Thomas Tuchel knew a swarm was again coming to Stamford Bridge. This time he was going to make sure his Chelsea players were prepared, that there was a ready-made solution in place. There would be no Manchester City repeat.
The Blues had been suffocated by the relentless pressing of Pep Guardiola’s side seven days earlier. No matter which route was attempted, a sky blue shirt was lurking to reclaim the ball and restart an attack. Southampton would try to do the same.
No surprise there. Ralph Hasenhuttl is a principled coach, one who does not alter his approach depending on the opposition.
It’s why, per FBRef, no Premier League side has won more tackles per 90 in the attacking third (3.71) in the Premier League this season than the Saints, and why only Liverpool have attempted more pressures in the same area of the pitch (41.6 per 90).
So Tuchel knew what Southampton would attempt, appreciated the difficulties they posed. It’s why he went with a midfield two of Mateo Kovacic and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, as he explained after his side’s 3-1 win secured via goals from Trevoh Chalobah, Timo Werner, and Ben Chilwell.
“In the last two games, of course, we lost and we felt something was lacking,” the Chelsea coach said. “So we decided to put Ruben because we were aware of their high pressing in midfield but we wanted to go through midfield.