It was not a performance full of verve and attacking quality on Tuesday from Chelsea. It was probably up there with one of their worst performances of the season. Until Mason Mount slammed the ball into the bottom corner to open the scoring, Chelsea had not threatened much at all. One Mason Mount shot against the post. That was it. Until the game unfortunately had to be stopped, Chelsea barely got out of their own half. Watford were just far more energetic, looked hungrier for the ball and were making serious in-roads into Chelsea’s penalty area. They deserved their equaliser, only the fifth goal that Chelsea have conceded all season. Tuchel did respond and the Blues performance improved but this was a performance to worry rather than encourage. Tuchel made six changes for this game in what is an extremely busy part of the season (Chelsea play nine games in December alone). For the sake of the players medium-term health of the players, that was absolutely the right thing to do. Not to mention that Chelsea had five or six players either doubtful or unavailable for last night’s game. Unfortunately, the number of changes made really disrupted the rhythm of the team. The midfield looked overwhelmed and rudderless until Tuchel made some brave changes, and they began to assert some dominance. The two goals scored were both full of quality but this was a result that Chelsea needed to get. That game where you have to grind out a result, without playing particularly well but getting the job done. A result like this can really prove Chelsea’s title credentials.
But this is an extremely tight title race this season. Last season Manchester City and Liverpool were the runaway teams; no one else was on their level. Chelsea have taken that step up now and thrown themselves into the mix. The Blues may be top of the pile at the moment, however both City and Liverpool won their games on Tuesday, fairly comfortably in City’s case and very comfortably in Liverpool’s case. Two points cover the top three with seven points between third and fourth, those teams are starting to pull away from the rest of the pack. There hasn’t been a real title race since 2018-19 when Liverpool and Manchester City took it to the final day of the season. And I think that it is really healthy for the league to have a long-running title race where you’re not sure where the title might be going weeks before the season’s over. Of course, there is a long way to go in the season and all this may change and one or two of the teams may start to run away, but we’re into the Christmas period of the season and three teams are all still in strong contention for the title. This will be very good to watch, I think.
Manchester United have their man to take them through to the end of the season as well. Despite having never managed at what would be typically seen as a big club, Ralf Rangnick is hugely respected, almost revered by some. He is credited as the man behind the conception of the ‘gegenpress’ style. It’s basically an extremely high tempo style with relentless pressing and looking to exploit any space in behind the opposition as quickly as possible. Both Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel cite Rangnick as a major influence in them in their own coaching careers. In Tuchel’s case, Ralf Rangnick actually gave him his first coaching job as a youth coach at Stuttgart.
Rangnick’s ideas have seen great success if not necessarily for the man himself. That will be a change for the squad at Manchester United. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer never really seemed to have much in the way of a distinct footballing identity of his own. He simply talked about playing the ‘United way’ and tried to ape what Alex Ferguson had done before. Now United have a man in charge, until the end of the season, who has honed and developed his own distinct ideas and philosophy on football over a long time. And those ideas have been hugely influential not just in Germany but now across Europe and garnered huge success for the coaches that employ them. It is a departure from what the United board seemed to be trying to do with Solskjaer, trying desperately to roll back the clock to the glory years with Alex Ferguson; now they look to be moving forward with a coach that created the wave that now sweeps through European football. It was the kind of appointment they needed to make, considering the fact that Rangnick will move into a consultancy role in the summer that reportedly comes with quite a lot of decision-making power. The first decision he will have on his plate will be about who will be the next full-time manager at Manchester United. If things go well, he might decide on Ralf Rangnick.