Thomas ‘TT’ Tuchel has Stamford Bridge faithfuls purring. The rapidity with which he has turned around the club’s fortunes has lifted the gloom that had engulfed Chelsea in the dying embers of Frank Lampard’s career. An eleven game unbeaten start in which the Londoners have emerged unscathed from games with heavyweights Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton and Ole Gunnar Solkjaer’s Manchester United has given club diehards an adrenaline rush last witnessed with the unveiling of Jose Mourinho. A valid question is now being asked: Is Tuchel the new Special One?
Of course not. Mourinho arrived in West London as a reigning European champion, former Uefa Cup winner and multiple Portuguese Primeira Liga titlist. Tuchel only has one German Cup to his name and a double quadruple from his time with Paris Saint Germain. But such is the Parisians supposed superiority over French domestic competition, most pundits and fans alike didn’t bother to take notice of the tactical acumen that went into his team steamrolling local all comers, as a precusor to guiding the side to last year’s Champions League final.
So what has Tuchel done to earn so much trust in a whirlwind? First off, he’s created a meritocracy that had disappeared under legend Lampard, who came across as a tad too eager to play to the gallery by fielding so many academy/English players. Under Tuchel, no player is untouchable. All 25 members of Chelsea’s first team squad must earn their stripes by delivering when trusted with game time. Giving all players a clean slate has enabled the German tactician to rehabilitate previously transfer-listed stars like Jorginho, Marcos Alonso, Andreas Christensen, Kepa Arrizabalaga and Antonio Rudiger.
Exemplary man management
Knowledge that performance alone gets players into the starting eleven has improved competition for places, and is, as a consequence, delivering better output. A measure of how much Tuchel is ready to push his players came when he dropped keeper Edouard Mendy for the game against Newcastle United in favour of the much maligned Kepa Arrizabalaga despite the Senegalese shot stopper boasting the highest clean sheet record ever in Premier League history (57 percent or 13 in 23 games) for custodians to start 10 games or more. For good measure, Mendy also leads in the Champions League with 5 clean sheets in 6 games.
The immediate benefit of that initiative is having a competent Arrizabalaga as a back up keeper because his confidence has been fully restored by the clean sheet he kept against the Magpies. Callum Hudson Odoi has been a principal beneficiary of Tuchel’s ability to push players to their upper limits and has recovered admirably from being substituted just 30 minutes after coming on as a sub against Southampton. Before that, Tuchel’s man management credentials had been cemented by how well he shielded the younger players from media scrutiny by denying them game time in the immediate aftermath of Lampard’s unceremonious departure.
Tactical, Technical TT
Tuchel’s nomme de guerre on Chelsea fans’ WhatsApp forum in Uganda is TTTT to represent his emphasis on a tactical, technical game. Fundamental to the five-time Premier League champions rapid recovery from winning just twice in ten fixtures, has been a reversion to the fables 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 formation with which Antonio Conte won the 2017 championship. This has given the defense a solidity that has conceded just twice in eleven outings across all competitions. In the EPL itself Tuchel has become the first manager in history to register five consecutive home clean sheets at the commencement of his tenure.
As the former Mainz, Dortmund and PSG manager’s principal on pitch leader; the rejuvenated Antonio Rudiger, has outspokenly and correctly emphasised; players hoping for an extended run in Chelsea’s starting line up, must follow the manager’s tactical instructions to the letter. Highlights of the German tactician’s instructions include a full pitch press, counterpress, quick transitions with and without the ball (reverse transitions) and tactical tinkering with line ups. Whether it was bypassing midfield with long, diagonal, over the top passes, as was the case in the 1-0 win Liverpool, or suffocating the opposition with a counter-press as it was with Atletico Madrid in Bucharest, the Blues have executed with near perfection.