It’s been a whirlwind week for Thomas Tuchel. He signed an 18-month contract with Chelsea on Tuesday, before a training session in the dark ahead of very dull game on Wednesday. He’s said plenty, Frank Lampard’s sent him a text and that clock is already ticking. Here’s five things we’ve learned after his first five days in charge.
Frank Lampard’s interviews and press conferences could be measured by levels of exasperation. Jovial moments – that were never commonplace – grew more and more fleeting, and by the end he was picking fights he could never win and should never have entered. It’s unfair to compare Frank’s last appearances with Tuchel’s first, but f*** it.
He looks like he’s enjoying himself: smiling at a question about Chelsea’s manager conveyor belt; laughing when it was suggested he was given the job because he speaks German; laughing again at a previous admission that his favourite English club was Tottenham. He answered each question – whether serious or silly – with poise, a deep-seated knowledge of the club he had joined just hours before and a genuine rather than formulaic light-heartedness that bodes well for a Chelsea squad that was sinking under Lampard’s gruff intensity.
There’s also the touchline demeanour: jumping up and down; craning his neck to head invisible balls; feeling and living every moment of the game. It doesn’t make him a better coach, but you can’t help but be drawn to people like that, who test the limits of their technical areas rather than standing with arms folded in a perpetual state of solemnity.
He’s a football obsessive
It seems like something that should go without saying: he’s a football manager, or course he’s obsessed with football. It’s more that he’s so obviously in love with the tactics, statistics and intricacies of the game. There’s no doubt that could be wearing and potentially disruptive without the big picture in mind, but for Chelsea – whose gameplan seems to have been based on goals and whimsical, impractical advice – digging into the details could well be a welcome change.
20 seconds into his first post-match interview – in which he mentioned “intensity” seven times – he said: “Energy-wise, we had I think 16 recoveries in the last third”, when asked about N’Golo Kante he explained why the “double-six” is his best position and Callum Hudson-Odoi spoke of the specific runs his manager had asked him to make from an alien wing-back role he handled with aplomb.
Whereas Lampard would talk very generally about the way in which Chelsea pressed, Tuchel knew exactly how well they were pressing. While Lampard was adamant Kante could play anywhere in midfield because he’s so good, Tuchel wants Kante to play in his best position because he’s so good. While Lampard would simply tell his attacking players to “go and express themselves”, Tuchel has told them how, where and when to express themselves.
Possession is king
Chelsea completed a total of 433 passes in the opening half against Wolves, their most in the first half of a Premier League game since that stat was recorded (so almost certainly the most ever). By the final whistle, Chelsea had completed 820 passes and recorded 78.9 per cent possession, both way above their season averages of 563 and 61 per cent.
It all amounted to nothing and the official social media account inadvertently trolled its own team in an attempt to sugar-coat that fact, but we do know that Tuchel bloody loves the ball.
Pass. Move. Pass again. 😍
Just 16 of our 8️⃣2️⃣0️⃣ completed passes last night! 👏 pic.twitter.com/U8a4GGELz4
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) January 28, 2021
He has favourites but no naughty step
Tuchel admitted that the team he selected to play Wolves was “unfair” and was picked based on experience rather than anything else. While the media was quick to suggest that the lineup was an indication of his desire to cull the kids and the camera lingered on Mason Mount in the stands, reports suggest that Tuchel has gone out of his way to make the whole squad feel included.
He made a point of talking to all the players individually in that first training session, particularly those like Mount, Tammy Abraham and Reece James who may have expected to start the game. He’s since hailed the “personality” of Mount and bigged up Billy Gilmour.
He’s made no secret of his love of Kante, who he tried to sign for PSG on more than one occasion, and has a bond with Christian Pulisic after he handed the American his debut for Borussia Dortmund. But unlike Lampard, who jettisoned Marcos Alonso to the naughty step and reportedly ignored some while lavishing others with praise, Tuchel appears keen to keep the whole squad together rather than allowing individuals to splinter and cliques to form.
Scrutiny will be sky high
Tuchel is in a tough position. He’s still being asked about a title challenge, which as he rightly said is now “not realistic”, but gives an indication of the scrutiny he will be under immediately.
While the media claimed Abramovich had “shot Bambi” and the Lampard apologists – rife in punditry in particular – were perlexed, even angry that Lampard hadn’t been given more time despite a number of very good reasons why he hadn’t, the clock was “already ticking at Stamford Bridge” after one draw under Tuchel.
If you put sentimentality aside, it makes far more sense to give Tuchel time than Lampard. But the immediate signs predictably suggest he’ll be given far less leeway than his predecessor in arguably more difficult circumstances.
Although the squad is better than the one Lampard took charge of, many of the players are bereft of all confidence, he’s got very little time to put his stamp on the team and has the chaos of a fixture-packed mid pandemic season to contend with. And – crucially – he’s not Lampard, whose legacy as a manager will undoubtedly improve the more we forget.
Fortunately, he’s “not scared”.
Will Ford is on Twitter