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Understanding Thomas Tuchel’s Blueprint at Chelsea

Chelsea manager, Thomas Tuchel

Just a week ago, Thomas Tuchel was announced as Frank Lampard’s successor at Chelsea after Roman Abramovich decided to ditch his plans of a long-term project with the Blues legend after results began to raise Russian eyebrows as Chelsea lost five out of their last eight league matches.

Roman has played roulette again, but this time, as it used to in the past, it seems like it could actually work. Tuchel comes with plenty of hype, but who exactly is Chelsea’s new boss?

His journey

Given his six-foot, three-inch frame, it’s easy to assume that Tuchel was a towering defender in his playing days, but that was short-lived after the German had to retire from playing football at the age of 25 years old due to a chronic knee injury.

Tuchel started off working with the youth teams at Stuttgart, before making his name in a successful one-year spell at Augsburg II. He then went on to Mainz, who were newly promoted at the time, guiding them to league stability, doing so in emphatic fashion.

His Mainz side became the real deal. They pressed when needed to, excellent in possession and looked tactically superior to most of their opponents.

Tuchel’s plaudits didn’t go unnoticed in Germany. After departing Mainz in 2014 due to financial altercations with the club, Tuchel earned a move to Borussia Dortmund in 2015 where he had an illustrious two-year spell, earning his first piece of silverware as head coach, winning the DFB-Pokal.

The German tactician began his reign at Dortmund by winning his first 11 competitive games, setting a new club record in 2015.

Tuchel in numbers at BVB

Tuchel has the best points-per-game ratio of all Dortmund coaches in the Bundesliga, ahead of illustrious predecessors Klopp (1.91) and Ottmar Hitzfeld (1.85).

Dortmund scored 251 goals in 107 competitive games under Tuchel, an average of 2.35 goals per game.

BVB were the only Bundesliga team unbeaten at home in the last two seasons, winning 27 and drawing seven of the 34 home games under Tuchel.

Tuchel won his first 11 competitive games after taking over in 2015, setting a new club record.

Dortmund won 42 of their 68 Bundesliga games under Tuchel, a win percentage of 61.8.

But it wasn’t always the numbers at Dortmund that made Tuchel one of the most well sought-after coaches in the business. Under his guidance, Gonzalo Castro and Julian Weigl, who he signed, became the beating heart of his system, anchoring the midfield, allowing his more offensive players to be tactically versatile.

With Weigl and Castro being the solid base, Tuchel was able to utilize loads more creative ideas to open up pockets of space in between the lines, using Shinji Kagawa and Henrikh Mkhitaryan as the double playmakers.

At both Mainz and Dortmund, Tuchel was also known for nurturing young talent. In fact, he gave Christian Pulisic, who he now coaches at Chelsea, his league debut in the German Bundesliga.

After another fallout with the board over transfer activity, Tuchel was relieved of his duties as Dortmund boss in May 2017.

Exactly a year later, Tuchel was assigned with one of the most demanding jobs in world football, well, along with Chelsea, landing the Paris Saint-Germain project.

In that spell, Tuchel ticked off many boxes off his resume and guided the French club to their first-ever UEFA Champions League final. It was also a learning curb for Tuchel, who had to deal with some of the biggest personalities in world football, namely Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.

Tuchel’s time at PSG

Six trophies in two and a half years

Four trophies in the 2019-20 season

Won 74.8% of his games in charge

Took the club to their first ever Champions League final

Getting Chelsea to play the Tuchel way

Firstly, what is the Tuchel way? Given the timing of his appointment, Tuchel had a few hours at the very least before his first game in charge of Chelsea, where his Blues side drew 0-0 against Wolves, a day after he took over the club.

After one training session, it was clear that the German was ready to stamp his blueprint at Chelsea and get his players playing to the level of his demands, which led to some confusion at first, particularly in his system and tactics, but we’ll get to that.

From what we’ve seen from Tuchel at Chelsea, you have to work tirelessly, be comfortable in possession and be willing to go to war on the pitch to get into his team. His PSG side were more than just big-name players, so it would come as no surprise to see Tuchel having the players adapt to his system, rather than to tweak his formations around to get the best out of certain individuals.

It may seem harsh considering it has only been two games, but Tuchel has shown in these first 180 minutes that he is superior to Lampard – at least tactically.

Tuchel’s philosophy

Against Wolves last week, Chelsea looked a much more different side to the one who cost Lampard his job a fortnight earlier. In fact, it was a record-breaking start for Tuchel who witnessed his charges complete 433 passes in the first half, the club’s most in the first half of a Premier League game since Opta stats. And overall, the Blues enjoyed 78.9% possession, recording 820 passes.

It’s obvious that Tuchel’s philosophy is based on pressing and long spells of possession, and that would explain the German mentor’s 3-2-2-3 formation in his opening match against Wolves.

It helped to outnumber opponents in every area of the pitch, while also forming triangles and diamonds to beat around the opposing press. It was also rare to see Chelsea playing with wing backs again, who actually were the furthest players forward at times for the Blues, alongside Olivier Giroud of course.

In this set-up, it also allows Tuchel’s men to build out from the back, with the flanking centre halves drifting wide, with the double sixes, as he calls them, coming deep to play a little game of fetch and carry.

Out of possession, excuse the pun, but it was Chelsea who chased down the ball like a pack of Wolves against Nuno Espirito Santo’s side last week, hunting down the ball in twos and threes.

This newfound formation at Chelsea also saw a massive improvement from Kai Havertz, who operated as one of the two number 10s alongside Hakim Ziyech, while Callum Hudson-Odoi has made the wing-back position his own after two stellar performances under Tuchel so far.

It almost seems like Chelsea begin the game chasing it judging by the way they’ve constantly set up in these past two matches. Against Burnley, we saw Tuchel’s tactical versatility yet again as he went for broke in the second half, switching to a 3-2-1-4 formation with Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic anchoring the midfield for Mason Mount, who ran the show as the sole playmaker for the Blues.

In that same half, Christian Pulisic came on at halftime for Tammy Abraham, who formed a two-man strike partnership alongside big-money German signing, Timo Werner, with Marcos Alonso and Hudson-Odoi flanking the pair.

It seems that from the back line to the number 10 role, each department has their own designated zone, which they almost cannot shift out of, never leaving the Blues exposed and players out of position.

The back three shift up and drop deep as a unit, the double pivot never go beyond their measures and the playmakers remain in the floating position in between the opposing pocket of space between backline and midfield.

The only players who operate between the three zones of play are the wing backs, who form a front four when Chelsea are on the ascendency, while they’re also flexible to create a 5-3-2 formation when defending.

Getting the best out of Chelsea’s Germans

When Tuchel was first appointed, it was well-documented that one of his priorities will be to get the best out of Chelsea’s big-money Germans. And as solid as Antonio Rudiger has been over the past couple of games, he isn’t part of the problem that Tuchel has been installed to fix.

Havertz and Werner, who cost the Blues an arm and a leg – each – both haven’t lived up to expectations since making their move from the German Bundesliga. Werner came off the back of a 28-goal return in his native country, while Havertz was once dubbed as a potential Ballon d’Or winner in the future.

As tough of a task as it may be for Tuchel, to get Havertz and Werner firing again, perhaps it may not be the wisest decision to try and wrap his head around. Despite the hype he comes with, Havertz is not as good as Mount and might not ever be, in a Chelsea shirt at least, while Werner is yet to hit the ground running and reach the targets set by Abraham and Giroud, as fairly ordinary as that may seem.
  Chelsea's big-money signings, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner

The early stages of any manager’s career at a club are the most crucial times, and while Tuchel is still figuring out his best line-up, for his own sake – lets hope he realizes that both Werner and Havertz are not in his best team – for now.

Of course, this is their time to right their wrongs, and even though Havertz has shown glimpses of fulfilling his potential in these past two games, Mount is and should continue to be the fulcrum in Chelsea’s midfield.

Up front, Ziyech and Pulisic are soon likely to force their way into Tuchel’s team, leaving Werner competing with Abraham and Giroud in the target man role, where, let’s be honest, he has no case to start.

Winners and losers under Tuchel

Since day one, Tuchel’s plan has been clear. It’s a back three, with a double screen protecting them, who also happen to be comfortable on the ball in tight spaces. Rudiger, as mentioned, has profited from Tuchel’s clean slate approach, but no more so than Cesar Azpilicueta, who has become a mainstay in the Chelsea team again, reclaiming his captain’s armband.

Tuchel’s tactical tweak with the full-backs also leaves Reece James and Ben Chilwell neglected, both who were clearly Lampard’s preferred options in those areas.

N’Gole Kante hasn’t been fit enough to really cause Tuchel much headaches when selecting his best pivot pairing, but as mentioned, given the fact that the German mentor prefers players in those areas who are more comfortable on the ball, coupled with the fact that Chelsea now press in numbers as opposed to having a sitting ‘destroyer’ in midfield, Kante may find it tough to break into Tuchel’s favoured team.

Whenever a back three is utilized, one less midfielder or forward is sacrificed and that may be the case at Chelsea. Its unclear at the moment whether Pulisic, Ziyech, Werner, Mount, Havertz or Abraham will play regularly, but the fact is, they cannot all play at once.

Will he succeed?

To make things short, yes. How can he not? He’s a tactical wizard who has inherited a well-invested squad blended with experience and a riches of youth. Tuchel has also shown in the first two matches that he is tactically superior than most coaches in world football, while he also plays a brand of football that is easy to fall in love with. If you’re a Chelsea fan or just a lover of football in general, I can almost assure that this Blues team will become more and more exciting as Tuchel continues to stamp his blueprint at the club. I’ll even go as far as saying the German boss will add to the Blues’ illustrious trophy cabinet in the near future. I give you my word on that.

Written by Jesse Nagel