Thomas Tuchel's forgotten Reece James Chelsea headache opens Dortmund opportunity vs. Newcastle


Thomas Tuchel has rarely been able to enjoy long spells without some form of a selection problem this season. Last Saturday at Turf Moor felt like the Blues' luck was changing, Tuchel had a virtually fully fit squad with the exception of long-term absentee Ben Chilwell.

Reece James put on a masterful display, Chelsea's attack suddenly had fresh impetus and, despite off-pitch chaos regarding our ownership, there was excitement over how that 4-0 win could be built upon. Although Chelsea did continue their good league form with a routine 3-1 win against Norwich City at Carrow Road on Thursday, Tuchel approaches Sunday afternoon's clash against Newcastle with a new dilemma.

James' injury setback before the Norwich game after suffering a hamstring injury to his right leg, only two weeks after recovering from a similar injury to his left, has been of great frustration.

Tuchel opted on Thursday night to use the returning Cesar Azpilicueta in James' place but the club captain had to be replaced at half-time due to illness, placing his availability for Sunday in doubt. Strangely Ruben Loftus-Cheek came on for the defender and played as the right wing-back, looking severely out of place throughout the half, despite Chelsea going on to claim the three points.

"Azpi did not feel well," Tuchel explained to reporters post-game. "A bit of a stomach problem and pain so we decided to take him out. He did not feel good."

Without Azpilicueta available, Tuchel's obvious alternatives are not clear. He has at times this season put both Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic in that role when options were limited. But Hudson-Odoi is recovering from an Achilles issue, while Pulisic has looked impactful in his natural left-wing role.

The solution to this issue could be to repeat a trick Tuchel played in January when he switched formations, moving from the trusted 3-4-2-1 to variations on a 4-3-3. We have even seen the 4-2-2-2 under Tuchel in recent months, one he used at Borussia Dortmund to great effect and worked wonders against Antonio Conte's Spurs in the Carabao Cup.

This move most benefited Hakim Ziyech who has started 2022 in good form, netting in his past three Premier League appearances. The Moroccan has been recovering from a knock in recent weeks, an unused substitute at Carrow Road, and could return to the lineup at Stamford Bridge.

Even with Chelsea's attack starting to click, the removal of a defensive player would make room for Ziyech on the right side of Tuchel's attack, adding more ammunition against the Magpies. The January switch with Ziyech also saw the introduction of a fluid system, switching between a three and four-man defence in and out of possession.

The 28-year-old would drift between a wingback role and a more natural winger to maintain Tuchel's strong defensive shape. Rather than fitting square pegs in round holes that could dent Chelsea's recent fluidity, moving back to a system that has proven effective feels a sensible move to end a challenging week.

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