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New Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel is one of the smartest tactical thinkers in the game


Thomas Tuchel arrives at Chelsea with a reputation as an outstanding tactician if a rather abrasive personality.

The two principal jobs on his CV – at Borussia Dortmund and then Paris Saint-Germain – ended in acrimony because of his desire for complete control over all aspects of the operation, inevitably bringing him into conflict with those behind the scenes.

And yet with hindsight we see that Tuchel brought both of those clubs very close to the success they craved.

German coach Thomas Tuchel comes with a reputation as one of the brightest football minds

German coach Thomas Tuchel comes with a reputation as one of the brightest football minds

Frank Lampard was dismissed on Monday morning following a torrid run of league form

Frank Lampard was dismissed on Monday morning following a torrid run of league form

At Dortmund, Tuchel wasn’t able to repeat the Bundesliga titles of Jurgen Klopp or overthrow an all-conquering Bayern Munich, but he did deliver their last piece of silverware – the 2017 German Cup.

And at PSG, where domestic dominance is taken for granted, he guided them to within a heartbeat of the one trophy they truly crave, the Champions League, only to lose last season’s final to Bayern.

While perhaps hoping Chelsea and Bayern don’t cross paths anytime soon, Tuchel should be able to elevate his new team beyond their modest accomplishments in 18 months under Frank Lampard.

Tuchel will now have to impress strict and ruthless club owner Roman Abramovich at Chelsea

Tuchel will now have to impress strict and ruthless club owner Roman Abramovich at Chelsea

Tuchel, 47, has an established reputation for improving young players, of innovating and of tactical versatility.

His imminent arrival at Chelsea – he could be in situ for Wednesday night’s home game with Wolves – will seem to many like an accident waiting to happen given how so many managers have come a cropper when their values and priorities don’t align with those of owner Roman Abramovich.

And yet Tuchel could also be absolutely the right man to restore Chelsea to a position alongside Liverpool and Manchester City as Premier League powerhouses.

A tactical shape-shifter

Tuchel will barely be on first name terms with the Chelsea players when he takes charge of his first match, let alone spend any quality time on the training ground.

With that in mind, we shouldn’t expect any radical alterations to the familiar 4-3-3 set up Lampard adopts for most Premier League fixtures, or even the safety of the balanced 4-2-3-1.

In time, however, once Tuchel has properly assessed the strengths and weaknesses of the squad, we can expect to see some tinkering.

Tuchel delivered Borussia Dortmund's last piece of silverware - the German Cup in 2017

Tuchel delivered Borussia Dortmund’s last piece of silverware – the German Cup in 2017

THOMAS TUCHEL’S MANAGERIAL CAREER

Games: 447

Wins: 256

Defeats: 112

Draws: 79

Major trophies: 7

TEAMS MANAGED 

2007-08 Augsburg II 

2009-14 Mainz 

2015-17 Borussia Dortmund

2018-20 Paris Saint Germain 

At Dortmund, he started out with a straightforward 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-4-1 but in time they would evolve to playing three at the back during games, allowing additional width and added threat on the counter.

At PSG, where the standard of his team is significantly higher than most of the league, there was even more scope for experimentation.

Tuchel deployed anything from a 5-4-1 to a 4-3-3 via a tailor-made 4-2-2-2 to suit Kylian Mbappe, Angel Di Maria and Neymar when he wasn’t out injured. There are at least a dozen different formations adopted.

It speaks of a manager obsessed with this aspect of football – he was once spotted pushing salt and pepper shakers around a table with Pep Guardiola in a Munich restaurant – who is not afraid to change things if he’s got it wrong.

Of course too much tinkering can confuse players and he won’t have the luxury of as much time to experiment as he did in Paris. Chelsea are ninth in the table, they urgently need to start winning games and the Premier League is notoriously unforgiving.

Players need to think for themselves

Training sessions at Chelsea will take on a new intensity with not just the players’ physicality but mental faculties tested.

A key part of Tuchel’s demands of his teams is their ability to think quickly on their feet when in high pressure situations during games.

He will want to get quickly to the stage where his players, especially his defenders, automatically adapt to the situation and make the right decision rather than needing a barrage of instructions.

Tuchel consoles Neymar after PSG's near-miss in last season's Champions League final

Tuchel consoles Neymar after PSG’s near-miss in last season’s Champions League final

To replicate the kind of scenarios in games, expect the Cobham training pitches to be partitioned off into sections of differing lengths and widths to simulate tight spots. The players will be challenged to play their way out of trouble.

Tuchel was initially reluctant to take on a new job mid-season, having only left PSG last month, and with this particular campaign more congested than ever, improvements in this regard may be slow because of a shortage of time on the training ground.

Pick ‘N’ Mix philosophy

Tuchel has been a student of the likes of Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp throughout his career, despite not being much younger than either of them.

But his philosophy isn’t an exact replica of either of those successful coaches, more a combination of choice bits from each.

There will be an expectation that Chelsea’s players press the opposition hard – after all, possession equals control – but not the slavish requirement of Klopp’s ‘Gegenpressing’ that requires endless running and commitment from everybody.

Tuchel pictured with Jurgen Klopp when he was Mainz coach and Klopp was at Dortmund

Tuchel pictured with Jurgen Klopp when he was Mainz coach and Klopp was at Dortmund

Likewise, there isn’t a requirement to have 80 per cent possession like Guardiola’s teams and muddle the other side with a blur of passing. Tuchel’s Chelsea won’t be a counter-attacking unit like Manchester United either.

It will be somewhere in the middle of the three. Indeed, when Tuchel succeeded Klopp at Dortmund in 2015, he moved away from the hard running of Sven Bender in midfield for the greater ball control of Julian Weigl.

Who will be the midfield ‘pivot’?

Weigl – and also Gonzalo Castro – became the midfield fulcrum at Dortmund around which everything else revolved. Weigl stayed as a deep-lying playmaker while Castro was more box-to-box.

Tuchel then brought in Raphael Guerreiro in the summer of 2016, mainly for his dribbling skills, to complete his midfield.

At Chelsea, the obvious ‘pivot’ for the time being at least would be Jorginho, while maybe the adaptable Mason Mount could do the Castro box-to-box role.

Jorginho could work as Tuchel's midfield fulcrum for the time being but a new signing in this position will likely be necessary in the summer

Jorginho could work as Tuchel’s midfield fulcrum for the time being but a new signing in this position will likely be necessary in the summer

Marco Verratti did a similar job as the fulcrum at PSG and they suffered when he was only half-fit for the Champions League final.

Problem is, neither would replace the industry of N’Golo Kante that is required in so many Premier League games to give Chelsea a chance.

Ideally, Tuchel needs someone who can hold their own in a tackle but also spray a pass to get them moving forward.

All is not lost for the academy graduates

The general perception is that Tuchel’s arrival will be great news for expensive but under-performing summer arrivals Timo Werner and Kai Havertz.

By extension, his appointment will, therefore, be disastrous for academy graduates like Mount and Tammy Abraham who repaid Lampard’s faith in them.

But this notion that Tuchel will waltz in, take Werner and Havertz to one side for a chat in the German vernacular, and favour them for ever more is misguided.

While it will undoubtedly benefit Werner and Havertz to have a coach looking after them familiar with the detailed tactical instruction normal in German clubs, Tuchel has a good track record for developing youngsters.

Ousmane Dembele played the best football of his career under Tuchel at Dortmund, a far cry from the injury-plagued time he has since spent at Barcelona.

He has always worked wonders with young players and got the best out of Ousmane Dembele

He has always worked wonders with young players and got the best out of Ousmane Dembele

It was the same with the emerging Andre Schurrle and Lewis Holtby in his first managerial posting at Mainz as this small and unfashionable club somehow finished fifth and qualified for Europe in 2010-11.

So Mount, Abraham and all the other Chelsea academy graduates left feeling a little exposed by Lampard’s departure hopefully need not worry. Let’s not forget Havertz is only 21 as well so is far from the finished article as well.

Good news for strikers

Werner’s confidence has drained away amid a barren scoring run in the Premier League that dates back to November.

Though he scored in the FA Cup third round against League Two Morecambe, his mood was darkened again by a missed penalty against Luton in Lampard’s final game in charge on Sunday.

The Germany international has admitted his £47million price tag plus the physical demands of playing in England have weighed heavily of late following what was an encouraging enough start at Chelsea.

Expensive summer signings Kai Havertz (left) and Timo Werner, both German, are struggling with their form and fixing it will be a priority for Tuchel

Expensive summer signings Kai Havertz (left) and Timo Werner, both German, are struggling with their form and fixing it will be a priority for Tuchel

Mason Mount is seen as the fall guy of Lampard's departure but it won't necessarily be true

Mason Mount is seen as the fall guy of Lampard’s departure but it won’t necessarily be true

The good news for Werner is that Tuchel always seems to raise strikers to unprecedented heights of scoring.

In his first season as Dortmund managers, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored 39 times in all competitions and then remarkably bettered that by netting 40 times the year after.

Mbappe scored 39 goals in Tuchel’s first season as PSG manager (2018-19) and scored 30 last season despite the fact the Ligue 1 campaign was curtailed 11 games early because of Covid-19.

So there’s something about Tuchel that gets the best out of his centre forward.

Complete control

The real test of whether this is going to work for Tuchel and Chelsea is likely to come in the summer when he presents a list of transfer targets.

In dispensing with Lampard, Chelsea have moved back to square one in terms of recruitment after splashing out £222m last summer on Werner, Havertz, Ben Chilwell, Hakim Ziyech et al.

It’s only right that Tuchel will expect some cash to be available to mould the team in his image when the next window comes around.

Let’s not forget that Tuchel was sacked by Dortmund in 2017 after clashing with CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke over transfer plans and his relationship soured with the PSG hierarchy not long after taking them to that coveted Champions League final.

Tuchel was sacked by Borussia Dortmund after falling out over transfer plans back in 2017

Tuchel was sacked by Borussia Dortmund after falling out over transfer plans back in 2017

His desire to influence all aspects of the club’s operations has also spread in the past to scouting, analytics, diets and even infrastructure improvements.

When at Dortmund, he fell out with head scout Sven Mislintat over the kind of players being looked out and banned him from the training ground.

Tuchel then went directly to Watzke and sporting director Michael Zorc with his own shopping list of players.

So the remainder of this season at Chelsea, when Tuchel has his hands full steering them back up the table, could prove a calm before the storm.

The success of his time at Stamford Bridge will likely depend on exactly how much autonomy he is granted.

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