Thomas Tuchel wants us to think differently. The statistic shows that half Chelsea’s 26 goals in the Premier League and Champions League have come from defenders this season, but Tuchel has an alternative way of viewing the numbers after seeing Reece James rumble up the right flank to score two cracking goals during Saturday’s 3-0 victory at Newcastle.
According to the German, the trend is a consequence of the positional freedom he has given to his wing-backs. Tuchel has even come to see Marcos Alonso, Ben Chilwell and James as midfielders rather than defenders and, in any case, it is hardly as if the European champions expected a large portion of their goals to come from the back after spending £97.5m on Romelu Lukaku in the summer.
“If you want to reach the highest level in any competition you need consistent goalscoring threat from your strikers,” Tuchel said, speaking as he prepared for Chelsea’s visit to Malmö in the Champions League on Tuesday night. “We hope we can have our strikers at the end of the season on top of the list.”
It is a regular refrain from Tuchel, who knew something had to change after Jorginho finished last season as Chelsea’s top scorer in the Premier League, with seven goals. He thought an elite forward was required if Chelsea were going to challenge for the title, and signing Lukaku, who had enjoyed two prolific campaigns for Internazionale, was supposed to be the final piece in the jigsaw.
However it has not quite clicked yet for the Belgian, who had four goals from 11 appearances before twisting an ankle during last month’s 4-0 win over Malmö at Stamford Bridge. The Belgian will not return until after the international break and, to complicate matters, the hamstrung Timo Werner and the unwell Mason Mount will also be absent against the Swedish champions.
At least Christian Pulisic has travelled after a persistent ankle problem. The American winger is a threat in the box and his return is a boost for Tuchel, who started with Kai Havertz, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Hakim Ziyech in attack against Newcastle.
Yet it is not just about the forwards. Chelsea have goals from all over the pitch. James has four, Chilwell has three and Trevoh Chalobah has two. Alonso, Andreas Christensen, Antonio Rüdiger and Thiago Silva have one each.
This is a versatile team, notable for Rüdiger’s runs from centre-back, and Tuchel is delighted when he sees Chilwell and James threatening on the flanks. “The statistic would look a bit different if you maybe interpret the wing-backs more as midfielders,” said the manager, who is without N’Golo Kanté because of muscle tightness. “If you play in a back three it is not really a full-back position and there are more midfield positions.
“I would not call them defenders. Although they have to defend in some moments they are more free to attack as they have a shorter distance to goal than they would do as a full-back. It is necessary that they are included and that we bring them to the box at the end of our attacks to increase the goal threat. I am happy when we create chances and when we have five or six players in the box to be dangerous.”
All the same Chelsea, second in Group H with six points from three games, need more from their forwards. Havertz and Ziyech have to become more consistent and Tuchel wants Hudson-Odoi to push on after three consecutive starts. “It’s all about performance and this is what Callum shows at the moment,” he said. “It’s important he shows consistency, stays hungry and keeps progressing.”