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Dublin: 5°C Saturday 17 April 2021

David Meyler: Tuchel's Chelsea can finish second and reach the Champions League final

In his latest column, the ex-Premier League midfielder looks at how the recently appointed Blues manager has settled and gives predictions ahead of the weekend.

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel.
Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel.
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

EX-IRELAND INTERNATIONAL David Meyler is The42′s football columnist for this season.

Every Friday, the former Hull City and Sunderland midfielder will give expert insight and his predictions ahead of the weekend’s action, alongside the latest William Hill prices.

This week, Meyler evaluates Thomas Tuchel’s start in English football before praising Sergio Aguero for his impact over a decade at Manchester City ahead of their Premier League clash with Leicester City on Saturday. 

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Chelsea v West Brom, 12.30pm Saturday

Thomas Tuchel’s first two months in the Chelsea job have been hugely promising.  

The German coach arrived with some pedigree, having won a German Cup at Borussia Dortmund and four domestic trophies with Paris Saint-German, including two French titles. 

With the exception of Monaco’s success in 2016/17, the Qatari-owned PSG have claimed seven of the last eight Ligue 1 championships, so looking at their progress in Europe is probably a better indicator.

They reached last season’s Champions League final, narrowly losing out to Bayern Munich, but scepticism remained about whether the sometimes volatile 47-year-old was the right fit for the Londoners. 

However, it is quite clear that Tuchel has been an upgrade on his predecessor since agreeing to replace Frank Lampard at the end of January. Chelsea are unbeaten in his 14 games in charge in all competitions (10 wins and 4 draws), 10 of those coming in the Premier League (6 wins and 4 draws).

One of the first things he did was reinstate a number of their more experienced players. Club captain Cesar Azpilicueta is now first choice once again, while Marcos Alonso was also brought in from the cold to compete with Ben Chilwell for that wing-back role the Spaniard executed really well under former Blues boss Antonio Conte.

Fittingly, it was goals from compatriots Azpilicueta and Alonso that earned Tuchel his first win as Chelsea manager — a 2-0 victory over Burnley at Stamford Bridge.

Often playing a 3-4-3 formation (whether that’s 3-4-2-1 or 3-4-1-2), his team has looked extremely organised and well set up to defend as a unit. Remarkably, with 12 clean sheets from 14 matches, they have only conceded two goals under him — Andreas Christiansen performing well alongside Antonio Rudiger and Azpilicueta since Thiago Silva’s injury.

Edouard Mendy remains first-choice goalkeeper but Tuchel has shown his man-management skills by playing Kepa Arrizabalaga three times in a bid to rebuild the confidence of the world’s most expensive goalkeeper after a difficult period in his career.

Jorginho is another player who has benefitted from Tuchel’s arrival.

When the midfielder was brought in by Maurizio Sarri in 2018, a section of Chelsea fans were quick to boo and make him a scapegoat. He was in and out of the side under Lampard, and people might say ‘he only passes the ball five yards left, five yards right or backwards’.

I would liken him to another Italian midfielder, Marco Verratti, who Tuchel had at PSG. They’re very good at controlling the tempo of the game. He’s playing those passes for a reason, not just for the sake of it. Sure, they give the opposition time to set up but it also allows his team-mates to make movements.

The lad is an Italian international who was a key player for Sarri with Napoli and won the Europa League before joining him at Chelsea.

Jorginho’s style is quite unique and will only suit managers who play a certain way, but Tuchel has identified that he wants to control the ball, pop it around and be dominant in possession. They are very good at it and Jorginho has been pivotal to that.

Chelsea spent big money on attacking talent last summer but the signings haven’t gelled as well as would have been hoped. 

Timo Werner is still not scoring, but he does look happier of late. Most expected him to be a real success after signing from RB Leipzig for €58.8 million so his first season has been a major disappointment.

liverpool-v-chelsea-premier-league-anfield Timo Werner has been disappointing in his debut season at Chelsea. Source: PA

Similarly, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech haven’t performed to the levels that we’ve seen them play at with their former clubs in the Champions League.

In an ideal world, Chelsea would have wanted them to turn up on the first day and be ready to go but it often doesn’t work like that.

Settling will have been made more difficult by Covid-19 as their families can’t fly in and out of England. Little things like that often give you the support you need.

All three players are great talents and I’ve no doubt that they will come good but I think it will be next year when they shine under Tuchel as he attempts to close the gap on Man City.

Chelsea are fourth in the table right now but I’ll go out on a limb and say I fancy them to finish second. I see them as the team that will kick on for the remainder of this season.

They have also got a Champions League quarter-final against Porto coming up on Wednesday. When the draw was made, everyone would have wanted to avoid the likes of Bayern Munich and PSG, while Porto looked the easiest tie — on paper at least.

I don’t think it will be as simple as some are predicting and Sergio Conceicao side’s will be organised, tough to break down and hard to beat. Look what they did to Juventus in the last round.

It will be a challenge to play the home and away legs in Seville, but I see Chelsea to coming through the tie, meaning they will face the winner of Liverpool and Real Madrid in the semi-finals. 

Tuchel knows they can’t win the Premier League or the League Cup, so it’s an opportunity to pick up a major trophy and they will back themselves.

Real Madrid aren’t the Real Madrid of old and while Liverpool have been better in the Champions League this season, they’re still not in great form. With that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if Chelsea found themselves in a Champions League final.

First up, it’s a midday kick-off against struggling West Brom in the Premier League on Saturday. I can see them winning that 3-0

Leicester City v Manchester City, 5.30pm Saturday

There was big news this week as Sergio Aguero announced that the current season will be his 10th and final one at Man City. 

The Argentine striker has been phenomenal since his move from Atletico Madrid a decade ago. He sits fourth on the Premier League’s all-time goalscoring record and is top when you don’t include English players.

Had he not missed significant chunks of this season through injury, Aguero would have almost certainly scored double figures again this term. 

fulham-v-manchester-city-premier-league-craven-cottage The Man City players celebrating a goal with Sergio Aguero. Source: PA

At 32, he has won four Premier League titles with City and will make that five before his exit.

He is certainly in the conversation for best overseas Premier League player of all-time with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Thierry Henry and Eric Cantona.

What he has achieved at City has been incredible to watch and it is no surprise that they are planning to erect a statue of him outside the Etihad Stadium. 

On Saturday, Pep Guardiola’s side are away to third-placed Leicester and I believe they will win 3-1.

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