Furious Thomas Tuchel ends Chelsea charm offensive in a bid to stop alarming crisis
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It was a step too far for Tuchel, who rarely showed signs of the sharp reputation he earned working in Germany and France before arriving on these coasts in January.
The former Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain manager was known as a fiery figure at previous clubs, but he has been on a charm offensive since arriving at Stamford Bridge.
In truth, he has had no complaints after conquering Europe within four months of taking office and paving the way for the Premier League for most of his first full season at the helm.
But his players have no doubts about his feelings after a recent crisis that has continued in Russia.
A stunning strike from Magomed Ozdoev in added time cost Chelsea first place in Group H and marked the second game in a row where they conceded three goals. It also saw them give up the lead for the fifth time in their last three matches.
As far as Tuchel is concerned, there is an attitude problem within his workforce.
“Maybe we forget why we are the best team because the investment, the focus, the level of physical investment was not high enough to be the best team,” he said. “Once it goes down, once we start managing the results, we get punished. It happened in West Ham and today.
“My analysis is very clear. Our behavior changes when we have a lead and that’s something we’ve never done and should never do. We do the things we want to do at the highest level and strive until it hurts and it has to hurt.
Tuchel is clearly in pain. He’s barely made a misstep in 11 months at the club, but it’s impossible to ignore the issues that are going through his team at the moment.
They have now relinquished top spot nationally and EU level to shake their title challenge and hope to retain their Champions League crown.
That Tuchel is publicly questioning the attitude of his players suggests that he is short of the means to drive home the point. He refused to lie on top of them after lost chances cost them points against Burnley and Manchester United. Even against West Ham, he was measured in his criticism.
But the soft-soft approach has yet to elicit a response, leading to Wednesday night’s call from his end.
On a positive note, two goals from the excellent Timo Werner and a first since September for Romelu Lukaku could be a turning point for the pair of attackers.
But exceptionally for Tuchel’s Chelsea, it’s the other end that is so problematic.
A 3-2 loss to West Ham on Saturday was followed by three more goals conceded against Zenit – and it could have been a lot worse without the brilliance of goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, who saved two one-on-one in the first half. time and managed a wonderful reaction stop after the break.
But he was still beaten by Claudinho and Sardar Azmoun in the first half, who put Zenit ahead after Werner’s opener in the second minute.
Lukaku equalized just after the hour mark, with Werner looking to score the game-winning goal in the 85th minute, until Ozdoev’s dramatic equalizer late in the game.
It was the least Zenit deserved on the night – and Tuchel’s fury was the least his Chelsea players deserved.
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