Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea career is off to a solid start, picking up five wins and one draw in his opening six games.
Despite a shake up in the backline and an injury to Thiago Silva, only one goal has been conceded and even Kepa Arrizabalaga is showing signs of improvement.
In what is a topsy-turvy Premier League season, Chelsea’s recent change in fortune has got them right back in contention for the top-four, sitting two points ahead of last season’s winners Liverpool and just four points behind Manchester United and Leicester City.
Defining moments ahead
There is no hiding from the fact that Tuchel has had favourable fixtures to kick-off his reign at Stamford Bridge.
The German coach has had the luxury of giving every player a fresh start and game time to showcase what they can bring to the side before a more trusted starting eleven inevitably arrives for the upcoming season-defining games.
The Blues visit an out-of-form Southampton this weekend before they travel to Romania for the Champions League away fixture at Atlètico Madrid on 23 February. The game has been moved to the Arena Naţională in Bucharest due to Spain placing restrictions on travellers entering from England in the latest saga of coronavirus regulations.
Atleti find themselves five points clear at the top of La Liga with two games in hand over their closest rivals Real Madrid.
Diego Simeone’s men have only conceded 13 goals in the league all season and striker Luis Suarez looks back to his best since his move to the Metropolitano Stadium from FC Barcelona last summer.
Three tough Premier League fixtures then await the Blues as they welcome Manchester United and Everton to Stamford Bridge before facing a tricky Marcelo Bielsa side at Elland Road.
The second leg against Atlètico Madrid falls four days later in what will end a season-defining run of games for Tuchel and his side.
Style of play
Tuchel has weathered the storm since he took over from Frank Lampard in January. His style of football might not please all supporters, but it brings back memories of gritty performances under previous managers, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, both of whom brought trophies to the club.
The return of the previously banished Marcos Alonso and deployment of Callum Hudson-Odoi as a wing-back have also surprised many fans and pundits alike.
Speaking to the Chelsea FC website shortly before the recent away win at Tottenham Hotspur, Tuchel admitted playing Hudson-Odoi as a wing-back first entered his head when he and his assistants were on the plane to London preparing to begin their Chelsea career.
“I didn’t know he had not played wing-back before,” said Tuchel.
“We just had one training session before the Wolves game. We were flying in on the same day and wondering what structure to implement to give the team a good feeling, and to have a solid block defensively but also to attack freely.
“To play with four you have to be very disciplined, and the automatisms between the line of four have to be very synchronised.
“So, we opted for a back five and we didn’t want to get too defensive. We thought about trying Reece and Callum on the right side in training. Callum fitted very good and we wanted to have at least four offensive guys on the pitch from the start.
“We just let him drive and he did very good, showing all his qualities he has: the high speed, the quick recoveries, dribbles, good one-on-one. He took his chance.”
The man for the big occasion
Recent performances and tweaks to the formation have certainly provided much needed stability at SW6, but Tuchel has been around management long enough to know his future rests on results in the big games.
Chelsea have struggled against tougher opposition this season but the 1-0 win at Tottenham sparked some hope that Tuchel is the man for the big occasion.
If all goes to plan, Chelsea fans can start to dream of an exciting end to the season but, as ever, if results quickly go downhill, Roman Abramovich will not hesitate to act.