Thomas Tuchel’s arrival as Chelsea Head Coach following the sacking of club legend Frank Lampard has brought one of the most highly-rated coaches in world football to the Premier League.
His first two games vs Wolves and Burnley have yielded four points and no goals conceded, a steady start for any new coach. The conditions of his arrival mean he has been forced to experiment with his team due to the limited training time he has been afforded but there is already a noticeable shift in how Chelsea are approaching their games.
So, what can we expect from Thomas Tuchel and is he the man to get the best out of Chelsea’s talented yet bloated squad?
Tuchel has a slightly unusual background for an elite manager. His playing career was cut short at the age of 25 as a result of a chronic knee cartilage injury and so he started a career in coaching under Ralf Rangnick at VFB Stuttgart. Over the years he gained a reputation for being an ardent student of the game, utilising statistical data and tactical specificity in order to create a high-tempo, attacking style of play.
Tuchel’s tactics mirror his approach to coaching. His training sessions are notoriously intense, highly tactical and involve constant communication with his players. His attitude on the touchline during his first two games in charge of Chelsea was enjoyable to witness, as he bellowed out orders and tactical changes to his players. This is a shift of in-game management style from his more passive predecessor Frank Lampard.
Tuchel’s interviews have also been fascinating viewing. He displays a passion for the game as well as explaining his tactical and player choices in a clear and easy to understand manner. This will certainly be a trait appreciated by Chelsea fans, who have seen their starting eleven altered more times than any club in the league this season.
Tuchel has a reputation for creating close relationships with his players and for improving them on the training pitch over time. Numerous players such as Neymar have offered their praise to his coaching ability and his training ground demeanour.
He is also credited with giving current Chelsea winger Christian Pulisic his debut and helping him to develop to the point where Chelsea were willing to part with nearly 60 million for his services last year. The impressive performances by Callum Hudson-Odoi against Wolves and Burnley in an unfamiliar right wing-back position is an early indication of the impact Tuchel can have on a player.
However, whilst Tuchel is renowned for his coaching ability, he has often had issues with his employers. He left Mainz because he was unhappy at the small transfer budget he was offered and Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke has claimed Tuchel was ‘very difficult’ to work with. PSG Sporting Director Leonardo also had a strained relationship with Tuchel which completely deteriorated amid numerous disputes about the club. Given the reputation at Chelsea for political power plays and disputes between the manager and the hierarchy, it will be interesting to see how Tuchel’s relationship with Chelsea’s board develops over his 18-month contract.
Style of Play
Tuchel is an avid exponent of attacking and entertaining football. His teams like to hold possession and play with high intensity, as well as being versatile and able to switch between multiple tactical systems. He used a 4-1-3-2 setup at Mainz to accommodate a relentless pressing and counter-pressing game, but he changed to a 4-2-3-1 formation at Dortmund to place an emphasis on possession. The change in setup was due to the greater technical ability of the players at his disposal. The presence of world class attacking talents Kylian Mbappe and Neymar influenced a positionally fluid 4-1-4-1 formation at PSG, with an industrious midfield three protecting their forwards and full backs who attacked wide and central areas depending on what the game demanded.
Tuchel has chosen a slightly different approach in his first two games at Chelsea. He has utilised a 3-4-2-1 formation (Similar to the one used by Antonio Conte) which has yielded high amounts of possession and a noticeable organisational improvement compared to the last few games under Lampard. Specifically, there has been a focus on two attacking midfielders occupying half-spaces behind the striker, drawing in defenders and creating space for onrushing wing-backs and midfielders.
Callum Hudson-Odoi has been a beneficiary of this tactic, creating numerous issues for both Wolves and Burnley from the right-hand side. High-quality goals from defenders Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso during the Burnley game show the positional fluidity involved in Tuchel’s tactics.
The attacking players at Tuchel’s disposal such as Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic will theoretically have the technical ability to apply the tactical approach Tuchel demands, and the early signs are promising for Chelsea.
How can he improve Chelsea where Lampard failed?
There were several rumours that Lampard failed to offer his players adequate tactical instructions, nor did he communicate enough with some of his squad. Tuchel is expected to amend this by focusing on tactical training, and he has reportedly made an effort to speak with every player in the squad regardless of seniority or standing.
Chelsea often looked devoid of a plan defensively or offensively under Lampard, their performances tended to rely on individual inspiration rather than a cohesive team structure. There is sufficient evidence that Tuchel has made strides to improve this, with no goals conceded and only five shots faced in his first two games in charge. However, their next game against Tottenham will be a more accurate indicator of the progress he has made.
Tuchel has a substantial job on his hands inspiring more output from Chelsea’s forwards, who have not scored yet under the new regime. Particularly he will need to help struggling German duo Kai Havertz and Timo Werner who have been bereft of confidence recently and will be crucial to any success Tuchel may enjoy at Chelsea.
Only time will tell if Tuchel can succeed where Lampard failed, but his approach to coaching by reputation is more active and engaged than Lampard and it could be exactly what Chelsea’s players need in order to extract their potential and get their season back on track.