A `TT’ shot injected at the right time! Thomas Tuchel’s appointment and the rejuvenation of Chelsea!
It’s just 4 months into the job for Tuchel, but he already created an impact that no one could dream of. We can’t just term this as the new manager bounce.
It was a routine injury that happens every 3-4 years and Roman Abramovich didn’t want to use the usual Guus Hiddink band-aid this time. The extent of the injury was not as worse as in 2016, but the impact of that would’ve been much worse. This injury was worth more than 200 million USD and they couldn't dive again into the market to cover that up. The defensive mechanism that made them the best in the past was trashed in the last 2 years and it seemed they won't survive the fall.
Chelsea wanted someone who could prevent the wound from causing a deep infection. Immediately, the Russian injected the club with a TT shot that gave them immunity from going down - Thomas Tuchel. The infection was avoided, the wound was cleaned and medicated. Now, to everyone’s surprise, Chelsea is fit and running, running like they never did before!
When Tuchel appeared in the Chelsea dugout for the first time against Wolverhampton Wanderers, the empty stands in Stamford Bridge were carrying too many questions. The major question was about stability. A team that let just 15 goals in a premier league season a decade back was conceding goals every game, even against the mid-table and relegation-threatened clubs. The defense became a joke. If there was a point from where the rebuilding should have started, it was from the defense and the German knew that precisely.
Tuchel reverted back to the 3 man backline and surprised everyone by playing Callum Hudson-Odoi as a right wingback. Edouard Mendy didn't face a single shot in the 96 minutes against the Wolves and earned a morale-boosting clean sheet. The German’s influence was clearly seen from the following defensive performances and the old days of continuous clean sheets followed.
It was a simple Mourinho formula - Guard the fortress and strike them when unexpected. But it was not all Mourinho. If you try to give Thomas Tuchel’s style an identity, it would be simple. It’s the mixture of all the previous managers. A pinch of Mourinho, giving major preference to the defense; Conte’s formation and using the attacking ability of the wingbacks; Sarri’s ball playing; Lampard’s ‘Mount-centric’ attack.
It was the greatest thing about Tuchel. He did not want to implement his own style and made use of all the positives that the previous managers left. Towards the latter end of the 2018-19 season, the Stamford Bridge faithful were very much critical about the ‘Sarriball’ as the blues failed to get control over the big teams. The defense exploited during this phase and above all, N’golo Kante joined the human race, previously being termed as an alien with supernatural powers. The French midfielder was assigned with attacking duties to give Jorginho the central role and his defensive masterclass couldn't be seen often.
Now, the little dynamite is back in the alien category after winning back-to-back man-of-the-match awards in the Champions League semis. We don’t know whether Toni Kroos lost sleep over Kante or not, but the majority of Real Madrid fans surely would’ve! This wasn’t because Tuchel brought the old Kante back. He created a new variant with the pre-Sarri’s defensive alien and the ball-playing, forward moving human.
In spite of the criticism over Sarri’s style of play, we cannot rule out the influence over the current Kante. He is passing the ball better, picking up the right man and providing those long balls, switching the direction of play, providing those run-ups and creating chances. Tuchel embraced the change Sarri made on Kante, made little adjustments, and made him a midfield general. The man who was compared only with the likes of Claude Makélélé and Patrick Vieria is now in the league of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. Courtesy: Thomas Tuchel.
One major problem that caused Chelsea’s fall was the failure of a smooth transition under Mauricio Sarri. They were playing two seasons with 3-4-3 and suddenly went to 4-3-3. Kante was asked to attack, Azpilicueta was asked to help in the build-up and Oh God, Marcos Alonso was asked to defend. questo è criminale, Sarri. He just wanted to play his style of the game and wasn’t concerned about the abilities of the players under his disposal. This is where Tuchel stands alone. The former PSG boss made sure the club is not affected by the transition.
As we see in Kante’s case, he used the former managers’ ideas and impacts in a very positive way. He wanted his wingbacks to attack as much as possible like Conte, but when you see the Champions League ties against Real Madrid, he used Azpilicueta in Mourinho’s way under Conte’s system.
During Mourinho’s second stint, the current skipper was his go-to man at left back. Despite having Ashley Cole and Luis Felipe in the squad, the Special One preferred the Spanish. The only reason was Azpi’s stability in the left wing as Chelsea won’t receive much defensive support from Eden Hazard. To balance Hazard’s less defensive work, the makeshift left back has to stay in his own half for the majority of the time.
Azpilicute accounted for a combined 4 Premier League assists in those 2 Mourinho full seasons (2013/14 & 2014/15), whereas he assisted at least 5 times in every other Premier League season. He was assisting regularly even when he was playing at the back three. If Morata’s head & legs haven’t gone clueless, Azpilicuta would have accounted for more assists in the 2017/18 season.
2012/13 - 6 assists
2013/14 - 1 assist
2014/15 - 3 assists
2015/16 - 5 assists & 2 goals
2016/17 - 5 assists & 1 goal
2017/18 - 6 assists & 2 goals
2018/19 - 6 assists & 1 goal
2019/20 - 6 assists & 2 goals
In the same two seasons, Branislav Ivanovic has assisted 7 & scored 7 goals. This will clearly say, Azpilicueata was assigned a specific role.
Against Zidane’s men, Tuchel used the Chelsea skipper as a right-wing back to have that defensive stability. Tuchel wanted to limit the effect of Vinicius Junior’s pace and Karim Benzema’s movement from the flank. For that, he placed an extra center back in Azpilicueta which turned out more effective. In the second leg at the Bridge, Zidane wanted to counterattack the tactics and played Vinicius at right wingback against Chilwell. We all know how that ended. Vinicius was clueless and was outplayed by the Werner - Mount - Chilwell attack.
This is where Tuchel making an impact in the game. As discussed before, he hasn’t changed much of Chelsea’s playing style from that of Lampard. They like to have more possession, pass a lot, press high and attack from the wings - the same they played under the Blues legend. Actually, the German started his Chelsea career without Mason Mount in his first starting XI, but he can’t keep the fiery Englishman out of the side. As with Lampard, Mount became the focal point of midfield with Ziyech, Havertz and Werner, all trying to find their touch.
With the same style, Tuchel infused a little bit of ‘thinking’ into the team. Before passing, before pressing, before defending a set-piece, Chelsea started thinking. When playing against West Ham United, Cesar Azpilicueta, the shortest defender in Chelsea (5’10”) would be the one marking Tomáš Souček, the tallest player on the pitch at 6’4”. There is no need to discuss their decision making while playing from the back, the world knows! But, it’s all in the past.
As a whole structure, we could see parts of all former bosses here in Tuchel’s system. But, every individual was carrying a special task - the Tuchel task with them. In the second leg of the semi final, Azpilicueta was assigned to man mark his former teammate Eden Hazard. When the Belgian entered the attacking third with ball on his feet, the Chelsea Captain went all out pressing and came out successful few times.
When Madrid was trailing by 2 goals the full-back Nacho too joined the attacking party. At one instant, he was in the left wing with the ball near the Chelsea box. Azpilicueta who was pressing Hazard even in the mid-third stays in his position this time. Nacho was in a much-advanced position. But, his assigned man was Hazard and the ball isn’t with him, so he won’t press. He was maintaining the defensive line and the less creative Nacho cannot penetrate. He passed the ball to Hazard, Azpi started pressing; the ball moved out of that wing. Mission accomplished.
In the Manchester City game last weekend, Antonio Rudiger was assigned to mark Sergio Aguero. The Argentine’s shadow was replaced by the German and he was not leaving him alone at any point. This was not just in the Chelsea half! Aguero who couldn’t get many deliveries at one point, went to the defensive third to get involved more, but the shadow of Rudiger had no idea of leaving him alone! Of the 25 touches, he made the whole game, he was dispossessed 4 times.
Along with these brilliant moves, the basic function of passing was enhanced. They were still playing from the back but taking lesser risks. With the back three and a midfield pivot, they had created a 5 lane passing network and the players could choose the safest path for the ball to travel. It’s just like the TCP protocol with more efficiency - connection-oriented, error tracking, and the packet can be retransmitted. This is Tuchel Controlled Passing!
His micromanagement was criticized by few players in the past. But that is what makes Chelsea better. You could see Tuchel giving nonstop instructions to Olivier Giroud in the touchline when the Frenchman was waiting to replace Kai Havertz in the home leg of Madrid tie. Giroud should’ve gone mad listening to those instructions as he was going in only for 30 seconds. Yeah, just 30 seconds. This is what Tuchel is!
It’s just 4 months into the job for Tuchel, but he already created an impact that no one could dream of. We can’t just term this as the new manager bounce. Because he didn’t take this team to the previously performing level, he took them to a whole new level. Improvements were seen in all the aspects. The performance was enhanced, confidence was increased, the defense was solid - the TT injection already made a great impact.
In a situation like this where proper vaccination is a must, Chelsea went with a perfect choice.