Chelsea v Sheffield United
Sunday 21 March, 13:30
Live on BBC One
Tuchel’s vision is taking shape
In typically honest fashion, Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone refused to even countenance the idea that his side’s failure to win a debatable penalty call in Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat at Chelsea was responsible for his side’s Champions League exit to the Blues. He admitted that Chelsea were the superior side over the two legs, and he was right to do so.
If you only judged by results, you’d think that new Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel was the reincarnation of legendary Inter coach Helenio Herrera, one of the chief proponents of the defence-first style of catenaccio. Chelsea have only allowed two goals in the 13 matches that Tuchel has overseen, and the German has now set a club record for the longest unbeaten start made by any Chelsea boss.
The truth is somewhat different. Tuchel isn’t by nature a defensive coach, but he does want to play with control in midfield, and he wants to create options for the man in possession. A deep and talented squad gives him an array of approaches he can use within the same 3-4-3 formation. If he wants passing range and ball retention, he can pair up Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho. If he wants energy and anticipation, he can select the outstanding N’Golo Kante. In attack, Timo Werner offers pace, Kai Havertz has guile and movement, Mason Mount is intelligent and committed, while Olivier Giroud offers strength and elasticity.
Chelsea got a kind quarter-final draw in the Champions League (they’ll face Porto), and Tuchel has found a solid structure in two months that eluded his predecessor Frank Lampard over a much longer spell. Tuchel has also injected a bit of nastiness – Chelsea committed more fouls than Atletico across their last-16 tie, many of them designed to end counter-attacks before they began.
Thiago Silva is still out injured (although he was a good cheerleader in midweek) while fellow centre-back Andreas Christensen is ill. Tammy Abraham is working his way back to fitness, but the front three of Havertz, Werner and goalscorer Hakim Ziyech combined superbly in midweek. Mason Mount and Jorginho return after they were suspended for the Atletico win.
Rudderless Blades heading for grim denouement
Change is often painful and unsettling, especially when it feels like a wrong and unnecessary course of action. Sheffield United have seen their beloved manager and Blades fan Chris Wilder leave Bramall Lane, not because of the club’s disappointing season, but because of a divergence of opinion when it comes to the club’s future. Disagreements over transfer policy have been brewing for a while, but it seems an incredible shame that a man who took the club so far should now have to leave it behind.
Wilder’s replacement Paul Heckingbottom could hardly have had a worse debut, as his demoralised players turned in an horrific performance in a 5-0 hammering at Leicester City.
United had never suffered a defeat by a margin worse than three goals under Wilder, so this feeble collapse provided a stark contrast.
Norwegian midfielder Sander Berge could return after injury to make his first appearance of 2021, while defender Phil Jagielka may miss the game after the tragic death of his brother.
Chelsea to cruise into the last four
Chelsea have leaked just two goals since Tuchel took charge, and the former PSG and Dortmund boss has already overseen a 2-1 win at Bramall Lane. I can’t really see a dejected United side laying a glove on the Blues here.
If you look at Chelsea’s nine wins under Tuchel, all of them have featured fewer than four goals, so I’ll double up a Chelsea win with an Under 3.5 Goals bet on the Sportsbook at 1.9110/11.
Alternatively, you can back Chelsea to win to nil at 1.834/5.
King Kai can shine again
Summer signing Kai Havertz had arguably his best game in a Chelsea shirt against Atletico in midweek. The former Bayer Leverkusen player worked incredibly hard without the ball, popped up in lots of dangerous positions and started the move that led to Ziyech’s opener.
If Havertz starts (and Tuchel sees him as a forward rather than a midfielder) it’s worth backing him to score at 2.6313/8. Keep an eye on team news, and also consider Mason Mount at 2.8815/8. The England international has shone under Tuchel, and is fresh after missing out in midweek.