Thomas Tuchel reportedly didn’t enjoy his first taste of chair management as Chelsea worked to win the FA Cup
Thomas Tuchel will not have liked his first taste of chair management as Ligue 1 side Plymouth scared Chelsea in the FA Cup.
It took a Kepa Arrizabalaga penalty save deep in extra time to prevent the visitors from a shoot-out at Stamford Bridge and the possibility of a famous upset.
Chelsea had to come back from one goal and needed a strike from Marcos Alonso to finally put them in control of a draw that would have made it anything but easy to view their manager, who was forced to watch from home after have tested positive for Covid-19.
Tuchel now risks missing the Club World Cup as he observes a minimum five-day isolation.
Chelsea remain hopeful their manager can join the rest of the squad in Abu Dhabi in time for next Saturday’s final – if they qualify. And after this 2-1 victory, Tuchel will also count the days until he can return to the touchline.
Had cameras been trained on his living room they might have been more entertaining than at Stamford Bridge as his European champions struggled to keep their lower league opponents away.
Tuchel’s antics in the technical realm can be at the box office as he kicks every ball and barks instructions at those close enough to have their ears crushed. So you can only imagine scenes as he watched from a distance.
He would have felt helpless – even if he was in contact with assistant Arno Michels. He was forced to watch as his near-full-strength side desperately lacked attacking ideas, despite commanding possession.
And what would he have done with the £97.5million that Romelu Lukaku failed to make his presence felt against a three-man defense of free signings?
One of them, Macaulay Gillesphey, even got the better of the Belgium international when the tables were turned – giving Plymouth a shock lead when Lukaku failed to clear Jordan Houghton’s free-kick at the eighth minute.
Cesar Azpilicueta equalized shortly before half-time – but it wasn’t until extra time that substitute Alonso headed a shot past Mike Cooper through a crowded area that nerves finally settled among the home fans.
That feeling was only short-lived as Malang Sarr panicked at the prospect of bringing down substitute Ryan Hardie in the dying moments – only for the striker to see his kick smothered by Kepa.
There would be no shock on this occasion – Chelsea would not join Manchester United as big fourth-round victims.
But even through the TV screen, Tuchel will know just how humbled his side has come. He will have been as stunned as the rest of the bridge when Gillesphey struck from the start.
While it was an unforgettable moment for the goalscorer, it would have been particularly enjoyable for Houghton who provided the cross, given the midfielder spent 16 years at Chelsea as part of their academy.
Falling behind sparked the expected response from the home side, which forced Plymouth to retreat in numbers as the half progressed.
If the crowd thought the stage was set for Chelsea to topple their opponents, it didn’t turn out that way.
They hit the woodwork three times, through Mateo Kovacic twice, and Callum Hudson-Odoi, before finding an equalizer.
It came from the unlikely source of Azpilicueta, who gently hounded Mason Mount’s cross four minutes before the break.
If the home crowd thought the stage was set for Chelsea to topple their opponents in the second half, it didn’t turn out that way.
Plymouth hadn’t read the script – and as they were forced to defend deeper and deeper they managed to hold their illustrious rivals at bay to force the game into an extra time.
Lukaku was millimeters away from connecting on Hakim Ziyech’s cross shot early in the second half, while Plymouth keeper Cooper replaced Kai Havertz and Mount. Meanwhile, Kepa was called up when substitute Hardie went through one-one.
Chelsea finally went ahead in stoppage time at the end of the first half of extra time. It was created by three substitutes in Timo Werner, Havertz and Alonso, who combined on the left to open up the Plymouth defence.
Where Chelsea’s forwards failed, Alonso succeeded, low from the side in the corner.
There was still time for late drama when Hardie shoved the ball from Sarr and burst into the box. The Chelsea defender clumsily brought it down and referee Simon Hooper pointed the spot.
But just when Plymouth fans behind Kepa’s goal were dreaming of a shootout, the keeper fell low to his left to stifle Hardie’s effort and cause roars around the deck – and, no doubt, to the Tuchel residence.