Photo Credit: Daily Express
589 days after Thomas Tuchel was hired by Chelsea FC, Thomas Tuchel is gone. The 2021 UEFA Champions League (UCL) winning manager was fired by Chelsea FC early Wednesday morning following a dreadful 1-0 defeat to Croatian club Dinamo Zagreb in the group stage of the UCL. Reports state new Chelsea owner Todd Boehly and the rest of the club's ownership planned to fire Tuchel regardless of the result against Dinamo Zagreb. Regardless, the news of Tuchel's firing sent shockwaves across the football world, similar to the firing of club legend Frank Lampard. Before we look forward, let's look back.
Thomas Tuchel was the former Paris Saint Germain (PSG) manager who managed mega-stars Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. Though Tuchel led PSG to the 2020 UCL Final in August 2020, a fallout with PSG's ownership led to his firing on December 24, 2020. A new club sporting director that was hired after Tuchel did not get along with the PSG manager causing the decision to let him go - keep this in mind for later.
About a month later on January 25, 2021, Chelsea fired then current manager Frank Lampard, which surprised many considering how brief Lampard's time was with the club and his status as club legend. For context, Lampard was manager for 571 days, 18 less than Tuchel. Just one day after Lampard was let go, Chelsea hired Thomas Tuchel.
Tuchel was seen as a savior of the club. Though Tuchel's offense wasn't flashy or highly productive, it didn't matter. Chelsea's high-energy, high-pressing defensive tactics coupled with smart counter-attacking propelled the Blues to the UCL title. Along the way, Tuchel got the better of other top managers Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti, and Diego Simeone. Chelsea was back to the top of club football and was primed to continue this momentum into the 2020-2021 Premier League season, especially after signing superstar striker Romelu Lukaku from Italian club Inter Milan for $135 million - more on him later.
Though Chelsea was top of the league on December 4, 2021, a loss to West Ham dropped the Blues to 3rd, which is where Chelsea finished in the league. 3rd doesn't seem too bad until you realize Chelsea finished a distant 19 points behind champions Manchester City. To win the Premier League, that massive gap had to be closed. But Tuchel would have to close that gap under a new owner and management.
Former Chelsea owner and Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich was forced to sell Chelsea FC due to his ties with Vladimir Putin amid the war in Ukraine. On May 30, 2022, the club was sold to an investment group led by LA Dodgers owner Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital. What followed were months of uncertainty and a turbulent, yet expensive transfer window. Tuchel was given more power to choose what players to sign; Lukaku was sent back to Inter on loan; and Chelsea spent $310.2 million on players Raheem Sterling, Kalidou Koulibaly, Wesley Fofana, Marc Cucarella, and more.
After a lackluster start to the season where Chelsea's best performance was a 2-2 draw against Tottenham at home, Chelsea sits 6th in the league picking up only 10 out of a possible 18 points. Though the loss to Dinamo Zagreb didn't help matters, The Telegraph reported the plan to fire Tuchel seemed to be in place for several weeks as Tuchel was to be fired regardless of the result on Tuesday.
But why? And am I mad about it? The answer to the first question has two parts.
1. Thomas Tuchel did not get along with the new ownership/management group causing the decision to let him go.
Sound familiar? It should because it's the exact same thing that happened to Tuchel at PSG. At the start of the transfer window, Tuchel was given much more say than he ever had before in which players the club should sign. On one hand, this should be a good thing for a manager to have more say in the players he coaches. But as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsiblity. According to reports such as the one from The Telegraph, Tuchel did not like this additional responsibility expressing this multiple times in the press and presumably to the owners.
2. Tuchel didn't put his players in the best position to score goals. The players are not blameless. Chelsea's pathetic performances against Leeds United, Southampton, Dinamo Zagreb, and even a lifeless 1-0 opening day win against bottom of the league Everton had a lot to do with the players' lack of giving a damn. Even Chelsea's two other wins left a lot to be desired.
But Tuchel not changing his tactics to put attacking players in the best position to score goals is a big reason why he was fired. Christian Pulisic, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Reece James, Connor Gallagher, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Hakim Ziyech are just some of the players who were played out of position to fit Tuchel's defensive 3-4-3 formation. But the best example of Tuchel not putting his players in the best position to score goals is Romelu Lukaku's 2021/2022 season with Chelsea.
Photo Credit: Goal.com
Chelsea spent $135 million for Lukaku because of his fantastic 2020 season with Inter Milan. At Inter, Lukaku played in a 3-5-2 formation alongside fellow striker Lautaro Martinez. Martinez was known for his direct runs behind the defense. This allowed Lukaku to come short, receive the ball in space, turn, and either pass to Martinez stretching the defense or run at defenders forcing them off balance and having a shot himself. Lukaku was at his best being more involved with build up play with the ball at his feet.
Yet, Tuchel never made small tweaks to his tactics to get the best out of Lukaku. Tuchel instead stuck with his 3-4-3 where Lukaku was the lone striker with two wingers next to him. These wingers usually received the ball eliminating Lukaku's greatest strength and turning him into an off-ball player rarely involved in Chelsea's build-up play.
If only Chelsea had another striker known for his smart runs behind the defense. Oh wait, Chelsea did. Kai Havertz and Timo Werner made their mark in Germany's Bundesliga by making runs and using their pace. Though Havertz would've been the better fit because he's a better finisher, either striker would've complimented Lukaku's strengths. But Tuchel didn't care and never changed his tactics to fit the player Chelsea spent $135 million for. Was Lukaku's attitude a problem? Yes. However, were Tuchel's tactics and managerial style a problem? Absolutely.
Do I think Tuchel should've been fired? No. He should've been given more time to turn it around. But to answer the second question, am I mad he was let go? No.
Love them or hate them, Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital are the owners of Chelsea FC. If they believe Thomas Tuchel is the cause of the poor run of recent form, then they have every right to fire Tuchel. But when you fire a coach, there must be a better replacement available. Enter former Brighton & Hove Albion manager and one of the best managers in England, Graham Potter.
Photo Credit: chelsea-news.co
Potter was a wizard for Brighton considering what he did with that roster. He took a team without any star power to 9th in the Premier League, Brighton's highest ever finish. His tactics are akin to a Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola with the perfect mix of pressing and fluid, energetic attack. Unlike Thomas Tuchel, Potter is known to tweak his tactics to fit his roster and perhaps more importantly, exploit his opponent's weaknesses. But what truly differentiates the two coaches is how Potter balances creating a winning team with player development and man management. Potter always seems to get the best from his players, something Tuchel has struggled with.
After Chelsea sacked Frank Lampard and hired Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea won the Champions League and looked like a top club in the world. Will the same thing happen after Chelsea sacked Thomas Tuchel and hired Graham Potter? Probably not. But I believe Graham Potter will go from "The Boy Who Lived" at Brighton, to "The Man Who Thrived" at Chelsea.
Francis Carlota is a writer for Off the Ball Network and host of NBA podcast The Up & Under. Follow him on twitter @sluggasports, instagram @franciscarlota, and find his podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
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