Thomas Tuchel registered his first win with Chelsea with a 2-0 success over Burnley on Sunday. What can be learnt from the German’s first two games in charge?
Is Jorginho the focal point once more?
One aspect of Tuchel’s short tenure that has intrigued is how soon he has decided to imprint his philosophy on a side, who, if rumours are to be believed, felt that tactical instructions under Frank Lampard were both basic and unclear. This is evidenced by the change in formation to a 3-4-2-1 or 3-4-3 from Lampard’s 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3.
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This change in formation coincides with a return to possession-based football and the re-emergence of Jorginho as a focal point in midfield, much like he was under Maurizio Sarri. Under Lampard he was by no means frozen out, but with N'Golo Kante dropping deeper and Lampard encouraging the centre backs to pass out from the back, his importance was reduced. However, on Wednesday during the 0-0 draw against Wolves, Jorginho made a whopping 132 passes as part of Chelsea’s 820 - the most in the Premier League this season and the most ever during a new manager’s first game.
According to the official Premier League website, Jorginho made 84.27 passes per match under Sarri in the 2018/19 season compared to 72.81 last season under Lampard and only 59.92 so far this season, thus hinting at a waning influence. However, Tuchel’s arrival has signalled the return of Jorginho as a pivotal figure in a double-pivot with Mateo Kovacic, who made 148 passes against Wolves. This is at first glance slightly reminiscent of the manner in which Tuchel deployed Ilkay Gundogan and Julian Weigl at Borussia Dortmund.
Regarding the switch to three centre-backs seen in Tuchel’s first two games in charge, we can draw a cursory comparison with another Chelsea manager in Antonio Conte. The Italian, similar to Tuchel, used a 3-4-3 during his time at Stamford Bridge, with Marcos Alonso at left wing-back, Cesar Azpilicueta at right centre-back and a converted winger at right wing-back when Chelsea won the Premier League in the 2016/17 season. Tuchel, as Conte did with Victor Moses, has asked Callum Hudson-Odoi to play at right wing-back, and the 20-year-old's performances against Wolves and Burnley suggest this decision could bear fruit. In spite of the similarities in shape though, there are stark differences in playing style and the type of players at their disposal in midfield and attack.
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Was Tuchel really brought in specifically to get the best out of Havertz and Werner?
Rather worryingly, with the ink barely dry on Tuchel’s contract, there were baseless suggestions that he would be some kind of magic bullet to help big-money signings Timo Werner and Kai Havertz find form. On the contrary, it is far from certain that either will function well within his system.
For example, it has been suggested that Werner needs to play centrally in order to perform at his best, which is where he typically played at RB Leipzig. He got 30 goals and 13 assists in 38 games from that position in the Bundesliga last season; he was only limited to rare outings on the left during his time there. At Chelsea, due to competition from Olivier Giroud and Tammy Abraham, playing on the left-wing has been his predominant role and it is one that he has struggled in. Early signs with Tuchel in charge indicate that is unlikely to change, with Werner not featuring at all against Wolves before starting on the left against Burnley. He did move centrally when Abraham was substituted at half-time but his performance there was quiet and rarely threatening.
Havertz might have a clearer role in the team as one of the two players playing off the central striker. This theory has been given weight by the German starting in that position against Wolves and coming on there as a substitute against Burnley. Even so, it remains to be seen which two out of Havertz, Mason Mount, Hakim Ziyech, Christian Pulisic and Werner will play there if Chelsea stick with this formation. It is highly doubtful two or three of the aforementioned players will be content with bench roles.
Is the 18-month contract a concern?
Most managerial appointments are relatively short-term nowadays due to the reactionary nature of modern football. Chelsea are one of the biggest culprits of that short-termism. Therefore, neither Lampard’s sacking nor Tuchel’s 18-month contract should come as a surprise, especially considering Lampard played under nine Chelsea managers himself. That's not including Mourinho’s second spell or Ray Wilkins’ solitary match in caretaker charge. Meanwhile, Tuchel only spent roughly two years apiece at Dortmund and PSG. He even brushed off concerns over his contract length in a press conference this week, saying:
If they are not happy, they will sack me anyway.
Tuchel was sacked by PSG despite being one point off the top of the table, reaching the Champions League final last season, winning the league title in both of his seasons and having the highest win percentage in Ligue 1 history. When, and not if, he is sacked he will be the least surprised of all. Maybe that is why he has made such sweeping tactical changes so soon.
Perhaps disappointingly for some fans, Chelsea’s academy could once again become an afterthought, as indicated by the impending departure of Billy Gilmour on loan and the fact Fikayo Tomori has already left. Lampard’s connection with the club and a transfer embargo during his first season meant he was keener than most previous managers at Stamford Bridge to make use of the academy. Now the club legend’s gone, all sentimentality has been thrown out of the window too and we are back to the ruthlessness that has defined Roman Abramovich’s time as owner.
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