The Thomas Tuchel era has begun at Chelsea following the dismissal of Frank Lampard. What can the Blues’ supporters expect from the German tactician?
It has been quite a bittersweet week for Chelsea fans. Fan favourite Frank Lampard was shown the exit door at Stamford Bridge following an extremely inconsistent first half of the season. While the Blues were initially billed as possible contenders for the Premier League title following a strong start to the season.
However, things changed dramatically for Lampard and his charges ahead of the turn of the year. After winning their first two games in December, Chelsea managed to win just four of their subsequent 11 matches in all competitions. Two of these victories came in the FA Cup while one of the two wins in the Premier League was against a relegation-battling Fulham.
With the west Londoners in a free-fall, something had to give, and something did give eventually. Desperate to avoid their season from unravelling, Chelsea reacted quickly. In came Thomas Tuchel, with Frank Lampard going out, all in a matter of 24 hours.
A goalless draw against Wolves in his opening game was not the best of initiation, and the best of Tuchel is yet to be seen at Chelsea. Having said that, what can the Chelsea fans expect from the German tactician at Stamford Bridge? Let’s take a look.
Tactics and Style of Play
A blend of Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola
When Thomas Tuchel followed the path of Jurgen Klopp by going from a mid-table club in Mainz to one of the German elites in Borussia Dortmund, expectations were invariably high, especially when it came to the style of play. However, Tuchel opted for a possession-oriented system instead, largely modelling his approach on Pep Guardiola’s style.
Out went Klopp’s “heavy metal” footballing system, with the focus being on controlling possession and carefully dissecting the opponents, with a great emphasis on positional play. The midfielders get a lot more importance in this system, with Tuchel preferring to elevate the role of the central midfielders.
The holding midfielder, in particular, needs to possess exceptional ball-playing abilities, which brings Jorginho back into the picture following his demotion under former Chelsea boss Frank Lampard. Having said that, there is a bit of Klopp in him as well, as his teams have been quite aggressive off the ball, aiming to win the ball back immediately after they have lost possession.
In addition, Tuchel also places a greater significance on the role of the full-backs, who provide a lot of width. This paves the way for a free-flowing attacking system that allows the wingers to be more fluid in their approach higher up the pitch, as the full-backs overlap in the final third in an aggressive manner.
That has indeed been the trademark of Klopp’s Liverpool side, thanks to the excellence of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson. Guardiola, on the other hand, has rather differed in his approach with the full-backs, who have been used as inside midfielders instead of marauding full-backs.
That aligns perfectly with the best qualities of Reece James and Ben Chilwell, but also forgotten man Marcos Alonso. Having said that, Tuchel also rotates his troops heavily in order to keep them fresh and with Callum Hudson-Odoi being utilised as a right wing-back, Tuchel seems to have his options sorted at Chelsea, as far as the remainder of the season is concerned.
Despite such a comprehensive command over the tactics, though, Tuchel is hardly rigid in his approach and encourages his players to react to the situation of the game instead of remaining true to the original style, while having the freedom to take their own decisions at times. This flexibility is also evident in the formations he has made use of over the years.
Speaking of Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, where Tuchel differs from them both is the variety he shows in the usage of formations. Unlike Klopp and Guardiola, who rely on their staple 4-3-3 for the most part, the new Chelsea manager uses variations of the 4-2-3-1, the 4-3-3, the 4-4-2 and the 3-4-3.
Indeed, while the 4-2-3-1 and the 4-1-4-1 were the favoured formations at Dortmund for the most part, at PSG, he relied largely on the 4-3-3, making use of the best qualities of stalwarts like Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavani, although he has also made use of formations like the 4-2-2-2, the 3-5-2 and the 4-1-3-2 over the years, showing his adaptability to different situations and oppositions.
This was the case in his first game in-charge of Chelsea as well. Understandably expected to line the Blues up in a 4-3-3 formation, Tuchel instead opted for the 3-4-2-1, which sought to bring the best out of Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech. It also brought in Callum Hudson-Odoi as an ultra attacking wing-back into the game, while Olivier Giroud was used as the focal point of the attack.
With Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount also at his disposal, it would not be surprising to see him fall back on the 4-2-3-1 at some point in the future. Having said that, the riches he has available to him at Chelsea means one can expect Tuchel to use his troops in a variety of systems, with rotation high on his agenda in order to ensure an efficient essaying of his intense style in a packed season.
New lease of life for some players?
Chelsea’s first game under Tuchel has already provided an indication that a number of players could be due a turnaround in the second half of the season. Antonio Rudiger, for one, could be elevated into the role of the first-choice centre-back alongside Thiago Silva.
Captain Cesar Azpilicueta also featured in the back three, where he could become a fixture as and when the German manager makes use of such a system. Moving forward, Jorginho will likely play a key role for Tuchel and Chelsea in the second half of the season due to his reliance on a ball-playing holding midfielder.
The spotlight, though, will be on how Kai Havertz and Timo Werner fare under the tutelage of their compatriot. Havertz has already shown signs of possible resurgence following some promising moments playing more centrally against Wolves, sometimes almost as a second striker.
Werner, on the other hand, is yet to feature under the new Chelsea manager. However, with Tuchel not shying away from using the 4-4-2 and the 4-2-2-2 formations, we could soon be seeing the best of the German international in the Chelsea attack. All in all, a number of players could be set for a new lease of life at Stamford Bridge, while the erstwhile regulars will start to feel the heat due to increased competition.
A passionate and combative manager in pursuit of perfection
One pitfall of Tuchel’s quest for perfection is that he becomes so passionate about his project and how he will go about his business that he invariably ends up clashing with his employers. Indeed, the newly-appointed Chelsea manager was sacked by both Borussia Dortmund and PSG due to a fractious relationship with the clubs’ decision makers.
His unrelenting desire to leave no stone unturned does come with the good, as showcased by a quite unique training drill of using mini balls to help improve Chelsea’s control and the accuracy of their tackles. His push for excellence can also be mentally taxing for the players, although that will hardly reflect in the short-term future, i.e. the remainder of the season.
However, there is plenty of bad to go along with it as well, as evidenced by his clashes with the boards of his previous clubs. With the Chelsea board infamous for taking no prisoners, Tuchel might not have much of a long-term future at Stamford Bridge, if the demons of his passionate outbursts resurface again. Perhaps, that is one of the reasons why the west Londoners have only handed him an 18-month contract.
Having said that, Tuchel almost guarantees positive turnarounds at the clubs he takes charge of, meaning that the duration of those 18 months should come with some eye-catching football and a much-needed ascension up the Premier League table.
For now, Tuchel is the latest in a long line of brilliant tacticians that have been a part of the influx of world-class managers in the Premier League, and Chelsea supporters do have reasons to be optimistic, despite the departure of fan favourite Frank Lampard.