An Introduction to Thomas Tuchel

What can we expect from their brand new manager?

The word is out: Chelsea FC have parted company with Frank Lampard.

The club’s icon has been their head coach for just one and a half years. After only two wins in their last eight Premier League games Lampard is held accountable for their struggles, on several grounds.

Not only did Chelsea’s performance decline compared to last season after spending £200m, and even more importantly Lampard failed to mould his team into a cohesive unit.

It shows that appointing a former player doesn’t always have its desired impact. What next for Chelsea?

Thomas Tuchel has been lined up as the replacement. The 47-year-old German was sacked by Paris Saint-Germain last December after being their head coach for more than two years.

Previously to that he managed Borussia Dortmund for two years and FSV Mainz 05 for five years. Twice he succeeded Jürgen Klopp as a head coach which already reveals they might have something in common.

What does his managerial record look like? How did he fare at PSG and Dortmund and what can we expect from him at Chelsea?

Managerial record

Tuchel began his managerial career at FSV Mainz in 2009, where he was being promoted to the position as head coach after being a youth coach at the same club for the previous year.

In his first season, after Mainz were promoted to the Bundesliga, he managed a very respectable 9th placed finish. The season after he did even better and guided Mainz to a European spot and finished in 5th.

However, the addition of Europa League games and the loss of some key players had their effects in the following two seasons in which Mainz dropped to consecutive 13th-placed finishes.

In his fifth and final season with Mainz, Tuchel again led his side to a European spot after slightly altering his approach to a more attacking style of play.

Tuchel joined Borussia Dortmund in April 2015, meaning he returned after being a year out of management.

Dortmund’s financial situation made it easier for him to boost his squad, a necessity looking at their 7th-placed finish the season before. Tuchel guided Dortmund to second place, ten points behind Bayern München but a whopping 18 points ahead of Leverkusen.

In his second and final season with Dortmund he finished third, close behind Leipzig but again miles behind Bayern. Tuchel was fired in May 2017.

After another year out of management Tuchel signed with French giants Paris Saint-Germain in May 2018.

In two full seasons he led PSG to the French Championship as well as to two cup titles and the club’s first ever Champions League final.

He was fired just over a month ago, on the 24th of December, reportedly due to a poor relationship with PSG’s technical director Leonardo. Tuchel’s record in the Ligue 1 was the best in history: a win rate of 75.6% and a point average of 2.37 per game.

Tuchel’s managerial career sorted by club.

Style of play

Tuchel is considered to be football obsessive and has a lot of unique and positive characteristics.

Firstly, he is not committed to playing one or two formations. He uses several over the course of one season, varying from 4-3-3, to 4-2-2-2, to 4-1-4-1, to 4-2-3-1, to 3-5-2, and so forth.

The formation he used most at Dortmund was 4-2-3-1, whilst he deployed a 4-3-3 most often at PSG. He used a system starting with three at the back only a couple of times before at both clubs, but is also known for utilising the 3-4-3 with wing backs.

Tuchel is a strategist, a tactician. He is someone who searches for certain flaws and strengths in the opposition’s style of play, tries to exploit those flaws and vulnerabilities and to nullify those strengths.

This obviously suits his dynamic approach to varying formations, although he does primarily set his team up in either a 4-3-3 or a 4-1-4-1 system. He can be described as a versatile coach, and able to quickly adapt to tactical issues his team faces.

Secondly, the characteristics in his style of play are often similar, regardless of which formation he lets his team play in. He tries to come up with a very dynamic display, encouraging a possession-based approach with a Guardiola-like system of passing and positional play.

He builds up from the back, which in a system of four defenders is often being supported by a defensive midfielder dropping between the two central defenders.

The full backs are then both pushed higher up the pitch and play is likely to be progressed by the three players at the back and the addition of two central midfielders. This positional play does have some similarities with Conte’s style of play at Chelsea.

The full-backs play wide and high up the pitch with the left- and right-attacker playing as inside forwards. However, Conte starts his build up with three defenders at the back, whilst as said, Tuchel’s three at the back involves a midfielder dropping deep.

In the opponent’s half, Tuchel allows his front three or four to have creative freedom:

“For the creative players, sometimes it is better that they are not under pressure.”

To dominate possession, he wants his team to press high up the pitch, put pressure on the opponent’s defence and be aggressive with and without the ball – force the opposition to make mistakes and take advantage of those mistakes.

If his team loses possession of the ball, he wants them to press and close down the opposition as quickly as possible. Counterpressing. Win the ball back as quickly as possible to prevent the opposition from having the ball.

His style of play is intense and leaves a weakness in defensive transitions for fast-flowing counterattacks. However, he was happy to see those didn’t occur in his first game in charge at Chelsea:

“We had I think 16 recoveries in the final third. We were very structured; we didn’t allow any dangerous counterattacks to one of the most dangerous teams in counterattacks. […] We managed to put the game completely into the opponent’s half; we managed to close down counterattacks very early.”

First game in charge

Tuchel’s first game in charge saw Wolves visit Stamford Bridge, and despite a goalless draw we saw more than glimpses of his style of play.

Even though I was surprised to see The Blues line up in a formation with three at the back (3-2-4-1) which Tuchel hadn’t favoured previously, Chelsea’s style of play showed many signs of adopting Tuchel’s philosophy.

Chelsea built up from the back with three players in the last line (Azpilicueta, Silva, Rüdiger) and two players in centre midfield as a double pivot (Jorginho, Kovačić), whilst the wingbacks (Hudson-Odoi, Chilwell) kept the width on the flanks.

The formation finished with three attacking players at the front (Ziyech, Giroud, Havertz), who played very narrow, although both Ziyech and Havertz more or less supported Giroud rather than played as inside forwards themselves.

Out of possession, although it didn’t occur that often seeing that Wolves had only 21% ball possession, Chelsea used a 4-2-3-1 with Chilwell dropping to left-back and Hudson-Odoi pressing as a right-forward.

Picture taken from @BetweenThePosts on Twitter (no copyright intended).

Chelsea had a very fluid passing game. They attempted 466 passes in the first half which was more than they have managed in a first half of a Premier League game in more than four years. In the end they attempted a massive 887 passes and saw 79% of the ball.

But their game wasn’t quite as effective as they would have wanted, creating 13 chances but having a disappointing xG of only 0.68.

Whilst I wasn’t surprised by Tuchel’s style of play, I was by his choice for Giroud.

Opting for Giroud meant playing with a target man, which Tuchel has seldom done before. Giroud’s hold-up play is excellent and the Frenchman likes to receive crosses in into the penalty area, but that isn’t the way Tuchel likes to play.

He prefers creative and pacey players in all of those three free roles at the front. Chelsea lacked exactly that against a resilient Wolves defence.

Ziyech is a very creative player and Havertz has the potential on his day, but those two and Giroud aren’t players to run in the space behind the opposition’s defence with pace. It is safe to say that the combination of those three players lacked a direct threat.

Tuchel explaining his team selection:

“I can’t choose a team after one day in training; it’s not fair so this may be the most unfair line-up we ever do. We chose a bit more experience because we step into the middle of the season. It’s not easy.” 

This could explain his choice for Giroud, and the absence of Mason Mount in the midfield.

Expectation

The tactics of Thomas Tuchel are pretty clear. He likes to dominate possession and outplay his opponent by adapting his system. He’ll need direct threat to be effective in the Premier League, which the likes of Hudson-Odoi, Werner and Abraham can offer him.

He already knows a lot of the players from his previous managerial spells, so he will know how to use them.

Pulisic is another who can definitely add direct threat and a player Tuchel knows really well from his time at Dortmund. It has also made it a bit easier to deliver his vision within only a day or two, so I think it bodes well for his future.

*Featured image source: https://www.football.london/chelsea-fc/news/chelsea-sack-lampard-thomas-tuchel-19536651 (no copyright intended)*

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