Politics, Sport

Lockdown and football musings.

If this is truly going to be the last lockdown, we must exit slowly and methodically

As the government’s target of vaccinating the top four vulnerable groups in the England was hit, the prospect of easing lockdown restrictions has been raised by many, mainly in Conservative circles. Boris Johnson has gone to great lengths to stress that he will not be beholden to set dates for easing restrictions but rather what the data is showing. But he has also made recent statements about how this lockdown must be the last one and any plan to exit will be cautious but irreversible. Which I think is patently ridiculous. If the government has eased lockdown restrictions but the data is suggesting that the best course of action to combat any potential future spike in cases would be to go into lockdown again, then that is obviously what should be done. The government have tried bringing the country out of lockdown once before and it backfired catastrophically. When the government went into their tier system, it was after SAGE had recommended something completely different and the data showed we were in no position to come out of a lockdown. Then there was the nonsense of promising to ease restrictions for Christmas and allowing families to socialise over a five-day period. Those were absolute folly, and they had to hurriedly backtrack just before it would have gone into effect. It led us to the situation we found ourselves in over Christmas and New Year, with rapidly rising cases, hospitalisations and deaths. The vaccine rollout has gone well and keeping the lockdown in place has contributed to the reduction in transmission rates and daily new case and fatality figures. But we are still not back to the state of play we were at last summer, before cases started to explode again.  

If the country is to start exiting lockdown, the steps must be very, very slow. That will give time for the vaccines to continue to be rolled out and more people would then be safe from the worst of the virus. The steps towards relaxing restrictions should be done over a number of weeks for each one. We need to take stock at every point to make sure that the relaxation of restrictions does not result in a spike in cases. Any deadline that backbench libertarian Conservative MPs come up with out of thin air need to be summarily ignored. I would leave the introduction of easing lockdown for another month or two and then ease restrictions, nationwide, not in a tier system, a month at time to give time for the data to come in and let the experts see their impact. And if that impact is adverse in any way, the restrictions can be frozen until the situation improves. Johnson has shown in the past that he is all about optimism and grandstanding gestures. He has never demonstrated that he even has the capacity to be cautious. And that is what is needed now more than ever. A lot of progress has been made towards subjugating the very worst effects of the virus and the pandemic at large. But we are not at the finish line yet. And we may not ever be back to a pre-COVID normality. Many experts and politicians have raised the possibility of having to adapt to a new normal where hopefully we can stay on top of COVID through an annual jab. But we have to get to actually being on top of it first.

What have we learned from Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea?

Well for one thing, players who had been very much given the cold shoulder are back in the fold. Players like Marcos Alonso, Kepa Arrizabalaga, Antonio Rudiger and even Callum Hudson-Odoi have seen much more regular football than they did under Frank Lampard. Lampard clearly had players he felt he could trust and mould into playing the way he wanted them to. Tuchel has been very clear that everyone at the club will be given a fair chance to demonstrate that they should be at the club and playing first-team football. And he has backed this up. Jorginho has played every minute of the five Premier League games that Tuchel has taken charge of, while he was a far less frequent starter under Lampard. Kepa had not played a league game for Chelsea since September before his clean sheet appearance against Newcastle United last Monday. Marcos Alonso had not played at all since the same month, but has now started three of the five league games Chelsea have played under Thomas Tuchel. Tuchel has also looked to the more experienced players in the squad, who are used to sudden and mid-season managerial changes to help the younger members of the squad through the initial period. Their presence in the team will help give some continuity and some level headedness; that’s not to be unexpected either with people like Cesar Azpiliceuta and Thiago Silva.

However, for all that Tuchel has made use of the experienced members of the squad, he has not turned his back on the younger academy graduates. Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi have all featured regularly while Reece James has also seen plenty of action. Tuchel is also a manager with a history of developing young players. He was the man who gave Christian Pulisic his professional debut at 17 years old. Tuchel has been very vocal in his admiration of both the first team squad and academy set up, confirming the players in the academy are part of his vision for Chelsea. That will be encouraging for the players who may have thought their potential path to the first team squad was closed off with Lampard’s departure. There are many promising players at the Chelsea academy who will be looking to break into Thomas Tuchel’s plan moving forward. His history of promoting and developing young players must have been a factor in Chelsea bringing him into the club.

We have also seen Tuchel’s tactical flexibility in his short time in charge. Every game has started with the same basic shape, that of three central defenders, two wing backs and the so called ‘double-pivot.’ The front three players have often switched up the roles they take on, which probably suits the players there down to the ground. Having their roles be less defined means they can move and operate where they want to and are not stuck in regimented positions that might stifle their creativity. They can move around and into the space as they please; that especially plays into Timo Werner’s hands, as he can move up to act as a striker in a two-striker frontline or drop deeper and move out to the wing where he can run at defenders. Mason Mount can also operate very effectively in that area and has shown that in many of Tuchel’s games in charge. However, despite starting with a similar system in every game so far, Tuchel has showed he is more than happy to switch up the system if he feels he needs to. Against Barnsley in the F.A. Cup, he used three systems, starting with three at the back to four at the back and switching up where the midfielders were. It often seemed like Frank Lampard was stuck in one system and would look to change personnel in that system rather than the system. And sometimes that works. But Tuchel has been around in management long enough to become tactically astute and confident enough to make bold moves and switch up the system he is using. So far, it is paying dividends for Tuchel and Chelsea.

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