What can we expect from Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea?

Thomas Tuchel: The post-Frank Lampard Chelsea – what will we see now and what went wrong for Frank?

Thomas Tuchel has all the hallmarks of an excellent Premier League manager and his arrival in England is perfectly timed, continuing a trend towards German managers and their focus on hard pressing, verticality, and exciting attacking aesthetics.

There is every chance he will be a success at Chelsea despite the fact his combustible personality has been known to rub people up the wrong way in the past.

That’s because, like many trophy-winning Chelsea managers in the Roman Abramovich era – think Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte, and Maurizio Sarri – his fiery temperament is an extension of a passion and work ethic that demands extremely high standards both technically and tactically.

But unlike those who helped define Chelsea’s image as a reactive club with Catenaccio roots, Tuchel is distinctly German in his methodology: which is to say modern, forward-thinking, and perfect for the moment.

What went wrong for Lampard

Frank Lampard should be credited for his ability to keep Chelsea in the Champions League despite a transfer ban and the loss of Eden Hazard last season, a feat that will gain increasing respect as Chelsea quickly rebuild towards the title under Tuchel. This is a decent legacy, and yet even more impressive was his willingness to integrate academy products, opening up a pathway that had long been closed off.

But Lampard had too many tactical flaws to succeed in making Chelsea title contenders again. Managing in the mould of British greats of the past, Lampard’s lack of tactical detail, his loosely structured training sessions, and his cold shoulder to fringe members of the squad were not in keeping with the times.

Since Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, and Antonio Conte were parachuted into the Premier League following Leicester City’s title triumph in 2016 the Premier League has modernised, using the German model to ensure each crown is won by a team with an ultra-structured possession shape; with minute detail in each position and each movement.

They created automatisms – set moves etched into muscle memory on the training ground – that ensured weaker opponents could be out-witted and stretched out of their deep defensive shells; playing chess by thinking five or six steps ahead.

Lampard was of the old-school, and without the coaching skills required to do this. The evidence can be found not just in the constant tinkering or the poor individual performances from new signings, but simply by freeze-framing any Chelsea attack. The players fanned out, given complete creative freedom to improvise, and in the process often left huge gaps for opponents to exploit on the counter-attack.

Chelsea lacked sophistication and detail. With Tuchel, all that will change.

Tuchel’s tactics explained

Renowned for adapting to exploit opposition weaknesses, Tuchel will keep everyone guessing, constantly deploying new plans to outwit the other team. However, unlike Lampard’s tweaks these will be highly choreographed and intricately woven in training. Tuchel is a scientist; a true tactician.

Despite the unpredictability there are broad principles that define Tuchel’s tactical philosophy. He expects high-intensity pressing at all times, hoping to create quick and vertical attacking scenarios by winning the ball high up the pitch – just like Jurgen Klopp, whom he replaced at Borussia Dortmund to continue the good work.

Regardless of the formation, Tuchel instructs his full-backs to play very high up the pitch and his forwards to tuck inside and make good use of the half-spaces, while there are specific roles for each midfielder that remain relatively consistent whatever the system.

In a 4-3-3, his most frequent formation, one midfielder drops to become a deep playmaker and support the defenders, one covers ground at both ends of the pitch, and a third advances into the number ten position. However, Tuchel has also been known to use a 4-1-4-1 and a 4-2-2-2, with the latter – similar to Southampton’s under Ralph Hasenhuttl – often preferred while in charge of Paris Saint-Germain.

Speed is the crucial variable that is always present: of thought and of feet, with piercing vertical passes through the lines encouraged to create the heavy-metal approach we have come to associate with German football.

How Chelsea will line-up

This is good news for Timo Werner and Kai Havertz in particular, who share a history of playing in the sort of high-pressing, quick-tempo teams that Tuchel creates.

It seems plausible Chelsea will line-up predominantly in a 4-3-3 formation with Werner supported by Havertz and Christian Pulisic, whom Tuchel worked with superbly at Dortmund, although that front three would leave arguably Chelsea’s best creator Hakim Ziyech on the bench. Like Lampard, Tuchel may struggle to work with a top-heavy squad that contains too many star attackers.

In midfield, Tuchel’s previous attempts to sign Jorginho for PSG suggests the Italian will play in the deeper midfield role, freeing N’Golo Kante to play box-to-box and Mason Mount – or perhaps whichever of the front four doesn’t fit up front – in the advanced role. Certainly Havertz could be re-trained to start a little deeper, despite struggling to play in unfamiliar positions under Lampard. In a major departure from the old regime, Tuchel will give microscopic tactical details to the youngster.

Antonio Rudiger was also a target of PSG, and his courageous ball-playing abilities should make him a key member of the squad alongside Thiago Silva, another player with experience working under Tuchel. Silva will be the manager’s eyes and ears on the pitch.

Chelsea fans can look forward to a completely different approach moving forward. Unlike the laissez-faire, meandering days of Lampard, the club under Tuchel will be whipped into shape via innovative and demanding training sessions – and plenty of classwork, too.

There is no guarantee of success, but the signs are very promising. Chelsea spent last summer recruiting young and tactically-astute players. With Tuchel, they now have the manager to match.



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