Chelsea FC

Thomas Tuchel should not blame Callum Hudson-Odoi for failing in an alien system

Tom Gott
Feb 22, 2021, 3:45 PM GMT
Thomas Tuchel felt his players were to blame for Chelsea's 1-1 draw with Southampton
Thomas Tuchel felt his players were to blame for Chelsea's 1-1 draw with Southampton | Pool/Getty Images

After a little honeymoon period under new manager Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea found themselves facing a familiar problem yet again in Saturday's 1-1 draw with Southampton.

The Blues had 71% possession against Ralph Hasenhuttl's men, yet fell behind to Southampton's only shot on target and needed a penalty from Mason Mount to spare their blushes. So much passing, not enough shooting.

Chelsea looked incredibly stale in attack, so much so that Tammy Abraham was hooked at half-time and Callum Hudson-Odoi came off 30 minutes after coming on because things were just that bad.

Hudson-Odoi was left humiliated
Hudson-Odoi was left humiliated | James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Tuchel defended his decision to haul off the youngster immediately after the game, and he recently doubled down on the substitution, but throwing him under the bus seems unfair considering he is asking Hudson-Odoi to do something new to him.

Coming through Chelsea's academy, Hudson-Odoi was primarily a winger. When he made his breakthrough for both Chelsea and England, he was a winger. He's great in that role, and his performances there contributed to all the hype around him.

Under Tuchel, Hudson-Odoi started out as a wing-back, but when returned to the attack, he has been deployed in a central role as a ten. Neither of those positions are natural to him.

Sure, Hudson-Odoi has played as a ten once or twice in the academy. Most notably, he played there with Mount in a 5-1 win over Manchester City in the 2016/17 FA Youth Cup final, and the pair were overwhelmingly dominant. He's got the ability to play there.

However, to say he's a natural there would be outrageous, and for Tuchel to treat him as such seems a little bizarre.

Hudson-Odoi is trying to adjust to yet another new manager and another new system, but this time, it's a system which doesn't play to his strengths.

Truthfully, it doesn't play to anyone's strengths. Perhaps Timo Werner has benefited from the presence of the world's greatest wing-back, Marcos Alonso, but everyone else is a little off it.

Werner has improved under Tuchel
Werner has improved under Tuchel | Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Mount is fantastic, but he lacks the cutting edge to play as an advanced ten, especially when Werner is alongside him. That means Mount, who has four assists to his name this season, is Chelsea's primary creator. That's not right.

What this formation does is rely on wing-backs to cover for the creative shortcomings of the forwards. Hudson-Odoi, Alonso and Reece James are all great at that, but the problem is is that it's no different to what we saw from from former boss Frank Lampard.

Lampard was lambasted for relying on crosses from his full-backs and not looking to his forwards for creativity, and Tuchel is actually doing the same, so it came as a little bit of a surprise to see the new boss blame his players for their struggles against Southampton.

“The structure is never the problem and the structure is never the solution, it is always the input of the players," he said (via the club's official website).

Could it not be both?

Tuchel claimed the players were to blame
Tuchel claimed the players were to blame | Pool/Getty Images

Sure, players have to perform well for any system to be successful, and there's no denying that Hudson-Odoi, Abraham, Werner, Alonso and most of the squad were off their game, but Tuchel isn't exactly helping by not playing to their strengths.

An issue with Tuchel's 3-4-2-1 formation is that it limits the number of attackers in favour of strengthening at the back. That's fine, but the two behind the central striker need to be incredibly creative for it to really work, and they're simply not.

Chelsea need the creativity of Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech, neither of whom have actually impressed in blue yet, but Tuchel needs to find a space for both... and Werner... and Mount... and Hudson-Odoi... and Pulisic. He needs to find a system that works for everyone.

Havertz's return could force a change
Havertz's return could force a change | Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images

Let's give Tuchel the benefit of the doubt at the minute. He's addressed the most pressing issue, Chelsea's failing defence, but has had to balance it out in attack without the injured Havertz and the struggling Ziyech. That's not easy.

However, making Hudson-Odoi a scapegoat for his side's poor performance against Southampton wasn't fair. The 20-year-old has had his feet swept out from under him too many times already, and he's still learning the ropes of something completely new to him. Patience is key.

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