Chelsea’s new manager Thomas Tuchel is the perfect appointment for the moment. In many ways he is Frank Lampard’s polar opposite, bringing studious tactical sophistication where his predecessor painted in broad strokes. Most importantly, he is a modern manager whose belief in the German ideology matches Chelsea’s summer recruitments and instantly modernises the club.
But the road ahead will be bumpy. His methods require long, detailed coaching sessions and yet Chelsea have two games per week right up until March 20. The international break will provide some much-needed rest and time on the training ground – but that’s 13 games from now.
Tuchel doesn’t necessarily need to hit the ground running; one assumes Roman Abramovich will give him a free hit for the remainder of the season, considering he was reportedly willing to bring in an interim coach earlier this month. But with Chelsea just five points off the top four (3.55/2 to finish in the Champions League places) and still in the FA Cup (9.08/1 to go one better than last year) and Champions League (26.025/1 to be kings of Europe) this could yet be a successful campaign.
Here is Tuchel’s to-do list at Stamford Bridge:
Bring microscopic tactical detail – fast
Tuchel uses innovative coaching methods, forensic attention to stats, and highly-choreographed set plays to make his teams among the best organised tactically in Europe. The essential goal, not unlike Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, is to play high-intensity hard-pressing football built on speed, verticality, and aesthetics.
Theoretically this is similar to how Lampard wanted to play, although the Englishman appeared to only have a vague idea of how to implement his ideas. Chelsea were too adventurous as the players, given total freedom to improvise on the ball, fanned out into haphazard positions around the pitch. They often seemed confused.
When confidence waned there was no structure to fall back on, and with each player expected to make up their own positions and movements soon the system fell flat; when the pieces only move one at a time, rather than in a pre-set synchronised rhythm, it becomes easy to defend against hesitant and confidence-stricken players.
The upshot is that Tuchel inherits a bit of a mess tactically, and won’t be able to ride a new-manager bounce for very long. He needs to find a way to get his ideas across at lightning speed.
For now, a top-four finish seems unlikely as Tuchel wrestles with a major overhaul in a short space of time.
Find a way for Werner and Havertz to shine
There is a decent chance Tuchel is the right man to get Chelsea’s two expensive and under-performing acquisitions firing. Timo Werner is used to playing in a gegenpressing, fast-transition inspired team with RB Leipzig at Germany, and so Tuchel’s philosophy is perfectly suited to the German forward’s talents.
The same ought to be true of Kai Havertz, played out of position far too often by Frank Lampard and having contracted Covid-19 earlier in the year looking a ghost of his former self. Havertz is intelligent, tactically-diligent, and immensely talented; he should learn a lot from Tuchel and form a strong relationship.
The best way to do get Chelsea firing may be to utilise a 4-3-3 system, as Tuchel has done frequently throughout his career, with Havertz up front and supported closely by narrow inside forwards Werner and Christian Pulisic.
Certainly a short-cut to good football – necessary due to the congested fixture list – is to make the most of personnel Tuchel has previously worked with. He developed Pulisic at Borussia Dortmund, making him the elite player he is today, and that may make imparting tactical wisdom that little bit easier.
Similarly Tuchel has managed Thiago Silva at Paris Saint-Germain. The Brazilian can be Chelsea’s coach on the pitch.
Make Stamford Bridge a fortress again
Lampard’s 1.67 points-per-game average was the fourth lowest of any permanent Chelsea manager in the Premier League era, and arguably the biggest factor was his poor home record. He lost seven times in 28 league matches at Stamford Bridge, the same amount as Maurizio Sarri and Antonio Conte combined – who between them racked up twice as many games.
Every great Chelsea team has relied on a solid foundation at home and although this is particularly difficult while fans remain absent improving their record in west London needs to be a top priority for the new manager.
The route to success here lies in improving the club’s poor defensive showing, something that will most likely naturally occur should Tuchel get his tactical structure across quickly.
Improve on his interpersonal skills
Undoubtedly the biggest barrier to Tuchel at Stamford Bridge is his acerbic, biting personality and propensity to rub people up the wrong way. This is what happened at both Dortmund and PSG, where tempestuous relationships with the club hierarchy saw both projects end prematurely.
Roman Abramovich doesn’t appear to be the easiest person to work with, either, ruthlessly sacking managers and seemingly managing the club in a rather cut-throat way. The Chelsea owner certainly isn’t going to change, and neither are the hierarchies of power within the club. Tuchel, then, needs to learn from previous chastening experiences. If he is left alone to simply be a coach, rather than an all-round manager, that will suit all parties.
In fact, for all the hostility that bitterness that surrounds the endings of successive Chelsea managers, nobody can argue that hiring passionate firebrands is a strategy that has paid off handsomely. It is in keeping with their 21st century traditions to hire someone like Tuchel: a fiercely hard-working coach ready to take Chelsea back to the top – even if it all ends in tears.