Today - January 26 2022 - marks one year since Thomas Tuchel’s appointment as Chelsea manager following the sacking of Frank Lampard - the 14th manager of the post-2003 Roman Abramovich era at the club.
It has been nothing short of a sensational journey so far - the German leading Chelsea to their second Champions League trophy in May last year, as well securing a top four finish last season and delivering the UEFA Super Cup in August.
In addition to this, Tuchel has seemingly united the fanbase after splits under Maurizio Sarri and Frank Lampard’s tenures, and incorporated and maximised players who appeared to have no future at the club post 2021 (Jorginho, Antonio Rudiger, Marcos Alonso). This is a testament to both his tactical intelligence and superb man-management skills.
In terms of statistical standings, Tuchel has won 40 of the 67 games he has managed to date - a win percentage of 59%, the same proportion as Mourinho’s second spell at the club. Chelsea fans will be keen to see these numbers increase over the coming years - with the Special One’s 185 games during his first spell the highest figure in the Roman era.
How has Tuchel fared in a turbulent and unpredictable year at the Pride of London?
2020/21 Campaign - Champions League Win and Top Four Consolidation
Tuchel joined Chelsea after a run of just two wins in eight under Lampard - the club visibly low on confidence and 9th in the league following a dire 2-0 loss at Leicester, Brendan Rodger’s men thoroughly outplaying the Blues.
Tuchel went for experience in his first game, a 0-0 draw with Wolves - opting for the likes of Cesar Azpilicueta, Jorginho and Olivier Giroud, all of whom saw their game-time limited under Lampard, and setting up with a 3-4-3 approach, a formation that worked to superb effect under Antonio Conte in 2016/17.
This defensive stability - adding an extra centre-back to protect Jorginho’s lack of raw pace and mobility, and allowing one of N’golo Kante or Mateo Kovacic to venture forward - created an incredibly strong defensive structure for Chelsea to build upon. The Blues conceded just twice in their following nine games; this run included memorable wins over Tottenham and Liverpool both home and away.
Tuchel combined frequent squad rotation to keep the dressing room happy with trusting a core of dependable players across several competitions - namely Thiago Silva, Antonio Rudiger, N’golo Kante, Jorginho/Mateo Kovacic and Mason Mount. The latter name on that list slotted excellently into Tuchel’s setup - able to drop into midfield when needed before contributing in offensive phases, winning the club’s Player of the Year accolade for 2020/21.
Barring a freak result against West Brom and disappointing defeats to Arsenal and Aston Villa in the final three game weeks, Chelsea finished their league campaign strongly, securing a top four finish for the third consecutive year - a key aim in appointing Tuchel in January. Chelsea kept an impressive 10 clean sheets in the final 17 games - emphasising the importance of a reliable, impregnable defence, as well as moments of brilliance across the front three in wins over Crystal Palace and Fulham.
Tuchel also guided Chelsea to their 15th FA Cup Final appearance - a statistic only bettered by Man Utd and Arsenal, after an FA Cup semi-final victory against Man City just weeks before a league win at the Etihad. Tuchel took a risk in starting Kepa, Marcos Alonso and Timo Werner, and will feel hard done-by after a last-minute Ben Chilwell (would-be) equaliser was dubiously chalked off after VAR intervention.
However, this defeat was merely a side note compared to May’s Champions League victory over Man City in Porto. A two-legged tie against Diego Simeone’s Atletico appeared a tough challenge - although Chelsea breezed through without conceding a goal, and arguably could’ve scored more at Stamford Bridge. The Blues also dominated Atleti’s city rivals in the semi-final second-leg, recording an xG of 3.56 to Real’s 0.49, winning 3-1 on aggregate.
After beating Guardiola twice in two different competitions, a Champions League victory over Man City remained the holy grail - and Tuchel’s tactical setup in the final was stellar. The front three combined brilliantly, including for the opening goal, and a midfield duo of Kante and Jorginho outthought and outmanoeuvred a disjointed City midfield. After missing out on Europe’s top prize the previous year with PSG, Tuchel will remain forever embedded in Chelsea folklore after victory on May 29.
2021/22 Campaign, Summer Window, Covid and Injuries Galore
Chelsea went into the current season with the clear goal of closing the 19 point gap on Man City and seriously challenging for their first league title since 2017. The club broke their transfer record to bring Romelu Lukaku back to West London from Inter - seemingly the missing piece in Tuchel’s puzzle, as well as signing Saul on loan, and offloading various players from Kurt Zouma to Tammy Abraham, Olivier Giroud to Tino Livramento.
The UEFA Super Cup penalty victory over Villarreal was an excellent start - Trevoh Chalobah shining in Belfast and remaining with the first-team squad ahead of the upcoming campaign. The opening 14 league games were fantastic - Chelsea winning 10, including a 7-0 drubbing of Norwich, away wins at Spurs and Arsenal, and Ben Chilwell and Reece James in the form of their life. Chelsea topped the table by a point, and could realistically dream of a sixth Premier League title at this point.
However, a season-ending injury to Ben Chilwell, combined with a huge number of COVID cases, disrupted the Blues’ momentum - hugely visible in the 0-0 draw with Wolves in December. Chelsea’s bench was under-filled by four players and included two goalies, with the likes of Chalobah and Kante forced to play through injury and Christian Pulisic in an unfamiliar false nine position.
Chelsea then won only one of the following seven league games, although only losing one, with Reece James also ruled out after an injury against Brighton - this wing-back pairing hugely influential to the teams success and chemistry.
Despite this, the club remain firmly on-track for another top-four finish, and have the opportunity to win a sixth Carabao Cup trophy - facing off against Liverpool in the final next month. Continentally, Chelsea will fancy themselves over two legs against Lille in the Champions League round of 16, and also have the chance to win a first FIFA Club World Cup as the team travels to the United Arab Emirates in search of more silverware next month.
Chelsea’s success post January 2021 is hugely down to the influential character and tactical genius of Thomas Tuchel. The German has kept a positive and close-knit dressing room (bar that Lukaku interview), a difficult feat to accomplish for any Chelsea manager. This element of man management was ultimately the undoing of the Lampard era after alienating certain players - Antonio Conte also fell out with the likes of Willian and David Luiz in his second season and lost his job after his popularity with the players waned considerably.
Tuchel has also proven to be tactically flexible and adaptable. His 3-4-3 formation is a fluid approach that allows the centre-backs (usually Rudiger) to drive forward and join attacks, and he has utilised the likes of Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic at wing-back when needed, exploiting their pace and dynamism in wide areas. In recent weeks, after aforementioned injuries to Chilwell and James, a back four approach with Malang Sarr at left-back worked wonders in recent wins over Tottenham.
Tuchel at the helm has been a joy to watch, and all involved will sincerely hope for many more years with the German in charge at Stamford Bridge
Stats in charge
Managed 67, won 40, drawn 18, lost 9, scored 112, conceded 42, 59.7% win percentage
Most Used Players
Mason Mount - 58 games
Antonio Rudiger - 56 games
Cesar Azpilicueta - 54 games
Jorginho - 54 games
Reece James - 52 games