When Thomas Tuchel walked out for his first game in charge of Chelsea, his new side were down in 10th in the table, four points behind Tottenham. Eight days on and with a 1-0 victory over their London rivals to celebrate, Chelsea are three points clear of Spurs, already into the top six and looking capable of climbing rather further than that.
The manner of the result will be as welcome as the points, so dominant were Tuchel’s team, particularly in the first half when Tottenham struggled to make acquaintance with the ball. It was more of a test during the latter stages as Spurs chased an equaliser but four-and-a-half hours into his reign and Chelsea are yet to concede a goal under their new coach.
There will be caveats, of course, with Jose Mourinho the quickest to point them out. It was only Jorginho’s penalty that separated the sides on the score-sheet. Carlos Vinicius, a player who would not have been on the pitch had the Tottenham boss been able to call upon Harry Kane, missed a good opportunity with his head that would have levelled things up.
The bald statistics did indeed show that Edouard Mendy made more saves than Hugo Lloris. Cling to that if you must but the paucity of ambition from the home side was striking. This was no Mourinho masterclass and his attempts to obfuscate afterwards could not mask that. Without the result to justify the approach Spurs supporters were left feeling empty.
The trajectory of these two teams appears very different.
It has taken a matter of days for Tuchel to have Chelsea playing with confidence and style in a system that already seems to be working well. Marcos Alonso has returned in his natural wing-back role, while Cesar Azpilicueta is flourishing once more on the right of a back three. The double pivot in midfield affords plenty of protection for the back line.
Though the identity of the scorers so far – the aforementioned Spanish duo and the once divisive Jorginho – does not exactly suggest this is a brave new world at Chelsea, any fears that this is a lurch backwards towards experience can be dismissed because of the impact of the young Englishmen.
Callum Hudson-Odoi has started three Premier League games in a row for the first time in over a year, impressing in a variety of roles. Mason Mount, omitted for Tuchel’s opening game against Wolves, has been instrumental in Chelsea’s back-to-back wins since then.
“What makes me very happy is he is a nice guy, a totally open guy and has a very positive aura and energy in the dressing room and out on the pitch,” said Tuchel of Mount beforehand. He went at Tottenham with typical gusto in a man-of-the-match display.
Given the freedom to roam, he drifted over to the right early on and with Azpilicueta raiding forward from defence, it created an overload on that flank. Ben Davies could not cope.
Mount himself described his role as that of a “false nine dropping in as a 10” and he thrived in it, finishing the game having created the most chances, put in the most crosses and completed the most passes in the opposition half of any player on either team.
Only Alonso covered more ground. Mount might have been a Frank Lampard favourite but it has not taken long for him to endear himself to Tuchel either. He is enjoying himself.
It is easy to see why every Chelsea player is enjoying playing in this team. They had 68 per cent of the ball in the first half having dominated their first two matches under Tuchel too.
Chelsea had five times as many touches in the opposition box as Wolves, four times as many as Burnley, and had to settle for three times as many touches as Tottenham – 39 to 13. They are a team that love the ball but they are surrendering very few chances without it either.
Spurs did at least force Mendy into a save – a straightforward one from Heung-Min Son that stopped the clock at 185 minutes under Tuchel before his team had conceded an effort on target. It was another 74 minutes until the next one, a smarter save from Erik Lamela. Both attempts were from outside the box. Chelsea look rock-solid in this formation.
It is why Mourinho’s assessment of the match felt so reductive. He had spoken before kick-off of the need to build foundations before his Tottenham team could hope to be so expansive, but here was Tuchel, one week into the job, setting a side up that could build play from the back, progressing the ball through the thirds, while still maintaining a good defensive shape.
Chelsea have the personnel, perhaps, but Tottenham’s transformation in the second half added weight to the idea that this was a problem of mindset rather than quality.
Tuchel is already changing Chelsea’s and while it is only early days for him at Stamford Bridge, that feels like an argument in his favour rather than a cause for caution.
They are playing with fluidity and organisation, threatening in attack while remaining defensively robust. Now only four points outside the top four, they are upwardly mobile again and the overriding feeling is that there is more to come from Tuchel’s Chelsea.
Mourinho’s Tottenham are moving in another direction entirely.