Thomas Tuchel's anger at sloppy Chelsea defeat: 'They played with more courage'

JULY 20: Raheem Sterling of Chelsea in action during the Pre-Season Friendly match between Chelsea FC and Charlotte FC at Bank of America Stadium on July 20, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina - - GETTY IMAGES
JULY 20: Raheem Sterling of Chelsea in action during the Pre-Season Friendly match between Chelsea FC and Charlotte FC at Bank of America Stadium on July 20, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina - - GETTY IMAGES

Raheem Sterling scored from the penalty spot in his first Chelsea appearance as his new team fell to a pre-season shootout defeat to Charlotte FC that annoyed head coach Thomas Tuchel.

While the result in front of co-controlling owners Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali was of no consequence, Tuchel was unhappy with his team’s second-half performance, accusing them of lacking effort and courage.

“Second half, it took us half-an-hour to show some quality and then it was maybe for ten minutes, so it was not good at all,” said Tuchel. “Not offensively, not structure-wise, not in effort, hunger to be the dominant team. It was not good enough.

“If we keep on struggling to feel these things and finish these things off, it will not be the first time we get punished. If you keep an opponent alive, belief alive, the stadium alive, anything can happen. So this is on us.

“I had the feeling they played with more courage, man on man in the second half and we struggled to escape because we didn’t move enough. Our ball possession was not precise enough, our movement with the ball was not balanced enough to escape the pressure, so it was a pretty even game in the second half and not what we wanted.”

New signing Sterling was on target with Chelsea’s fourth penalty, but Conor Gallagher’s earlier miss meant the Premier League club lost the shootout that was secured by a stoppage-time spot-kick from Charlotte substitute Daniel Rios. Christian Pulisic had given Chelsea a first-half lead.

Tuchel also had strong words for Timo Werner, who missed the Charlotte game with a hamstring injury, after the forward had said he could be happy “anywhere”.

“I would be very happy as a young guy having a contract at Chelsea Football Club,” said Tuchel. “I would be one of the happiest people on the planet.”

Werner claimed he needed to play more and asked what he needed to do, Tuchel added: “So he needs to get his game time. Show quality, take your place and defend your place."

With Sterling making his non-competitive debut in front of Boehly and Eghbali, Telegraph Sport picked out four things of note about the England international’s first appearance in a Chelsea shirt.

First-choice front three?

Sterling was one of 10 outfield changes Tuchel made at half-time and he lined up on the left of a front three.

With Kai Havertz in the centre and Mason Mount on the right, Chelsea’s attacking line-up for the second half was the one most people would predict to start the first Premier League game of the season against Everton.

Tuchel, though, warned that preconceived ideas can be thrown out of the window, saying: “It doesn’t matter what I have in my mind, the only thing that matters is what I see on the pitch. I saw four accelerations in the second half and they all came from Raheem.

"This is what he delivers and there is no need for major doubts or huge criticism. But it is never important what the manager has in his head before pre-season, it’s the reality that counts. Every day in training and matches like this count and from there we go.”

Reece James of Chelsea reacts during the Pre-Season Friendly match between Chelsea FC and Charlotte FC at Bank of America Stadium on July 20, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina - - GETTY IMAGES
Reece James of Chelsea reacts during the Pre-Season Friendly match between Chelsea FC and Charlotte FC at Bank of America Stadium on July 20, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina - - GETTY IMAGES

Despite his general frustration, Tuchel would have been encouraged by the late combination between Havertz and Sterling that saw the 27-year-old get a sight of goal but his effort was saved by Charlotte’s third-choice goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega.

It was also interesting that Tuchel made sure Sterling and Ben Chilwell played 45 minutes together, as that will be a partnership on the left that he hopes can blossom.

A change of pace

Understandably, this was a relatively tentative performance from Sterling, who is still working on his fitness after joining up with the Chelsea squad in Los Angeles last week.

But there were a couple of moments that excited the Chelsea fans inside the Bank of America Stadium, when Sterling showed his dangerous change of pace.

First, in the 72nd minute, Sterling hit the turbo button and sped past a couple of challenges to run into the left side of the area before providing a cross to the back post that had just too much weight on it for Kenedy.

Then, with six minutes remaining, he was far too quick for the Charlotte defender when Havertz pushed the ball ahead of Sterling on the left but, after cutting inside, his close range shot was saved by the feet of Sisniega.

Charlotte FC defender Anton Walkes and Chelsea midfielder Saúl Ñiguez compete for the ball during the second half of a friendly soccer match Wednesday, July 20, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C - AP
Charlotte FC defender Anton Walkes and Chelsea midfielder Saúl Ñiguez compete for the ball during the second half of a friendly soccer match Wednesday, July 20, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C - AP

These are early days

Anybody hoping for fireworks would have had to settle for the pre-match show that accompanied the singing of the United States national anthem.

It was probably unrealistic for anybody to expect Sterling to produce the spectacular from the substitutes’ bench with only a week of pre-season training under his belt.

Unsurprisingly, his most promising moments came towards the end of the game after he had been on the pitch for a while and adjusted to the pace of the game and some of the movements of his new team-mates.

It was also evident that Sterling backed off a couple of 50/50s to preserve his fitness, which at this stage is by far the most important thing for Tuchel and Chelsea.

Early sign of leadership

It may have been Mount who took the captain’s armband for the second half, but Sterling showed his leadership qualities by stepping up to take a penalty in the shootout.

Due to Gallagher’s terrible spot-kick that barely rolled to the Charlotte goalkeeper, Sterling had to score his penalty to extend the shootout for one more kick.

He dispatched his penalty with ease, but Charlotte made it five out of five from the spot to claim a victory.

Given his lack of pre-season training and the fact it was his non-competitive debut, Sterling could have easily decided against taking a penalty but it is clear he wants to play with responsibility at his new club.