Within the space of five short days, Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea have gone from an impregnable force of nature to toothless pretenders, such is the feverishly fickle nature of football.
Of course, Chelsea actually occupy a tepid middle ground between the varied hot takes bubbling away after the Blues were left frustrated by Juventus in Wednesday's Champions League loss. Yet, consecutive and contrasting 1-0 defeats in less than a week has undoubtedly ended Tuchel's honeymoon period in west London.
After eight months at the helm, Tuchel had morphed a side languishing in mid-table under Frank Lampard into Champions League winners and among the favourites for this season's league title.
However, the mauling Manchester City dealt out, followed swiftly by Juve's midweek muzzling, have flagged some areas of concern for Tuchel's European champions.
Namely, going forward.
Even at their best, this iteration of Chelsea has always played with an air of restraint, a hand perennially hovering over the handbrake. The Blues have only scored more than two goals four times under Tuchel - though they've scarcely looked like nabbing one of late.
Over the past 180 minutes of football, Chelsea have mustered just one shot on target. The only fleeting flickers of threat they created in this period came after the opposition had broken the deadlock, as the Blues more fervently fret over an equaliser - across their last two games, Chelsea have accrued just 0.21 xG when it was 0-0 according to CBS's James Benge.
Pep Guardiola's Manchester City suffocated Chelsea's supply line at source, pressing their hosts into submission. Tuchel readily admitted his side had been outplayed that afternoon but Juventus took the complete opposite approach, yet achieved the same result.
Having briefly flirted with a 4-3-3 that left midfielder Manuel Locatelli with far too much lateral space to cover, Juve's Massimiliano Allegri ushered the eventual match-winner, Federico Chiesa, through the middle. The Old Lady proceeded to clog up those central areas, providing barely a slither of their goal through the throngs of black and white sitting deep in their own half.
Chelsea dominated possession and ballooned their overall shot count but, as Allegri highlighted after the match: "Wojciech Szczesny didn't have a real save to make."
Playing as though the sprinting figures of Kevin De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus loomed in their peripheral vision, Chelsea's midfield duo of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic were each guilty of a stray pass - under no pressure from the actual players on the pitch - that set Juventus away on a pair of dangerous counterattacks they were fortunate to escape from in the first half.
When Kovacic and Jorginho weren't teeing up Juve breakaways, they desperately struggled to provide any kind of incision to find their own teammates. Just as City played their role in dulling Chelsea's attack by bottlenecking the Blues, Juve's disciplined performance owed much to their visitors' plight.
“We struggled to create our own rhythm and intensity because they were so deep and passive," Tuchel reflected to BT Sport post-game. "It’s not easy to find the spaces, to know exactly when to accelerate. We were lacking runs."
Romelu Lukaku - having failed to register a single shot at home to City - again cut an isolated figure against one of his less-favoured opponents (five defeats and just one penalty in seven games against Juventus). However, Chelsea's number nine was often left a spectator as his teammates were forced into painfully sterile passages of possession that traced out the shape of a capital U around their striker.
The one time substitute Ross Barkley pierced through the imaginary horseshoe with a pass punched into Lukaku's feet late in the game, the burly Belgian span Leonardo Bonucci but missed a rare, clear sight of goal.
Chelsea's previous group stage match against Zenit St. Petersburg saw them encounter a similarly stubborn opponent - only on that occasion Lukaku took his chance despite the underwhelming displays of those around him. Given the riches dumped on the masses of attacking talent at Tuchel's fingertips, relying on your striker to convert one chance is not exactly heartening.
Tuchel was quick to coldly pinpoint the flaws in his team against City, highlighting a lack of precision and belief that reared its ugly head again in midweek. However, the German coach wasn't anywhere as decisive in his assessment of the Juve loss, limply offering:
“We were so good in training yesterday and not good enough, not free enough today. I don’t know why, it felt that way for the whole team.
"I felt we were a bit slow and tired, mentally slow, decision making. That’s why it’s a strange one to analyse.”
Still very much in contention for the European knockout stages and one point behind Liverpool in the Premier League, two defeats hardly warrant crisis talk in west London just yet.
Source : 90min