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First Team

Hot Off The Press: Chelsea

Adam Newson of football.london on The Blues

15 October 2021

With five wins from their first seven games, Chelsea went into the October international break top of the Premier League, one point ahead of Liverpool and two ahead of Manchester United and Manchester City. What have you made of what you have seen so far?

It's been an impressive start, especially when considered those opening seven Premier League games included trips to Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham and Man City's visit to Stamford Bridge, yet there's no doubt Thomas Tuchel will want performances to improve. The defence has been solid – only one goal conceded in open play – but the attack hasn't truly clicked thus far. Romelu Lukaku's goals helped paper over that immediately after he was thrown into the starting XI but the Belgian has become isolated in recent matches with Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech out of form and Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic out injured. Timo Werner's reintroduction against Southampton did help, however, it was another game in which the Belgian didn't register a shot on target. So it will be intriguing to see whether Tuchel has constructed a way to bring out the best of Lukaku during the international break, something easier said than done with the vast majority of his squad away with their countries. 

After Thomas Tuchel’s arrival in January, the Blues kept 11 clean sheets in 19 games and, this term, they have conceded only three to date. How important will that solidity at the back be in their bid for silverware?

It will be hugely important, although I don't want to fall into the trap of pigeon-holing Tuchel's Chelsea as a defensive team. What they do is simply defend incredibly well no matter who is in the backline. Thiago Silva has been excellent this term, as have Cesar Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen and Trevoh Chalobah. But the standout performer in defence has been Antonio Rudiger, who blends aggression and tenacity with defensive instinct and an underrated ability on the ball. Add in the indefatigable N'Golo Kante and vastly improved Jorginho ahead of them and it's perhaps no real surprise Chelsea's defence can be so impregnable. 

As Liverpool and Arsenal have already found out, Thomas Frank’s men are more than capable of holding their own against the division’s elite clubs. Do you think that will affect the Blues’ approach, at all?
I don't expect Tuchel to try something dramatically different against Brentford. He will expect his back three to contain the twin threat of Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumo while there will be a responsibility on the wing-backs to pin back their counterparts in the Bees' side. What will be intriguing is whether Tuchel opts to go with a midfield two or whether he decides to match Brentford up and go with three, which he did in the second half against Tottenham and against Man City. With Kante, Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic, Mason Mount, Saul Niguez and Ruben Loftus-Cheek all fit at the time of writing, he certainly isn't short of options. Who supports Lukaku is always intriguing and I suspect it will be Werner, given that the German struck against Southampton and proved a constant threat with his pace and direct running.

Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on this Saturday?
Lukaku feels the obvious answer here so I'm going to go with someone different: N'Golo Kante. He didn't join up with France for their Nations League fixtures as he was in self-isolation at the start of the international break having tested positive for Covid-19. But he returned to training at the end of last week and with several days of training under his belt, it is very possible he will be handed a start by Tuchel. Everybody knows what Kante offers Chelsea or any side that he is a part of. But to truly appreciate the volume of work he gets through in a game, you have to watch him live. He is extraordinary and undoubtedly the best in the world at what he does.  

How is Tuchel likely to set up his side at the Brentford Community Stadium?
Personally, I think he will go with the tried and trusted 3-4-2-1 system. Edou Mendy, who has established himself as one of Europe's finest goalkeepers, will be between the posts and I think the back three will consist of Azpilicueta, Christensen and Rudiger. Reece James, fitness permitting, is likely to be used at right wing-back while Ben Chilwell should keep his place on the opposite flank as he slowly rediscovers his best form. As highlighted above, I think Kante will start and potentially alongside Loftus-Cheek. Mount was missed while out injured so I suspect he'll return on the right of the attack with Werner supporting Lukaku from the left. 

The last four meetings between the two sides have all come in the FA Cup, with Brentford’s last win back in February 1939. What’s your score prediction for this one?

I've been hugely impressed by Brentford's start and the variety that they have in their game; the Bees appear to have many ways to hurt an opponent. However, Chelsea's defence is so well structured and Mendy is so reliable in goal that it's difficult to envisage a team really hurting Chelsea. For that reason, I'll go with the Blues clinching a 2-0 victory, but it will certainly not be easy. 

There will no trains stopping at Kew Bridge, Brentford or Chiswick stations on Saturday while the M4 is closed all weekend between Junction 4B and 3.

In line with recent Premier League guidance, we will be conducting a limited number of COVID-19 status spot checks at our upcoming home games – including at the Chelsea game


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