After all the unnecessary noise about VAR, Thomas Tuchel at least – and at last – offered one assessment that was rather clear.
“We wanted to restart our season today,” the Chelsea manager said after the visit of West Ham United. “And we did.”
It could have been so much worse, and not just because they initially went 1-0 down and looked rather leaden for so much of this 2-1 win. It was how it would have put Tuchel under serious pressure, and looking devoid of ideas, just at a point when the new Chelsea owners had put far more trust in him – and given him far greater influence – than any of the club’s modern managers.
The performance was made all the worse by the fact that the German had deliberately made his side much more defensive, with that a response to the mistakes made in the 2-1 defeat to Southampton on Wednesday.
Far from a restart, then, the match threatened to be a regression and maybe a total tailspin.
Instead, Tuchel found something – maybe within himself. The Chelsea manager did admit that his team possibly needed to go behind to Michail Antonio’s opener. It released both them and Tuchel, as they were fired by the feeling they “had nothing to lose”.
Tuchel instead went for the win. It was when Chelsea looked their best. They were no longer leaning on three centre-halves and the coach’s defensive superstructure. They were no longer methodical and uninspired. They were fluid and lively, creating angles and chances. Ben Chilwell, dropped from the side due to the signing of Marc Cucurella, was integral to this. His interventions brought an innovative equaliser, and then the fine assist for Kai Havertz’s winner.
It might have only contributed to a point, though, had it not been for the intervention of another factor that has raised such emotion at Stamford Bridge of late. That was VAR. It very much went against Chelsea against Tottenham Hotspur – but very much went for them here.
On another day – well, in truth, most days – Maxwel Cornet’s late strike obviously would have stood despite a perceived foul on Edouard Mendy. David Moyes was understandably raging about this afterwards, in an animated press conference that produced sensational quote after sensational quote. At least one of them will surely bring a fine. Among them were:
“Well have you seen it?! The goalkeeper comes out and fumbles… then acts as if it’s a shoulder injury!”
“I thought ‘there’s no way he’s overturning this’… it was a ridiculously bad decision.”
“The sad thing is this is the level of our elite refereeing at the moment.”
“The goalkeeper tried to fake an injury on our first goal as well. So he’s done the same on the second goal.”
“They’ve got new people in charge, so they’re trying to do something. I’ve lost faith in them after today.”
“I didn’t want an explanation, because what explanation could he give? Trying to justify that? My goodness.
“That’s someone that doesn’t understand football and shouldn’t be near it, if they think that’s enough [to disallow].”
The most telling quote of all, however, was when Moyes was asked whether he minds if his players do what he accused Mendy of.
“I find that insulting,” the West Ham manager said, using the word a few times and talking of disrespect. “I don’t send my teams out to do that.”
Tuchel, however, struck a similar tone. When put to him how even the nature of VAR is that some decisions go for you and some go against, the Chelsea manager just doubled down, pointing to how the Spurs incident was different.
So, if you’re going by both managers, it is only the refs that are at fault for any of this. The coaches don’t send their players out to engage in this sort of thing, and they are only ever hard done by.
That’s most of the problem with this entire discussion. How can anything be actually improved if most of those involved are so one-eyed about it all?
Moyes, for his part, did have the self-awareness to admit he could “just be a whinging manager” as he stressed his side shouldn’t have conceded two goals.
And there is a lesson there from this game that is far more relevant than any of the talk about refereeing.
Moyes, as he so often does in away games against the big six, effectively invited pressure – and defeat – by going so defensive. Tuchel only got properly attacking when behind, and that in a period where his set-up has seemed quite conservative.
The Chelsea manager now has the defenders he wants. He has most of the players he wants. He just has to decide on what his team should be, especially with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to come in.
The evidence from this game suggests he needs something much more proactive. That was one other element that was clear.