The Thomas Tuchel Discussion – Is He the Right Man for The Chelsea Project?

About a year ago this wouldn’t have really been a discussion. A couple of weeks after this exact date Thomas Tuchel would win the Champions League, something deemed impossible in January 2021 as Chelsea sat 9th in the Premier League and were underwhelming, to say the least.


The German manager had been sacked by PSG on the 24th of December 2020 after a turbulent relationship with DoF Leonardo and had long been touted by Chelsea’s Marina Granovskaia. Following Lampard’s sacking, he was appointed and the rest as they say is history.


However, as I started off the article, we’re now in May 2022 and there is this notion surrounding some sections of Chelsea fans that there is a discussion to be held with regards to Tuchel and whether or not he’s the man for what seems to be the start of a rebuilding job from top to bottom. As someone who believes in objectivity, let’s take a deep dive into both sides of the coin and my thoughts on this “debate”. 


I’ll kick off with what can be deemed as the negative side of him but first off let’s mention the fact that Chelsea have had quite the year since that CL win. Various amounts of injuries and COVID cases struck the team, especially in key positions as Chelsea are very dependent on their wing-backs and attacking midfielders in the 3-4-3 they deploy and they had to deal with injuries to Ben Chilwell and Reece James for quite a decent portion of their toughest period which was in December.


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As things stabilized and Reece returned[Chilwell was sidelined for the whole season] the events in Ukraine saw Roman Abramovich sanctioned which put the club at crossroads and even if Chelsea, Tuchel, and the players tried to downplay it definitely took its toll both psychologically and eventually on the field which has led us to where we are right now. I don’t want this to be a discussion about ownership so I’ll steer clear of the events surrounding that and focus on what is the topic mentioned.


Starting off with the negatives – Tuchel’s main worry has been trusting what he deems as experienced players. And while people are quick to forget just how vital names like Azpilicueta and Jorginho, to name a few, were in last year’s CL campaign but they are also correct in pointing out their deficiencies as Chelsea have struggled in controlling midfields [especially with Kante off-form, as well] whilst Dave’s struggled both defensively and on the ball.


While there is an argument to still be made that maybe Trevoh Chalobah isn’t the person to go forward he’s rarely put a foot wrong when called upon and there is still a case to be made he’s performed well above expectations and well above what Azpilicueta’s produced. Obviously benching a leader like him wouldn’t be ideal but Tuchel has stuck by him, Christensen, and others while shelving the likes of other youngsters [Trev, Livramento, Guehi].


I do not wish this to sound like extreme Cobham propaganda and it isn’t known just how much of a say Tuchel had in the departures of the two names mentioned but in regards to the Trevoh thing there is a debate to be had seeing as he received the “Tomori treatment” and suddenly got excluded only to see Malang Sarr or Azpilicueta struggle defensively much more than he himself has.


Again, another case where Tuchel valued experience is well-documented as he preferred Saul on loan to French sensation Aurelien Tchouameni and while he can be defended with the words “He wanted Declan Rice more”, the Monaco midfielder has absolutely skyrocketed and is now the pick of the bunch for almost every big club in Europe. It’s not wrong to trust experience but sometimes quality outweighs age and sticking by a youngster’s mistakes might just be the better solution.


Tuchel has also struggled to implement a clear attacking philosophy. Let’s be honest here – yes, the German was brought in largely to aid the struggling Timo Werner and Kai Havertz and they’ve…underperformed, to put it lightly.


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And while nobody’s questioned his tactical knowledge and ability to adapt he has not managed to make things work despite having a plethora of names under his disposal. And yes, the problem always has two sides, and said players haven’t performed to their standards [we’ll eventually get to this] whilst injuries [as mentioned above] have seen Chelsea down tools exponentially, there is still a case to be made that the Blues struggle to nail down proper attacking patterns and moves whereas you can see clear ones with the sides managed by the likes of Klopp and Pep which Chelsea are trying to reach.


Tuchel’s side struggles for creativity, especially when space is limited. When the game is more open and sides allow transitional play then there is no issue bar final third decision making, which, let’s face it, is out of the manager’s reach. BUT when the side’s tasked with breaking down opponents that are a tad[or a lot] more defensively oriented is when things really get bad.


Lethargic, slow, and boring are just a couple of the things that could be used to describe the style of play when the team is tasked with the objective of opening up a well set-up defense.


No movement and mobility, players lacking vision or ability to execute passes in between the lines or in behind the last set of defenders, and no pure 1v1 threat to take a man on and force players to move out of their natural position are a couple of the things can that can be highlighted.


And while, yes, this does also come down to player profile and what Tuchel’s inherited but a great mind like him is expected to deliver much more. Still, this is where it all ends, really. For as much as he’s gotten criticism, especially over the past month, Tuchel hasn’t really put a foot wrong and has delivered with the cards he’s been dealt.


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Performances such as the one v Real Madrid or Liverpool in the Carabao Cup have been just a drop in the ocean of his “good work” and arguing against that would be silly. But let’s look at what I hinted at with the inherited part.


Thomas Tuchel has overseen two transfer windows to date. He’s “received” a squad that has players brought in by SIX different managers from the span of 2013 to 2022. All of them share a different philosophy, a different way of playing, and a different tactical setup that requires different profiles.


Conte brought in certain players, Lampard did, and Sarri did. In comparison, Tuchel only oversaw two transfers, one of which is on loan and has seen almost no game time. Obviously, as stated above that is partially his fault as well but let’s ignore that for a second as it’s not the point.


To give a small comparison both Guardiola and Klopp are responsible[or at least have overseen] 80 % of the players that are currently in their squad. Now, one can easily argue that yes, they’ve stayed longer so they’ve seen this overhaul come to fruition and the clubs have stuck by them and that is exactly the point.


Chelsea have long been a victim of their ruthless sacking policy which saw them win trophies with different managers without them sticking to a certain type of profile and establishing an identity. It’s worth noting also that the club itself banked a lot on its summer 2021 acquisitions to finally start producing.


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Again, some blame can be deflected towards Tuchel but since arriving neither Havertz, Pulisic, Ziyech or Werner have shown a level of consistency to warrant an incredible amount of support.


What makes it worse is that at various points during both Lampard and Tuchel’s tenures said 4 players were given different roles, in different tactical schemes and formations with the sole purpose of making them work and the best production received could be described with the term “purple patch” -little notions of form here and there but nothing too big that has been built upon and converted into a consistent stride of form that carries over more than just a few odd games.


On top of all of this, Romelu Lukaku arrived at the club, and sadly he’s not panned out in the best of ways with Tuchel and the players struggling to adapt to his strengths while the Belgian has also shown a lack of desire to adapt to the side which has seen his production drop significantly from what it was at Inter and the whole vibe surrounding him be quite toxic.


A lot has been said on the matter and blame can be put both ways but the main issue here is that the lack of consistency and productivity has scuppered Tuchel’s plans of sticking with a front three/four long-term and building towards it. 


Another point needs to be made about Tuchel’s desire to appease the leaders of the dressing room. Where past managers[especially Lampard] failed is not giving as much leeway to the experienced vets in the dressing room who let’s face it – call the shots.


Chelsea’s dressing room has long been a topic of discussion with a plethora of managers being sacked for results suddenly plummeting due to X and Y not being pleased with various different aspects of the manager.


Having been frozen out under Lampard, Jorginho and Rudiger became focal points under Tuchel while Marcos Alonso slowly became a rotation option after previously being excluded from the squad following a 3-3 draw at West Bromich.


That bought Tuchel time. It gave him sympathy from a dressing room that showed that when a manager is willing to give everybody a fresh start they’ll repay him, albeit to an extent. Adding to the above was also the aforementioned reactionary board and Abramovich himself.


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Prior to sanctions and despite everything Tuchel had done, the West London side have this reputation for chopping and changing managers in order to bring success. Not one and not two heads have rolled so that “the ship can be stabilized” and it has later turned out to pay dividends as the side ultimately finished the season with a trophy or two. And Tuchel knows that all too well.


It’s due to the above two factors that he can’t risk drastic rotations in almost any competition and certain players got more of the said leeway than others. You rarely want to put your own head in the basket and Tuchel’s opted to minimize that to the fullest extent.


Chelsea fans need to realize that this squad has massive limitations. Players have declined over the years, others have disappointed and ultimately the cracks have started to show.


Tuchel has done his best to mask those cracks via formation, rotation, and almost everything he could to appease the board and/or individuals [be it players or fans] on top of maintaining a winning formula but the issues are finally starting to show for the whole world to see.


It’s time for a rebuild. It’s time for Chelsea to start building towards something the way the likes of Liverpool and City have. And Tuchel deserves this. He’s shown enough and has done enough to warrant the support of the fans and the backing of the future owner.


Nobody has said blindly trust him on transfers. Klopp has been undermined on a couple of occasions. Its possible Pep has been too. Big clubs have a multitude of people and departments closely working together to formulate and pick the best players that fit the manager’s idea and philosophy.


Tuchel needs to receive that, as well. The constant changing of managers who manage a trophy before suffering the same fate needs to end. The cycle needs to be broken. Nobody’s perfect and Tuchel isn’t either but in a time where he’s one of the best in the business he deserves to kick start the “Todd Boehly revolution”.


By: Peter Pankovski / @23Pankovski

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Darren Walsh / Chelsea FC