Thomas Tuchel’s humility and personal touch take Chelsea to the promised land after the Blues beat Manchester City in Champions League final
- Chelsea beat Manchester City 1-0 in Saturday’s tense Champions League final
- Thomas Tuchel has led the Blues to European glory in his first six months as boss
- The German was brought in by Roman Abramovich after Frank Lampard’s exit
- Tuchel has turned around the fortunes of the likes of Mason Mount this season
Nobody really knows what made Roman Abramovich sack Frank Lampard in January but maybe it was simply because he sensed an opportunity.
Doing the right thing at the right time is everything in sport and maybe that extends beyond the field of play, too.
So back in the winter when Abramovich was criticised for cutting a Chelsea hero’s management career off at its knees following an FA Cup win over Luton, maybe it was simply about the timing.
Thomas Tuchel guided Chelsea to Champions League glory in his first half-season in charge
Tuchel was brought in by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich (right) after Frank Lampard’s exit
Thomas Tuchel had recently been sacked by Paris Saint- Germain. On Christmas Eve, which was nice. The German was available and had a good c.v. He had coached the French team to last season’s Champions League final and narrowly lost to Bayern Munich.
Maybe Abramovich simply feared one of Europe’s most forward-thinking and admired coaches would not be on the market for long. Maybe someone else would take him. Tottenham, perhaps. Or Manchester United. It would be an opportunity missed, something to regret for a long time.
So Lampard — as decent a job as he had done — was sacked for an upgrade who happened to be available. Who, just four months on, can now say that was wrong?
Frank Lampard was sacked with the Blues ninth in the league – now they’re European winners
Lampard’s final league game in charge was a 2-0 defeat at Leicester. Seven of his starting XI were in Tuchel’s team in Porto on Saturday but the similarities begin and end there.
Chelsea were wretched that night in the Midlands. Low on confidence, they were beaten easily by a fluent and cohesive team.
Everything that Leicester were that night, Chelsea were not. That the London club have gone from there to here — Champions of Europe for the second time — in such a short time really is quite extraordinary.
Few coaches have the personality to cope with life at Chelsea. Even fewer have the humility to go with it, a common touch that has already rejuvenated a group of players who suddenly appear to be staring at a future rich in possibility.
The Blues beat Manchester City 1-0 on Saturday night thanks to Kai Havertz’s (third left) winner
Having failed so surprisingly in the FA Cup final a fortnight earlier — losing coincidentally to Leicester — this was close to sporting perfection for Chelsea at the Estadio Do Dragao.
Yes, Manchester City flunked their big test. Yes, Pep Guardiola confused everybody once again with his line-up. But City could still have won this final with that starting XI. Give them 10 goes against a variety of opposition and they would still have walked away with the trophy maybe eight times.
This was not a final handed to Chelsea by a confused and befuddled opposition. No, this was won by an almost flawless execution of a game plan, by individual performances from 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 but also humility and his own personal touches to help the Blues win
Tuchel is a highly driven individual, doubtless emboldened by his experience at PSG. Maybe that prepared him for life with Abramovich.
Once you have worked at Paris, how much harder can life really get? Mauricio Pochettino has only been there for what seems like a fortnight and is already searching for escape tunnels.
At Chelsea you need courage and Tuchel’s most obvious intervention has been to change the formation. Chelsea now play with a back three. Among other things, it has enabled Tuchel to ensure some of his biggest personalities — Rudiger, Thiago Silva and Cesar Azpilicueta — are all in the team.
He has said privately that he has found the Chelsea group ready and eager to listen and work, something that was not always a given among his players in Paris.
Chelsea’s English stars such as Mason Mount (middle) have flourished under Tuchel this term
Equally, for all that he has continued Lampard’s fine work in bringing on players like Mount, he has been ruthless in jettisoning the likes of Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi.
A foreign boss will always be scrutinised for sidelining English talent but Tuchel made the calls because he does not think that Abraham is good enough and has reservations about Hudson-Odoi’s ability to perform consistently.
Such decisions are easier to make when the team is winning and Chelsea have done so consistently under their new coach.
Indeed, what was striking about Saturday’s game was how willing Chelsea were to engage with City from the first whistle. They had no interest in trying to grow into the contest, in trying to stay with City and then grab the game late on or even in extra-time or penalties.
No, there was no cat and mouse here. Chelsea sensed possibility and chased it down. The Mount-Chilwell axis down the left side functioned superbly all night while Kante judged the rhythm and flow of the game perfectly. He was not Chelsea’s best player in the first half. Mount probably was.
But as the game wore on and the weight of City’s territory and possession threatened to sit heavy on Chelsea, Kante became the central figure in the resistance.
The last 10 minutes were frantic as City grew desperate but Kante appeared as though he was playing in his own vacuum, a place where he was always allowed to be one thought, one yard and one touch ahead of everybody else. It takes special gifts to make football look that straightforward.
And all this without a goalscorer. Chelsea’s search for a solution to that problem will go on into the summer. Their elevated standing will certainly help with that now.
On Saturday, Timo Werner could have punished City’s haphazardness on two early occasions. In the second half, Christian Pulisic seemed ready to kill the game by finishing off a thrilling counter. A 2-0 scoreline would not have flattered Chelsea but the American could not score, either.
Rather like their opponents, Chelsea would be improved immediately by a reliable centre forward. That will excite Tuchel, as will the clear potential in this group of players. Chelsea head into the summer as the champions of Europe and it is clear now that the next goal is a serious assault on the Premier League.
Tuchel celebrated with his family with the Champions League trophy after the Porto final
Abramovich was not there that night in Leicester but maybe he did not need to be. Maybe he already knew.
He was here in Porto to witness the rebirth of his club and his 11th permanent coach kiss the Champions League trophy at full time.
Nobody who ever works at Stamford Bridge should expect a long run at it. Better to rent than buy, as they say.
But of all the things we could say about Tuchel’s Chelsea, perhaps this is the most pertinent: it will be an enormous surprise if we one day look back and say that this was as good as it got.
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