Thomas Tuchel’s humility and personal approach take Chelsea to the promised land of the Champions League
No one really knows why Roman Abramovich fired Frank Lampard in January, but maybe it was just because he felt an opportunity.
Doing the right thing at the right time is everything in the sport and perhaps that extends beyond the playing field.
So when Abramovich was criticized in the winter for bringing a Chelsea hero’s management career to his knees after an FA Cup win over Luton, it may have been just about the timing.
Thomas Tuchel led Chelsea to Champions League glory in his first half of the season
Tuchel was brought in by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich (right) after Frank Lampard’s departure
Thomas Tuchel was recently fired by Paris Saint-Germain. On Christmas Eve, which was nice. The German was available and had a good resume. He coached the French team to the Champions League final last season, losing narrowly to Bayern Munich.
Perhaps Abramovich was just worried that one of Europe’s most progressive and admired coaches wouldn’t be on the market for long. Maybe someone else would take it. Tottenham maybe. Or Manchester United. It would be a missed opportunity, something to regret for a long time.
So Lampard – just as good a job as he had done – was fired for an upgrade that happened to be available. Now, just four months later, who can say that was wrong?
Frank Lampard was fired with the Blues ninth in the competition – now they are European winners
Lampard’s last league game was a 2-0 defeat at Leicester. Seven of his starting XI were with Tuchel’s team in Porto on Saturday, but the similarities begin and end there.
Chelsea was miserable in the Midlands that night. They lacked confidence and were easily defeated by a fluid and cohesive team.
All that Leicester was that night, Chelsea wasn’t. The fact that the London club is from there to here – Champions of Europe for the second time – in such a short time is really very special.
Few coaches have the personality to handle life at Chelsea. Even fewer have the humility that comes with it, a common touch that has already rejuvenated a group of players who suddenly seem to gaze at a future rich in possibilities.
The Blues defeated Manchester City 1-0 on Saturday evening thanks to the (third left) winner of Kai Havertz
Having failed so surprisingly in the FA Cup final two weeks earlier – Leicester accidentally lost – this was near sporting perfection for Chelsea at the Estadio Do Dragao.
Yes, Manchester City failed their big test. Yes, Pep Guardiola has once again confused everyone with his line-up. But City could still have won this final with that starting XI. Give them 10 setbacks against all kinds of opposition and they might have walked away with the trophy eight more times.
This was not a final handed to Chelsea by a confused and confused opposition. No, this was won by an almost flawless execution of a game plan, through individual performances by N’Golo Kante, Reece James, Mason Mount, Antonio Rudiger and Ben Chilwell. It was won by a collective belief that only comes from working with the very best coaches.
Tuchel has used passion, humility and his own personal touches to help the Blues win
Tuchel is a very passionate person, no doubt encouraged by his experience at PSG. Maybe that prepared him for a life with Abramovich.
Once you’ve worked in Paris, how much more difficult can life really get? Mauricio Pochettino has only been there for a fortnight and is already looking for escape tunnels.
Chelsea takes courage and Tuchel’s most obvious intervention was to change the formation. Chelsea now plays with a back three. Among other things, it has enabled Tuchel to ensure that some of his greatest personalities – Rudiger, Thiago Silva and Cesar Azpilicueta – are all on the team.
He has said privately that he has found the Chelsea group ready and eager to listen and work, something that has not always been a given among his players in Paris.
Chelsea’s English stars such as Mason Mount (center) flourished this term under Tuchel
Likewise, despite all that he has continued to do Lampard’s good work of bringing in players like Mount, he has been relentless in throwing people like Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi overboard.
A foreign boss will always be investigated for sidelining English talent, but Tuchel called because he thinks Abraham is not good enough and has reservations about Hudson-Odoi’s ability to perform consistently.
Such decisions are easier to make when the team wins and Chelsea have consistently done so under their new coach.
What was indeed striking about Saturday’s game was Chelsea’s willingness to engage with City from the first whistle. They had no interest in trying to advance in the game, to stay with City and start the game late or even in extra time or penalty kicks.
No, there was no cat and mouse here. Chelsea felt the opportunity and chased it. The Mount-Chilwell axis on the left functioned great all night long, while Kante perfectly estimated the rhythm and flow of the game. He was not Chelsea’s best player in the first half. Mount was likely.
But as the game progressed and the weight of City Chelsea’s territory and possession threatened to hit hard, Kante became the central figure in the resistance.
The last 10 minutes were hectic as City got desperate, but Kante seemed like he was playing in his own vacuum, a place where he was always allowed to be one thought, one garden and one touch for everyone else. It takes special gifts to make football look so simple.
And all this without a goalscorer. Chelsea’s search for a solution to that problem continues into the summer. Their elevated position will certainly help with that now.
Timo Werner could have haphazardly rebuked City on two early occasions on Saturday. In the second half, Christian Pulisic appeared to be ready to kill the game by finishing an exciting counter. A 2-0 score would not have flattered Chelsea, but the American was also unable to score.
Like their opponents, Chelsea would be immediately improved by a reliable striker. That will stimulate Tuchel, as will the clear potential in this player group. Chelsea are entering the summer as champions of Europe and it is now clear that the next goal will be a serious attack on the Premier League.
Tuchel and his family celebrated the Champions League trophy after the Porto final
Abramovich wasn’t there that night in Leicester, but maybe he didn’t have to be. Maybe he already knew.
He was here in Porto to witness his club’s rebirth and his 11th permanent coach kisses the Champions League trophy full-time.
No one who ever works at Stamford Bridge can expect a long run from it. Better rent than buy, as they say.
But of all the things we could say about Tuchel’s Chelsea, this is perhaps the most relevant: it will be a huge surprise if we look back one day and say that this was the best it could be.