Chelsea travels to Turin to take on Italian giant Juventus in matchday two of the 2021/22 UEFA Champions League.
This is easily the Blues’ toughest test in the group as they make the trip over to Italy with first place on the line.
Despite the Old Lady’s poor performances in the league, Massimiliano Allegri’s side is always up for European nights. Juventus defeated Malmo 3-0 during the opening week of the UCL campaign, cementing the Italians as Chelsea’s biggest threat in Group H.
Whereas Allegri’s men rolled on matchday one, Thomas Tuchel’s team struggled to break down a disciplined Zenit squad. The Blues have not played their best football as of late and a number of injuries to key players certainly won’t help.
Nevertheless, the reigning Champions of Europe should be able to dispatch of any opponent on the continent on their best day. They will be favored, but it’s bound to be a tough bout. These are the fixtures that supporters love about the Champions League.
The history between the two is split right down the middle (one win for each side and two draws in four past meetings), so bragging rights will be on the line, along with control of the group. A few key components relating to this contest will decide the winner.
Here are three things to look for in Chelsea’s trip to Juventus:
As briefly touched on earlier, the Blues have not played their best football in recent weeks.
They’ve struggled in large parts of games against Aston Villa (x2), Tottenham, Zenit and Manchester City. The latter handed Chelsea its first loss on the season at the weekend.
Tuchel’s men were uncharacteristically pressed so high up the pitch that it pinned them back in their own final third.
The 3-5-2 experiment didn’t help matters either as the Blues’ midfielders were stuck defending and unable to get the ball out quickly. This left the attackers on an island.
The home side registered zero shots on target in a rather sluggish display. Chelsea had the perfect plan to stop Man City until, well, it didn’t.
The Citizens scored on a deflected shot early in the second half and all of the hard work that’d been put in for 50+ minutes beforehand was thrown out the window.
Tuchel was left scrambling as he tried to find a response. It was the first time he failed to do so against Pep Guardiola.
Nevertheless, the loss to Man City is no reason to panic—yet. The Blues’ response to the first defeat of the fresh campaign will be crucial.
Tuchel needs his side to rebound positively after a string of incomplete performances as of late.
I want to preface my next statement with saying the German manager will not be fired this season, so please spare me the assumptions or the paraphrases of what I’m about to write.
When it rains, it tends to pour at Chelsea. The last few seasons have shown us that the Blues usually get down on themselves following a loss and spiral into a poor period of results (see the winter period last year that led to Frank Lampard’s sacking).
This has not been the case under Tuchel thus far, so hopefully this trend he’s got the team on continues. Chelsea’s response to the Man City result will be important, especially against a side as prestigious as Juventus, who is looking for a “pick me up” result themselves after a poor start.
Tuchel is heading into his ninth month in charge at Stamford Bridge and up until Saturday, there was never really any question of what formation he’d deploy his side in.
The Blues experimented with a four at the back against Leeds United one early Saturday toward the end of last season. The idea was birthed and subsequently killed at Elland Road though.
However, following the acquisition of Romelu Lukaku and decision not to move on from Timo Werner, ideas started floating around about Chelsea’s shape this season. These rumblings turned to legitimate questions on Saturday as the German lined his team up in a 3-5-2.
The 3-5-2—similar to the 4-2-3-1 at Leeds—was an utter failure. The Blues looked flat, mistake-prone and they failed to play the way Tuchel expected them to throughout each match.
Nevertheless, the former is not as drastic of a tactical change as last season’s trial. This raises questions about how Chelsea will set up against Juventus.
These predictions only get more challenging when one factors in a number of key players missing in attack.
The Blues will be without Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic in Turin, so their options are limited. Lukaku and Werner both enjoyed their most successful seasons to date lined up in a two-striker system.
The 3-5-2 showed flashes of promising play against Man City, but will Tuchel risk minimal service once again after the stale showing on Saturday?
Hakim Ziyech is not in form, Callum Hudson-Odoi could be considered for the opening at right wingback and Kai Havertz has looked off the pace as of late.
A Lukaku-Werner partnership up top could be the visitors’ best option as it tests the athleticism of Juventus’ aging back line.
On the other hand, the 3-4-3 is what has worked for Chelsea since Tuchel took charge.
The midfield pivot of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic played teams like Atletico Madrid off the pitch when given the opportunity last year.
The presence of wingers gives the wingbacks on either side a reliable outlet when being pressed in possession.
The familiar formation also allows the Blues to overload certain spaces and create mismatches all over the pitch. The old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” certainly applies to this scenario.
Tuchel’s final formational verdict at the Allianz Stadium will go a long way in revealing his thought process. A manager known for his constant changes could either play it safe or commit to trying new things. Either way, Chelsea is sort of forced into a corner with the injuries it has sustained.
3. Who steps up for both sides?
The last two slides have alluded to a handful of injuries that will take their toll on this contest.
Although we’ve exclusively only previewed the Blues up to this point, they are not the only squad impacted by absences. Juventus’ attack will receive a fresh, new look, as well.
Former Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata is set to miss out on the game against his old club, as is talisman Paulo Dybala.
Allegri’s options at the No. 9 spot are thin with those bits of information and therefore, he’s expected to turn to Cristiano Ronaldo’s replacement, Moise Kean.
Kean—along with the young wingers beside him—will be tasked with breaking down one of the most experienced and disciplined back lines in world football.
If he is able to do so, he puts the Old Lady in a great position to succeed on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Lukaku is going to lead the Chelsea line, but who accompanies him up top is a crapshoot.
Mount’s absence in particular is a huge one as he’s been so important for the Blues in a wide position both in and out of possession.
None of Tuchel’s other wingers—be it Havertz, Hudson-Odoi, Pulisic or Ziyech—have particularly taken the bull by the horns when given the opportunity to cement a place in the starting XI lately.
If Chelsea sets up in the 3-4-3 discussed in the last slide, one of these individuals will need to step up big time. The same is true for Werner if he and Lukaku partner up again.
Elsewhere, the Blues are going to need flawless performances from the midfield. Jorginho and Kovacic are virtual locks, regardless of the team’s shape.
If Tuchel opts to give the 3-5-2 another go, he could call upon the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek or Saul Niguez to bring a little something different to the battle in the middle of the park.
Each is going to struggle to get onto the pitch regularly this season as things stand, so putting in a good shift would be hugely beneficial to themselves and their team.
Chelsea at Juventus is already a mouthwatering fixture. It’s made more juicy by the storyline of an abundance of tactical and personnel changes playing a massive part in the game’s outcome.
This is set to be the case on Wednesday as the European Champions square off against the historically dominant Italian giants.