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Thomas Tuchel starts Chelsea tenure with frustrating draw against Wolves

Jacob Steinberg at Stamford Bridge
·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Perhaps the jarring pace of change made a drab start to life under Thomas Tuchel inevitable. The “In Frank We Trust” banner, lovingly unveiled one day before the latest brutal sacking of the Roman Abramovich era, was still hanging from the Shed End. Debate over the demise of a club legend had yet to die down and although supporters of Frank Lampard will use this lifeless performance as evidence he deserved more time, it is probably worth reserving judgment on Tuchel’s suitability for the job until he has more than one training session under his belt.

Tuchel has barely had time to unpack his bags since his appointment as Chelsea’s manager and, if he did not know it already, this was confirmation that untangling the knots in his new squad will not be easy. Rather like Lampard before him, the German was unable to find the best formula in midfield and attack. Tuchel seemed to overthink his introductory lineup, which featured Callum Hudson-Odoi as a roving right wing-back, and Chelsea lacked a spark in the final third without Mason Mount, who was unable to break Wolves down after his introduction as a late substitute.

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Wolves, who are in 13th place, held out with relative ease. The visitors were dogged and determined in defence, restricting Chelsea to few clear opportunities. Although the hosts pressed during the final stages, they did not deserve to win and are five points below the top four. The thrilling football from Tuchel, who chose a fluid 3-4-2-1 system and did not use Timo Werner at all, will have to wait.

Yet perhaps there is an argument this was simply an occasion to get out of the way. In normal times there might have been howls of discontent from supporters still seething at Lampard’s departure. As it was, dissent was largely confined to social media, save for a group of fans mounting a socially distanced protest at the start of the day, letting off blue smokes and hanging a banner reading “Circus Continues” on a gate outside the ground.

There was no grand entrance from Tuchel before kick-off. He headed straight to the bench, sharing hugs with his backroom staff before marching to his technical area to issue instructions, focusing in particular on Hudson‑Odoi, whose unfamiliar role represented the clearest sign of change.

Tuchel, who only arrived in London on the day of his appointment, could not think about the past. He went with experience, restoring players who had not seen eye to eye with Lampard. Antonio Rüdiger joined César Azpilicueta and Thiago Silva in a back three. Mount was dropped after captaining the side in Lampard’s final game, that farewell win against Luton Town, and Hudson-Odoi was the only academy product handed a start.

Tuchel was unable to make a winning start despite Chelsea dominating possession at Stamford Bridge
Tuchel was unable to make a winning start despite Chelsea dominating possession at Stamford Bridge. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

There was not even a spot on the bench for Billy Gilmour, who could go on loan before the transfer window shuts. Yet Chelsea would be wise to think twice before allowing him to leave. They could have down with his imaginative passing during a first half in which Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic struggled to assert themselves in central midfield.

Chelsea looked to make a fast start, pressing high and fizzing the ball around. Hudson-Odoi was eager to impress, breaking clear of Rayan Aït‑Nouri and crossing for Olivier Giroud, who fluffed his lines at the near post.

There were encouraging patches as Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz floated dangerously, swapping positions behind Giroud. Havertz, who has disappointed since his move from Bayer Leverkusen, caught the eye with one surging run. Yet opportunities were rare. Led by Conor Coady in defence, Wolves were comfortable. The visitors combined organisation with a threat on the break and might have led in the 40th minute, only for Leander Dendoncker to head over.

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Chelsea spent a lot of time passing the ball in front of Wolves. They retreated into bad habits that held them back under Lampard, crossing aimlessly too often. Ziyech was ineffective and Havertz’s influence waned. There was not enough conviction and the experimental use of Hudson-Odoi, whose starting position was too deep at times, did not work.

With Wolves refusing to push up, Chelsea needed more imagination. After 61 minutes there was a rare glimpse of Tuchelball as Kovacic slid a gorgeous ball through to Havertz, who pulled it back for Ben Chilwell to fire over.

It was a rare moment of incision. Tuchel was growing exasperated with his side’s air of desperation and there was an escape for Chelsea when Daniel Podence’s backheel released Pedro Neto, who scooped his shot on to the bar. Wolves had broken through too easily on the break; that will be something for Tuchel to solve.

Eventually the former Paris Saint-Germain manager turned to his bench, introducing Christian Pulisic for Chilwell. Tammy Abraham, who scored a hat-trick against Luton, replaced Giroud. Pulisic almost made an impact, whipping over from the edge of the area, and Hudson-Odoi saw a deflected effort saved by Rui Patrício. The pressure grew, but Wolves held on. The final whistle, blown just after Havertz had missed a header, was confirmation that Tuchel needs time.