How Thomas Tuchel Stamped His Mark at Chelsea
Taking over from Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge only a few weeks ago, Thomas Tuchel is already showing some quality football with the Blues.
Despite only being in charge of Chelsea for a handful of games, it’s been impressive how quickly Thomas Tuchel has stamped his mark on Chelsea since taking over from Frank Lampard.
Taking charge of an extremely talented squad full of world-class players all over the pitch, the tactically sophisticated German has gotten his message across rapidly and coherently, as Chelsea have played some quality football throughout his opening weeks in charge.
Wanting Chelsea to impose themselves on their opponents, Tuchel’s set up on the ball has been a mix between a 3-2-4-1, 3-4-2-1 and a 3-4-1-2, with the intent on dominating possession.
Although there’s only been a small sample size to work with, many interesting tactical concepts and strategies have already been evident during the former Paris Saint-Germain manager’s short tenure. Progressive, attack-minded and always looking for solutions to break down low blocks, which is what they’ve largely come up against, Chelsea have been successful so far.
The fact they’ve won five and drawn one of Tuchel’s six matches to date is a testament to his capacity to implement his ideas and comprehensively get his message across.
Always instructing his team to build out from the back in a three, this has allowed the Blues to generate an overload and horizontally stretch the first line of opposition pressure. As a result, Chelsea can usually bypass the opposition reasonably comfortably through either smart circulation to take advantage of inherently slow shifting mechanics from their foes or by using the wide central defenders to dribble upfield.
To focus on the latter, and the wide center-back dribbling has been a huge benefit, for it regularly allows Chelsea to gain territory rapidly before subsequently luring a midfielder out to apply pressure. From here, a free man will usually open up which can be accessed directly with a direct pass or by a third man combination.
Another component the advanced central defenders assist in is Chelsea’s desire to produce overloads down the flanks. When pushing on aggressively, they’ll then typically be joined by a mixture of the nearby wingback, attacking midfielder, central midfielder or the dropping striker to form advantageous 5v4, 4v3 and 3v2 superiorities.
Indeed, in such instances, the intelligent movement of Mason Mount has been notable for he picks his moments well to form ideal triangular and diamond shapes with his colleagues to offer an avenue back infield to open up the center and the far side of the field.
Before diving further into the use of forwards and attacking midfielders, the role of the double pivot in central midfield has been key in constructing and dictating tempo. Preferring Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic to fulfill these slots, Tuchel would’ve been happy with their work so far, for they’ve helped Chelsea to control possession while offering a stable base to protect the backline if possession is lost.
Crisp and incisive with their passing, plus so resistant to pressure, the pairing have formed a solid foundation from which to keep the ball and breath life into attacks with their progressive passing and ball carrying. Moreover, their clever reading of the play and positional awareness has been a real upside, as they’re forever working to support offensive passages by altering their position to provide an outlet.
With many teams marking the duo in midfield, it’s been important to note how Chelsea have used this to their favor by drawing out opponents, which has freed up space between the lines and in the half-space for the dropping forwards and attacking mids.
Much encouragement has certainly been evident from the interactions between their advanced attackers and high wingbacks, with their rotations, opposite movements and ever-improving understanding bearing fruit on many occasions. Seeing as they frequently interchange positions across the frontline, this effectively places doubt in defenders’ minds on who to mark who and in what zone. In doing so, the Chelsea attacking line can continually alter reference points for their foes, thus allowing them to gain vital separation both in front of and in behind the defense.
Well in tune with each other’s movement, when one drops, one will often go in behind, as these sharply executed opposite movements create space for either man to exploit openings while manipulating the opposition’s organization. Expertly targeting the gaps between defenders and if a defender is preoccupied or ball watching, their depth runs have been a joy to watch.
To compound issues for adversaries, Chelsea’s frontline can mix things up by positioning themselves within close proximity to one another to move the ball rapidly to unlock the opposition. Moreover, there’s been some promise how the up-back-through principle has been utilized to breakthrough low blocks by unbalancing their structure with speedy one-touch passes from the forward-facing receivers.
The wingbacks have also been extremely instrumental, as they’ve added essential width and depth to attacks, thus stretching the opposition both horizontally and vertically. Helping to pin the opposition deep to manufacture gaps and open passing lanes alongside the forwards, Chelsea have subsequently been able to enjoy promising 5v5s, 4v4s and 3v3s vs. the opposition backline, which leaves the defenders with minimal room for error.
If ever Chelsea can’t beat the press, the presence of target men like Olivier Giroud or Tammy Abraham has been valuable. Giving them a key outball, Chelsea then set up a second ball structure around them, hoping to regain the ball to attack again. Being so good in the air, Giroud has especially been excellent at hitting headed flick-ons to runners in behind or knockdowns to teammates in front of him, which has added another string to their bow. A variation that has been used every now and then has involved targeting the imposing Reece James on long balls, who can sharply win his headers to help Chelsea recover possession in the half-space.
Already forging strong relationships with one another and adapting to Tuchel’s tactics efficiently, Chelsea have looked a real force to be reckoned with going forward.
While they haven’t been forced into undertaking a great deal of defensive work due to them so heavily dominating possession, there have been some good signs of Tuchel’s proactive philosophy towards recovering the ball. This has been most prominent in their counter-pressing immediately after losing the ball, where they’ve responded sharply, eager to win it back high up to attack again against teams hoping to instigate counters of their own.
Harrying opponents aggressively while angling to cut off forward passing lanes, their instant pressure has been great to see, which has seen them keep the pressure on deep sitting teams, offering them no respite.
On top of the players’ intensity and commitment, their spacing has ensured access can usually be instant in case of turnovers, therefore enhancing their chances of regaining possession as soon as possible.
If their opponents are passing out from the back, Chelsea have been keen to press high to make life difficult for their adversaries to bypass them, displaying a willingness to limit receivers’ time and space on the ball. Early signs have seen Chelsea be pretty effective in achieving their aim, but more evidence is needed against teams who are more expansive and want to hold on to the ball to get a better overall picture.
Upon looking back at his smartly devised pressing scheme from the Champions League final vs. Bayern Munich, where his asymmetrical 4-4-2 shape stifled Bayern, and it’s obvious what a clever tactician he is in this regard.
Instilling his demands into his players wonderfully, they performed multiple roles depending on the situation. For example, PSG’s trio of midfielders would usually monitor Bayern’s three central mids except when pressing wide when the ball went to the fullback. Neymar would then press the closest central defender while keeping Thiago in his cover shadow. Meanwhile, Kylian Mbappe would have to choose between harrying the ball near fullback, center mid or center-back depending on the ball’s location. To round things out, Angel Di Maria curved his press towards center-half David Alaba, while blocking the route to fullback Alphonso Davies.
Some numbers that show their pressing success comes from how they’ve only let the opposition average 8.63 passes per defensive action so far, a figure that would rank first in the Premier League at present ahead of Leeds United (9.22 PPDA).
Even though it’s still early days in his tenure at Chelsea, the signs have been overwhelmingly positive, with the German proving what an exceptional coach he is. “From the minute he came in he made his style of play very evident and clear and I think we have taken that onboard very well, and you can probably see that we look like we are playing better as a team as well,” insightfully stated Reece James on Tuchel’s impact.
Transmitting his ideas rapidly to get Chelsea playing with greater authority and coherence, keeping track of how they fare under his expert tutelage will be fascinating.
With Chelsea still in the Champions League, FA Cup and just one point behind fourth-placed Liverpool, if they can continue their upward trajectory under Tuchel, this campaign definitely has the potential to be one to remember.