Chelsea fans have a right to be intrigued by the hiring of former Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund, and Mainz boss Thomas Tuchel to take over for Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge.
The 47-year-old has faced intimidating challenges at all three of those clubs and his task at Chelsea is less of a challenge than two of his previous appointments.
Tuchel took the reins at Mainz upon re-promotion to the Bundesliga, one season after the exit of club hero Jurgen Klopp, then followed up Klopp’s massively successful run at Dortmund before leading PSG to its first Champions League Final.
No one’s saying he’s proven to be Klopp caliber, but his work indicates that he’s proven ready for a challenge like this.
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What does he have to fix at Chelsea? Plenty, like the defense, but much of it is mental and Tuchel has brought plenty of young players along from amateurs to pros (Christian Pulisic), helping some other prospects fulfill their potential (Kylian Mbappe).
We don’t know Tuchel’s approach to a midseason takeover other than what we expect most bosses would do with this Chelsea team: lean on veterans like N’Golo Kante, Thiago Silva, and others while developing the young attacking stars. The two biggest struggling names in Chelsea’s side happen to be German, which will help as Tuchel tries to drive Timo Werner and Kai Havertz to comfortability in England.
Who is Thomas Tuchel?
The 47-year-old German played lower league football in the 1990s but retired at 25 due to a serious knee injury. He then got involved in the academy at Stuttgart before returning to Augsburg, where he once starred in the academy.
Tuchel has twice taken the reins at places Jurgen Klopp turned legendary, once directly after the current Liverpool mastermind. He’s also taken over from Unai Emery at PSG, so no fear of looming spectres.
Klopp had led Mainz to Bundesliga promotion and took over at Dortmund with the club coming off a 13th-place season, six removed from a league title. After 6th and 5th place finishes, Klopp took Dortmund to consecutive Bundesliga crowns and led the club to a Champions League final loss to Bayern.
The man has coached Thiago Silva and Christian Pulisic and some of the Chelsea players — Jorginho, Antonio Rudiger, Timo Werner — are prototypical Tuchel talents.
Bringing new success to Mainz, one boss after Klopp
There’s less to learn from Mainz in terms of comparisons to previous teams. Klopp had led Mainz to promotion but was relegated after three seasons and left before the club gained a second promotion. That’s when Tuchel was hired.
Mainz finished 11th, 11th, and 16th in Klopp’s three top-flight seasons and Jorn Andersen led another promotion campaign before Tuchel took the reins.
Tuchel led Mainz to 9th his first season and fifth his second, lasting three more years and earning 1.40 points-per-game in the Bundesliga. Klopp took 1.13 points-per-game in his three Bundesliga seasons at Mainz. That comparison is unfair to Klopp, who was shepherding a club to unexplored lands of top-flight football, but it shouldn’t take anything away from what Tuchel did pushing them fifth.
Little silverware but plenty of winning at Dortmund
Klopp had left off a seventh-place finish that came when Dortmund failed to adequately replace Robert Lewandowski, as Ciro Immobile struggled to match his numbers.
Tuchel brought in Gonzalo Castro, Roman Burki, Julian Weigl, Adnan Januzaj, and promoted a teenager named Christian Pulisic to the first team.
His first season saw Dortmund take fewer shots but grow possession by more than 11 percent, passing by almost 8 percent, and slightly lower shot attempts by the opposition. BVB finished second in the Bundesliga, 10 points off Bayern.
His second season ended with turmoil as he butted heads with the club hierarchy and was sacked on May 30, having seen possession numbers dip but passing hit a nutty 87.3 percent (By comparison only four Premier League teams have posted better numbers over the past 2.5 seasons: Man City all three seasons and Chelsea under Maurizio Sarri).
Furthermore, here are the overall records of Klopp and Tuchel at BVB. While Klopp collected way more silverware and that matters in a big way, Tuchel was far from a failure in terms of producing performances:
Klopp record at BVB: 340 matches – 162W-84D-94L — 1.68 ppg
Tuchel record at BVB: 68 – 42W-16D-10L — 2.08 ppg
Klopp’s best BVB season: 25-6-3, 81 points, 1st.
Tuchel’s best BVB season: 24-6-4, 78 points, 2nd.
Klopp’s record in Klassikers v Bayern: 10W-3D-10L
Tuchels’ record in Klassikers v Bayern: 2W-1D-4L
New (and stingy) Paris Saint-Germain heights
Tuchel took over for Unai Emery in 2018-19 for what would be the second seasons in Paris for Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
PSG was coming off the quadruple under Emery but a disappointing 5-2 loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League Round of 16. Gone were Javier Pastore, Jonathan Ikone, Yuri Berchiche, Giovani Lo Celso, Goncalo Guedes and arriving were Leandro Paredes, Thilo Kehrer, and Juan Bernat.
Tuchel’s first season saw PSG win go unbeaten in its first 22 Ligue 1 games. They won the league by 16 points, three more than Emery’s last season, scoring three fewer goals (105) and conceding six less (29). PSG went unbeaten in a tough UCL group with Liverpool, Napoli, and Red Star Belgrade but suffered a Round of 16 collapse to Man Utd collapse.
Frankly, he wouldn’t be available at another club. PSG went to its first UCL final last summer, losing 1-0 to a monstrous Bayern side in a game that they were second-best but not by much.
And look how Tuchel’s league seasons compare to Emery’s quadruple season despite Neymar and Kylian Mbappe continuing the injury and suspension troubles.
PSG shots, possession, passing, shots against
2017-18 (Emery) 16.4 (1st) | 62.6 (1st) | 89.6 (1st) | 10.8 (3rd)
2018-19 (Tuchel): 14.8 (2nd) | 60.4 (1st) | 88.9 (1st) | 10.5 (2nd)
2019-20 (Tuchel): 16.6 (1st) | 61.8 (1st) | 89.9 (1st) | 9.9 (t-2nd)
So what to expect in London?
There will probably be an immediate bump as Chelsea finally finds a motivated and consistent stance this season, but it will likely take until August for us to see a real Tuchel team at Stamford Bridge. That’s because a Tuchel system is more about philosophies than formation, though that doesn’t mean he won’t adopt something straight-forward.
There will also be turnover this summer, assuming he makes it that far. But not a ton. Chelsea is extremely talented. As much as Frank Lampard impressed last season in producing under a transfer ban, his arrogance in player choice hurt the Blues in Year No. 2.
Tuchel will work to reinstill confidence in Havertz and develop Callum Hudson-Odoi, Reece James, Billy Gilmour, and Tammy Abraham. Expect a lot of Werner and Pulisic (and probably Hakim Ziyech). Mason Mount will be an interesting case, as he’s been quite good under Lampard but will he still be borderline undroppable under a new boss with so many other options?