Make no mistake, Chelsea’s performance against Sheffield United was not pretty. Actually, it was downright ugly.
The Blues were ponderous in possession for large swathes of the game. They lacked the energy and verve seen so far under Thomas Tuchel. And there were errors aplenty, one of which we’ll get to a little later.
But you know what? None of that matters. The important thing is that Chelsea came away with all three points from Bramall Lane and, in the process, put down the biggest marker of Tuchel’s early reign.
Forget Wolverhampton Wanderers at home. Forget Burnley’s visit to Stamford Bridge. Even Thursday’s win over Tottenham Hotspur came with something of an asterix given how poor Jose Mourinho’s side were, especially in the first half.
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Relegation-threatened Sheffield United away on a bitterly cold night; this would be a true test of Chelsea under Tuchel. They weren’t in London anymore.
It didn’t start well for the Blues. The lethargy that imbued performances during the final weeks of Frank Lampard’s reign returned. As did the defensive errors – Ben Chilwell conceded an early penalty only for VAR to spot an offside in the build-up.
Sheffield United engaged Chelsea high up the pitch and cut off passing lanes. They battled for every second ball, were strong in every 50/50 challenge. The Blues were concerningly second best.
It’s in these instances that character comes into play. Lampard questioned whether this squad had it, notably after the Boxing Day defeat to Arsenal. Tuchel will have wondered the same thing as he stood on the Bramall Lane touchline.
An answer arrived before shortly half time as Chelsea flickered into life and their quality shone through. Timo Werner exchanged passes with Chilwell and then cut the ball back to the penalty spot for Mason Mount.