thought he would at this stage, reaching an FA Cup final, lifting the Champions League and European Super Cup, and recently winning the FIFA Best coach of the year award.

However, if he wants to one day be in the conversation to be among the Mount Rushmore of Chelsea managers, maybe unlocking his team's full potential is as simple as making Mount rush more.

Time off is the only antidote to Chelsea's ongoing malaise, according to Thomas Tuchel. 

The Blues were held to a 1-1 draw at Brighton and Hove Albion on Tuesday, extending their winless streak in the Premier League to four matches – their worst such run under Tuchel. 

Chelsea have won just one of their past seven top-flight matches and sit 12 points adrift of leaders Manchester City, who have a game in hand. 

The meeting with Brighton was Chelsea's 15th game in all competitions since the start of December and Tuchel believes the only way they can get back on track for a prolonged period is through rest. 

"We look tired. And we are. It's like this," Tuchel told BT Sport after Adam Webster's header cancelled out Hakim Ziyech's opener. 

"We knew they were well prepared, they had more time to prepare and you saw at the end the stadium celebrates like a victory. That's what you face. 

"We need our full strength to overcome these obstacles. In these moments there's no blame for the team. We tried everything. We are mentally and physically tired. We need some days off, there's no other solution. 

"We have two days off then we have two days to prepare the match against Tottenham. There's no other solution." 

Tuchel was critical of Ziyech after the 1-0 loss to City at the weekend and the former Ajax winger did not celebrate his first-half goal. He was also regularly engaged in heated conversations with Romelu Lukaku. 

The Chelsea boss was unbothered by either of those aspects, though.

"I am happy. [Ziyech] can score 20 more and not celebrate, I have no problem," said Tuchel. 

"It's normal that they talk. It's normal they're not happy and they don't like it if we say we want more from them. In the reaction to the goal, you can see we are tired because we are saving energy even there." 

Brighton boss Graham Potter said: "We're really pleased and proud of the performance, definitely. We gave Chelsea a good game. Our performance was full of everything. 

"It's not easy because they have some top players but the courage of our defenders... The boys played on the front foot as much as they could. They scored from not much, but it was a performance I really enjoyed. 

"We were well in the game and the boys could feel it was a good performance. Chelsea don't give much away, so you have to work for everything. We could maybe test the goalkeeper more, but I thought we had everything." 

Chelsea's worst winless Premier League run under Thomas Tuchel was extended to four games as they were held to a 1-1 draw at Brighton and Hove Albion on Tuesday. 

Tuchel's side missed a chance to quickly close the gap to leaders Manchester City, who beat the European champions 1-0 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday to go 13 points clear. 

Hakim Ziyech put the Blues ahead in the first half at the Amex Stadium, but Brighton restored parity through an unmarked Adam Webster in the 60th minute. 

Chelsea were unable to bring an end to their worst top-flight run under Tuchel by finding a winner, with Brighton earning an impressive point. 

Brighton started positively and pressed Chelsea well, but Danny Welbeck spurned their best opportunity when he failed to connect with the ball in the six-yard box. 

However, Chelsea took the lead in the 28th minute when a speculative Ziyech effort got the better of Robert Sanchez and found the bottom-right corner.

The Seagulls made a strong start to the second period and drew level on the hour mark when Webster powered a header home from Alexis Mac Allister's corner. 

Romelu Lukaku made a brilliant dart in behind to latch onto Antonio Rudiger's lofted throughball but was thwarted by the onrushing Sanchez, with the Blues having to settle for a draw.

What does it mean? Still concern for Tuchel 

After a run of three wins in nine games in all competitions across December and January, Chelsea looked to have got back on track by beating Tottenham in the EFL Cup semi-finals and thrashing Chesterfield in the FA Cup. 

However, on the south coast they were unable to bounce back from the disappointment of defeat at City, which effectively brought an end to any faint title hopes they may have had. 

Lacklustre Lukaku 

Tuchel has been frustrated by the performances of Chelsea's attackers this season and Lukaku did little to appease him here. Although he supplied two key passes, he had just eight touches in the first half and only managed one shot on target in the whole game. 

Webster unwatched 

Webster was allowed to steam in completely unmarked from the back post and send a bullet header past Kepa Arrizabalaga for the equaliser. Tuchel's men showed a lack of awareness when defending the set-piece. 

What's next? 

Chelsea will welcome their former coach Antonio Conte back to Stamford Bridge when they face Tottenham on Sunday, when Brighton travel to Leicester City. 

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel has admitted that Mason Mount was not happy with starting Saturday's 1-0 defeat at Manchester City on the bench, but insists that it will "not last long."

The Blues' defeat at City saw them fall 13 points behind the Premier League leaders, and eyebrows were raised when Mount was named among the substitutes, not coming on until the 81st minute of the clash at the Etihad Stadium.

The England international has the most goal involvements in all competitions for Chelsea this season (13 – seven goals and six assists) and has created the most chances (47), ahead of Marcos Alonso (42), Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James (both 38). 

Speaking at a news conference ahead of the European champions' trip to Brighton and Hove Albion on Tuesday, Tuchel said that he received the "burning eyes" that previous Blues manager Frank Lampard had spoken about when he had dropped Mount in the past.

"Yeah, I get them and this is absolutely normal," Tuchel smiled. "But it's still within Mason's character of kindness and being polite and being respectful, so there is no harm in this.

"I get the eyes, I get the look. I know the look, of course. He is here to play these kinds of matches, but we were simply opting for runners. We thought we could break the line more often with Hakim [Ziyech] as a left foot on the left side and going for Christian [Pulisic] as a right side because of the arrival of Christian in the box.

"Normally, he is a bit more offensive, a bit more of a runner than Mason and we expected the spaces more behind the last line and not in front of the back four from City. So that was the decision.

"I felt Mason not 100 per cent in the zone where he is like untouchable, which he normally almost is. So we took that decision and it can happen from time to time. He's not happy about it, but it will not last long because everyone loves Mason – me included."

The former Borussia Dortmund head coach also suggested that Mount has missed playing with wing-back James, who has been missing with a thigh injury since the turn of the year, with the duo, along with N'Golo Kante, working well as a triumvirate since playing together at Stamford Bridge.

"Reece, N'Golo and [Mount] were so strong together," Tuchel added. "This is what we've been talking about. When you turn, you know without even looking he will come now or I will go and get the pass and he will come in, so I will be here.

"We are missing this. And I think, without asking him now, Mason is missing this. He has this genuine understanding with Reece and with Ben [Chilwell] on the other side."

Meanwhile, Emerson Palmieri, who Chelsea are rumoured to be attempting to recall from a season-long loan at French club Lyon to help solve their problems at left wing-back, has confirmed that he has tested positive for COVID-19.

The Italy international said on Instagram on Monday: "Hi everyone, just wanted to come here to say that I tested positive for COVID on Friday, and I truly feel fine and the rest of the family do too.

"Many thanks for all your caring messages. I hope to be back as soon as possible."

The FIFA Best Awards were conducted on Monday, with Chelsea taking three prizes.

While Robert Lewandowski and Alexia Putellas, who won the women's Ballon d'Or last year, took home the prizes for Best Men's and Women's player respectively, the Blues had winners in the form of Thomas Tuchel, Emma Hayes and Edouard Mendy.

Tuchel, who guided Chelsea to Champions League success last season, scooped the Best Men's Coach award, while Hayes was named Best Women's Coach.

Hayes' team won the Women's FA Cup and Premier League in 2020-21, while also finishing as runners-up in the Women's Champions League to Barcelona, who Putellas plays for.

Mendy, meanwhile, won the Best Men's Goalkeeper award. However, he did not make the Men's XI, with Italy and Paris Saint-Germain shot-stopper Gianluigi Donnarumma preferred.

Tuchel's triumph also means that a German coach has won the Men's award for the last three years, after Jurgen Klopp in 2020 and 2019.

The Denmark national team won the Fair Play Award for their actions in helping to save Christian Eriksen's life after the midfielder collapsed on the pitch in Copenhagen at Euro 2020.

Erik Lamela won the Puskas Award for his incredible rabona finish in the north London derby.

Cristiano Ronaldo, meanwhile, was given a Special Award for his career achievements.

FIFA Best Awards 2021 winners:

Robert Lewandowski (Best Men's Player)
Thomas Tuchel (Best Men's Coach)
Edouard Mendy (Best Men's Goalkeeper)
Alexia Putellas (Best Women's Player)
Emma Hayes (Best Women's Coach)
Christiane Endler (Best Women's Goalkeeper)
Denmark men's national team (FIFA Fair Play Award)
Erik Lamela (Puskas Award)
Denmark and Finland fans (FIFA Fan Award)
Cristiano Ronaldo (FIFA Special Award)
Christine Sinclair (FIFA Special Award)

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel has refused to concede the Premier League title race, despite his side sitting 13 points adrift of Manchester City after their 1-0 defeat at the Etihad Stadium.

Speaking ahead of Chelsea's trip to face Brighton, who have never beaten the Blues in 13 league meetings, Tuchel also criticised the scheduling of his team's trip to the Amex Stadium.

Chelsea are winless in three Premier League games, their longest run without victory under the German coach, but Tuchel, while praising City, claimed his team are still in contention for a first Premier League title since 2017.

"Maybe we have to stop focusing on our own problems, and simply admit that City are in a very strong place", Tuchel said.

"In the last 12 matches they have a 100 per cent record. They earned what they have. Maybe it's necessary to admit this.

"The second thing to say is that we will never give up. Never, never, never, until the race is over.

"I told you many weeks ago that we were in a good place because we were in the middle of the race. Maybe we're not there anymore, but we're still in the race.

"We cannot lower our ambitions because it [the gap to City] is now 13 points, we cannot. We are committed to our goals."

Chelsea managed just one shot on target in their defeat at the Etihad, struggling to make inroads against the team with the most clean sheets in the Premier League (13), but Tuchel seemed content with his side's performance against the champions.

"Last match, like all the five matches we've played now against Manchester City [since Tuchel took charge last year], was 50-50," he said. "We won the first three, but all of them could have gone the other way.

"I'm happy with where the team is, there's no need to doubt the process. We will bounce back and never give in."

Tuchel was also asked about the scheduling of the trip to Brighton, brought forward due to the Champions League holders' appearance at next month's FIFA Club World Cup, and criticised the decision to play the match in the middle of a busy period for his team.

"It's very hard to understand," he said. "Now we have three away games in a row. Both Brighton and we have our next games on Sunday, so there was no need to put it on a Tuesday.

"Now it's been squeezed in this week. Last week we didn't have a whole week to prepare for Manchester City because we had the Carabao Cup semi-final.

"On one hand I don't want to complain or to make excuses, absolutely not, but for example, all coaches in the semi-finals [of the EFL Cup] wanted to play just one leg, and it was not possible.

"We could have done better in scheduling this match, for sure."

Thomas Tuchel was unimpressed by the performance of Romelu Lukaku after Chelsea lost 1-0 to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.

A stunning goal from Kevin De Bruyne sent Pep Guardiola's City 13 points clear of Chelsea in the Premier League table, with the Blues having won just four of their last 12 league games.

Lukaku cut a lone figure for much of Saturday's game, having just 21 touches – the fewest of any starting player for either team – while completing just seven out of 12 passes, and he did not win any of his seven aerial duels.

He also saw a shot saved by City goalkeeper Ederson when through one-on-one at the start of the second half, a chance that Opta measured with an xG (expected goals) score of 0.365, meaning that he would be expected to score at least one in three times from that position.

The £97million signing from Inter recently apologised to the club and the fans after giving an interview in Italy where he appeared to criticise Blues boss Tuchel for not playing to his strengths.

Speaking to BT Sport after the game, Tuchel explained his frustration with the Belgian striker's display, saying: "He had many ball losses without any pressure, many ball losses in very promising circumstances. He had a huge chance.

"We want to serve him, but he is part of the team, and the performance up front, particularly in the first half, we can do much, much better."

Apart from Lukaku, Tuchel was reluctant to fault his team at the post-match news conference despite the defeat, and praised their attitude and commitment in the game, saying to reporters: "I think we lost on individual performance and on one situation today. In terms of attitude, commitment, defensive-wise, I am happy.

"We did not allow too many big chances, kept them to a minimum, and we were aware and active with our defending.

"We had big counter chances, big offensive transition chances we wasted. With the same performance we have won games against Man City, and we could draw this game, and, of course, lose this."

Chelsea managed just four shots and one on target, all of which came in the second half, and Tuchel acknowledged that the European champions did not create enough, only having seven touches in the City box compared to the hosts who had 31 in the Chelsea penalty area.

"We did not have enough chances for the ball wins and the movements we could have had," Tuchel added. "We could have had more chances if we played with better timing, better precision. It's simply like this.

"We had eight or nine transition chances and out of them we did not have a touch in the box. This is what I am critical about. If we miss chances, I am not critical. Everyone wants to score big chances, and we do not get a lot of them in big games.

"We could have had many more chances, that is what I am critical about. The decision-making and timing wasn't at the level we need."

Tuchel was also asked for his reaction to the Premier League's decision to postpone Sunday's north London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham after the Gunners made a request on Friday, due to having a number of players out through injury, suspension, COVID-19 or at the Africa Cup of Nations.

The former Borussia Dortmund manager has recently expressed frustration with the league for postponing some games and not others, including rejecting Chelsea's request to cancel their visit to Wolves in December.

"It's much better for me not to answer the question. Much, much better," the German said.

Chelsea already knew the odds were slim. No team that has been clear by at least 10 points at the top of the Premier League after 21 matches has ever failed to lift the trophy.

The Blues travelled to leaders Manchester City on Saturday exactly 10 adrift and desperate to improve on their showing against Pep Guardiola's men from earlier in the season.

But a familiar foe once again brought their downfall as City sealed a 1-0 win that further increases their lead at the summit and probably has them over the horizon in the title race – at least as far as Chelsea are concerned.

Thomas Tuchel spoke with great clarity and assuredness as he addressed the media on Friday, accepting Chelsea were far too negative in their 1-0 defeat to City at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season.

We say "defeat", but in reality it was as close to a 1-0 battering as they come. City tallied three times as many shots as Chelsea (15 to five), and it was a similar story in terms of touches in the opposition's box (34 to 11).

But there was little sign of a major improvement here. Tuchel flailed and flapped like a headless chicken on the touchline, his instructions ultimately powerless against a City side that smothered Chelsea with a high press that just seemed to suffocate them more as the game went on.

Initially, as much as anything, Chelsea just looked confused. Their bravery in playing out from the back was to be commended in some instances, but that mentality seemed to be completely at odds with almost everything else they did.

They would get into the midfield but then launch long balls out wide or to Christian Pulisic in the hole rather than for Romelu Lukaku to run onto. The moves would go nowhere.

 

There was no period of sustained pressure from Chelsea at all in the first half – in fact, they got to the interval without registering a single shot, the first time that's happened in a league game under Tuchel.

Lukaku, bar one early instance where he rolled John Stones before mucking up the final pass, cut a frustrated figure up top. While Chelsea's play in the build-up largely seemed unlikely to get the best out of him, his team-mates might have expected more attempts to run in behind the City defence.

The second half was just a few minutes old when such a situation did present itself, with Lukaku able to do what he's best at: running on to throughballs rather than acting as a target man.

Ederson produced a fine save to block Lukaku's effort, but it was the clearest evidence yet of how Chelsea were likely to hurt City – not that it was necessarily a sign of things to come for the visitors.

 

If anything, it served as a jolt for City, a reminder that, as good as they are, they weren't going to be able to sleepwalk to a win here.

City allowed Chelsea more of the ball, but Guardiola's men upped the intensity significantly with their pressing – the Blues started to find passing through the midfield rather trickier.

Eight of the nine times City won possession in the final third (Chelsea only did so once in the whole game) came in the second half, which was not only evidence of how they were able to impressively dig deep physically, but also highlighted how a team can take the game to an opponent even without the ball.

Of course, City relied on a moment of pure inspiration, which was somewhat predictably delivered by Kevin De Bruyne, who strode away from N'Golo Kante and saw his gorgeous curling effort find the bottom-right corner from 25 yards.

 

It was his fifth Premier League goal against Chelsea, making his old club his favourite opposition in that regard, and a figure bettered by no other former Blue in the competition.

In the context of the match, it also highlighted the differing fortunes of players with comparable pasts: both De Bruyne and Lukaku joined Chelsea as youngsters and ultimately failed to make an impression.

The midfielder now regularly lights up the Premier League, but his international colleague is back at Stamford Bridge and struggling again, albeit for different reasons.

But the fact of the matter is, Lukaku was brought back to turn Chelsea into title contenders – that now looks impossible thanks to another familiar face.

Thomas Tuchel declared he would be "very angry" if any of Chelsea's rivals unjustly take advantage of the Premier League's COVID-19 emergency postponement rules.

The Chelsea head coach was left frustrated in December when an application to have the Blues' game against Wolves postponed after a rash of positive cases in Tuchel's squad was turned down.

On that occasion, a weakened Chelsea team battled to a 0-0 draw at Molineux, and Tuchel insists he has always made every effort to field a side during the pandemic.

At his news conference on Friday ahead of a trip to Manchester City, the German coach was asked whether he felt others team might be looking to bend the rules, taking into account players unavailable through injury or Africa Cup of Nations involvement when seeking postponements.

"I strongly, strongly hope that's not the case," Tuchel said, "because otherwise I would be very, very angry, because we are doing everything to make games happen.

"We were made to play when we thought we should maybe not, so I can only strongly hope that the rules are the same rules for everybody."

The Premier League has mapped out guidance for clubs to follow when it comes to requesting a postponement for COVID-19 factors.

It states that when a club cannot field 13 outfield players from its squad list – or by using "appropriately experienced" under-21 players – a match will be postponed.

Chelsea possess formidable resources, even with injuries, illnesses and AFCON absences.

They have also recalled Kenedy from a loan with Flamengo, offering the 25-year-old winger a chance to reignite his Stamford Bridge career. He last featured for the Blues in the 2017-18 season and has since had loan spells at Newcastle United, Getafe, Granada and Flamengo.

With Ben Chilwell injured and an absentee for the foreseeable future, Tuchel needed extra options on the left. He believes Kenedy, despite playing much of his career as an attacking player, can prove adept as a left wing-back.

"Kenedy is back and I'm very happy about it," Tuchel said. "it's a huge opportunity for him to make his mark at this club and in this team.

"We cannot say Kenedy is the solution. He can be the solution, but the situation has not changed, we have long-term injuries with the wing-backs."

Pep Guardiola's considers Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel as "one of the few" managers he still learns from.

Guardiola's Manchester City play host to Tuchel and the Blues on Saturday in the standout match of the weekend's Premier League schedule.

City head into the game with a 10-point lead over second-placed Chelsea – only four times before have the Premier League leaders had a bigger lead over their nearest challengers after 21 matches.

On each of those occasions, the team with the lead has gone on to win the title, and victory over Chelsea could see City end the weekend with a 13-point advantage as long as Liverpool do not beat Brentford.

City will certainly be considered favourites given the impressive job they did on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in September, only winning 1-0 but outplaying Tuchel's side practically throughout.

Despite that wobble from Chelsea and the fact City have a healthy lead at the summit, Guardiola still counts Tuchel among the few rivals he looks to for inspiration.

"He's so creative, one of the few managers I learn constantly from, to become a better manager myself," Guardiola told reporters.

"Excellent in all departments. I enjoy since he was in Mainz and Borussia Dortmund, always I enjoy watching his teams and the way he's playing, the approach.

"I think he's dignified and he makes world of football better. When you find a manager who always wants to be positive in the way they play, it's good."

Earlier in the day, Tuchel revealed his regret at Chelsea going too defensive in their clash with City at Stamford Bridge.

City were the far greater threat, attempting three times as many shots as Chelsea (15 to five), who did not test Ederson once.

Chelsea accumulated just 11 touches in the opposition's box compared to City's 34, while the visitors' 1.47 expected goals (xG) suggested Tuchel's side were somewhat fortunate to concede just once.

Tuchel's comments would hint at Chelsea turning up in Manchester with a more positive approach, and that appears to be what Guardiola is preparing for.

"I can't imagine what is going to happen. If he didn't like how they played at home, they play different away," he said.

"Seeing the Liverpool game and both Tottenham games, I saw Chelsea as completely different at Tottenham than they played at Stamford Bridge.

"I don't know if the plan was like this, or they couldn't do it. With this quote, I presume the approach that Chelsea will have tomorrow.

"Every game is completely different, [our] performance was really good, minimising the Champions of Europe when all players were fit and there.

"It was really exceptional. In that moment we were below them, knowing the difficulties if we didn't get the points. Our commitment with and without the ball was exceptional.

"We won unfortunately with a small margin, we couldn't score much more. We had three one-on-one situations, but the victory was nice.

"[Saturday] will be completely different. We learned from that, like how we can be better especially in attack, [so] they will change, like their manager said, their approach. They know they need points to be still there [in the title race]."

The debate around coronavirus-enforced postponements reared its head again after Burnley had their game with Leicester City called off, but Guardiola – who confirmed his side have had more positive COVID-19 cases – did not want to get into it.

"It's a Premier League decision," he said. "I don't get involved. COVID is all around the world. The situation is there, in the next two or three months it will still be there, hopefully it will decrease step by step."

On City's cases, he added: "Some people are coming, some are positive again. When you test once, twice negative, then you come back, otherwise you stay at home.

"It happened in the last two-three months affecting all the clubs. We have some new cases, they want privacy so I can't say who."

Thomas Tuchel believes Chelsea cannot hope to compete in a title battle with Manchester City when they are deprived of key players.

The Blues boss said Chelsea would have to "over-perform" to be in the Premier League trophy hunt, although he claims Pep Guardiola's City side are beatable in any one-off game.

Chelsea travel to face City at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, and defeat would see the European champions fall 13 points behind the leaders with 16 games remaining.

Tuchel has seen centre-back Andreas Christensen ruled out of the game after testing positive for COVID-19, and such cases, along with a string of recent injuries, have significantly weakened Chelsea.

Pointing to City's strong record of keeping players available, Tuchel said that "maybe it's luck or they do it better".

Chelsea have elected to recall Kenedy from a loan spell at Flamengo to bolster their resources, and Tuchel said he could offer a solution at left wing-back, with Ben Chilwell sidelined.

City simply have strong options in every department, and Tuchel said: "They are the benchmark, they are the best team in England right now. This is something we have to admit realistically.

"We don't think a lot in the scenarios of 'what happens if?'. Let's play the game. I'm always in for a good fight, but I'm also very realistic. We are always up for a good fight with Man City and always there to push them to the limit and ask them questions they maybe don't like to answer.

"But they're very strong, very consistent, and perform on the absolute highest level.

"They opened the gap not over the last month, but they opened the gap over the last years. We will come up with a plan and push and help and support in the best way with genuine belief, but a team is a different team if everybody is available."

Reece James, Chelsea's attacking right wing-back, is, like Chilwell, out for the long term, and the England duo have been sorely missed.

To lose Christensen is another major blow, and Tuchel said it made Chelsea's task "even tougher".

"But does that make it impossible? No," he added. "For 90 minutes you can do anything, you can be brave, play with courage. You need a bit of luck."

Tuchel said Chelsea took the "wrong approach" in their previous game with City this season, saying they were "too passive and too defensive" when losing 1-0 at Stamford Bridge in September, declaring it was a "lesson learned".

"We have a good squad with a fantastic mentality," Tuchel said. "We need a bit more of a fight to bring out the extra edges.

"It's not enough to find even 100 per cent; we need to over-perform to catch City to be on top of the Premier League. To over-perform, you need simply everybody."

Manchester City and Chelsea were both in the market for a striker ahead of the 2021-22 season.

Although Chelsea sealed Romelu Lukaku's return – for a club-record fee reported to be £97.5million – City were unable to break Tottenham's resolve and sign Harry Kane.

For a brief time towards the end of August, it seemed Cristiano Ronaldo would be heading to the Etihad Stadium. Yet City again came away empty-handed – Ronaldo, like Lukaku, returning to a former club as he joined rivals Manchester United.

Indeed, City were once linked with Lukaku, with the forward himself claiming he had turned down an approach in 2020. But Pep Guardiola's team have, so far, cast aside any doubts that a lack of an out-and-out striker would cost them dearly.

City looked set to be in a three-way title race earlier in the season, alongside Chelsea and Liverpool. Heading into their second top-flight match of 2022, they are 10 points clear of the Blues and 11 clear of the Reds.

City turned in a statement performance in a 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge in September and, while rumours swirl of impending approaches for Erling Haaland or Dusan Vlahovic, two of Europe's brightest striking prospects, it will be Guardiola's 4-3-3, false nine system that Thomas Tuchel must look to counter on Saturday.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform assesses how the respective attacks have stacked up this season.

Rom's return

It would be fair to say Lukaku's return to Stamford Bridge has not yet matched what was expected. Having led Inter to their first Serie A title in 11 years, Lukaku re-signed for Chelsea to much fanfare and, undoubtedly, as one of the most fearsome finishers in European football.

Lukaku's second Chelsea debut could hardly have gone better as he opened the scoring against Arsenal after just 15 minutes, putting his strength, pace and positioning prowess on full display.

Yet he has so far failed to hit his stride. His five league goals from 13 appearances ranks him behind Mason Mount and Jorginho (both six) in Chelsea's squad, albeit the latter has netted all of his from the penalty spot.

Lukaku's goal return has come from a total of 22 shots, the fifth-most in Chelsea's squad, at an average of 2.3 per 90 minutes played. However, his rate of scoring every 166 minutes in the league puts him top of Chelsea's squad in that metric.

But that has been another issue with his comeback. Lukaku has featured for just 828 minutes in the league, starting only eight times, with 12 team-mates accumulating more game time.

An injury sustained in a Champions League win over Malmo in October kept him out of action for several weeks and he subsequently contracted COVID-19.

Then, late in December after he scored in successive matches against Aston Villa and Brighton and Hove Albion, Sky Italia released an interview, conducted several weeks previously, in which Lukaku questioned Tuchel's tactics and suggested he could leave Chelsea.

Tuchel reacted strongly, dropping the forward for a pivotal clash with Liverpool on January 2, which finished 2-2. Lukaku apologised and returned to Chelsea's side for the first leg of their EFL Cup semi-final against Tottenham.

One of Lukaku's complaints was about how Tuchel has used him so far. 

Last season, playing typically in a 3-5-2 system at Inter, Lukaku averaged three shots, 1.5 attempts on target, 7.3 touches in the opposition box and 1.6 chances created per 90 minutes, across 36 Serie A appearances. But those figures have so far dropped to 2.4 shots, 0.9 attempts on target, 6.4 touches in the opponent's box and 1.5 chances created this term, with the forward deployed as a target man to combine with Mason Mount, Kai Havertz, Christian Pulisic and the rest of Chelsea's attack.

It is a role that does not seem to suit Lukaku best, though Tuchel has made it clear who the boss is.

False nines and a flying full-back

Chelsea and City have played 21 league games this season, but Guardiola's team have netted six goals more. They average one every 36 minutes, compared to Chelsea's 43, and have out-shot the Blues 391 to 320.

This is all without a recognised number nine but, as proved by their charge to a third league title in four seasons in 2020-21, City have cracked the code of having any player but a centre-forward lead their line.

Whether it is Phil Foden, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, Ilkay Gundogan, the magnificent Bernardo Silva or, occasionally, the man who wears nine, Gabriel Jesus, City have a wealth of stellar options to slot into that role.

Sterling and Silva, who has been in sensational form all season, lead the way with seven goals each. It is a testament to Guardiola's man management that the duo, who might have left the club in 2021, are in such rich form.

Riyad Mahrez – the only City attacker with a consistent position – has netted six. De Bruyne and Foden have added five apiece.

City share their goals around for fun, while three players (Sterling, Silva and Jesus) have had over 100 touches in the opposition box, with Grealish on 99. No Chelsea player has managed more than 76 (Mount). 

De Bruyne's 36 chances created is more than any other player in City or Chelsea's squads, while the Belgian is level with Foden and Gundogan for big chances created (six), with Mount the only Blues player able to match them.

Allowing whichever front five plays for City to flourish is Rodri, who has taken the mantle from Fernandinho at the base of midfield, and creative support comes from the superb Joao Cancelo.

He has provided four league assists from 22 chances created, which ranks him sixth in the competition for defenders, with his four big chances tied for fourth, behind Trent Alexander-Arnold (11), Andrew Robertson and Reece James (five), who is a big injury miss for Chelsea.

It is not just Cancelo's passing and crossing that supports City's attack, however, with the full-back registering fourth in the league, behind three club-mates, for total carries (380) and sixth for carry distance (3,867 metres). Thiago Silva is the sole Chelsea player to have a place in the top 10 for either statistic.

Finely balanced

While City seemingly have the edge heading into Saturday's contest, Tuchel found a way to thwart Guardiola's system last season.

City countered this with their aggressive approach at Stamford Bridge but only four months previously, Guardiola's men fell short in their first Champions League final – Havertz scoring the winner in a match that perhaps forced City to make their move for Kane.

Tuchel won all three of his encounters with City in 2020-21, though those matches are the only times he has beaten Guardiola, who won three of their five Bundesliga meetings.

Chelsea went toe-to-toe with Liverpool and came out with a point earlier this month, though if Chelsea are to rope City back in, they need their investment in Lukaku to pay off.

Should City's death by a thousand cuts prevail, Chelsea's title challenge might well and truly have bitten the dust.

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