Having unceremoniously sacked Julian Nagelsmann (we’re still coming to terms with that one, don’t worry), Bayern Munich prepare to close out the most critical part of the season with Thomas Tuchel. There’s no time to get familiar with the new coach, since he kicks off his tenure with a potentially title-deciding game against Borussia Dortmund this Saturday.
Given that most of us in this fanbase haven’t followed Tuchel closely since he left the Bundesliga, we thought it would be a good idea to get an expert’s opinion. Thankfully, Dávid Pásztor of We Ain’t Got No History, SB Nation’s blog on all things Chelsea, was happy to answer some questions about Bayern’s new coach.
Here’s what he had to say.
Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea played a different style of football compared to his time with Mainz and Dortmund in the Bundesliga. What prompted that change and how did fans feel about it?
Broadly speaking — entire features, or even a website, could be written about this — but Tuchel’s tactics were informed by circumstance as well as personnel available to him. Famously, Tuchel and his two trusty assistants (Arno Michels and Zsolt Lőw) arrived at the height of the pandemic in early 2021, had about 24 hours with the squad, and then had their first game (a 0-0 draw).
Given the lack of time, they (rightly) identified that the best setup for the team was to use a compact back-three with a midfield pivot and heavy emphasis on wing-backs. Similar tactics were used frequently under two of the three previous coaches as well, Frank Lampard and Antonio Conte (and Tuchel’s replacement, Graham Potter, has still found most of his limited success in a similar fashion as well).
The three center backs brought the best out of Thiago Silva, put N’Golo Kanté in the position of maximum impact (most notably in the final rounds of the 2021 Champions League), and gave the burden of generating results to our talented wing-backs, Reece James and Ben Chilwell.
In his own words, Tuchel set out to make Chelsea “hard to beat” (which Chelsea were not, under his predecessor), and he delivered on that promise, especially in knockout competitions where we would reach six cup finals in his 18 months in charge, winning three (Champions League, Super Cup, Club World Cup, losing the FA Cup twice, and the League Cup once — two of those three losses coming on penalties).
The football may not have been spectacularly attacking, but it was built on solid modern principles: high pressing, possession, build-up through short passing. At times Tuchel tried to introduce a more direct style (especially in the second season), but without much success. A defense-first Tuchel may not have been expected after his teams in Paris and Dortmund, but he crafted a system that worked best for what he was given to work with.
During the past 20 years, under the ownership of Roman Abramovich, the only requirement for Chelsea coaches was to win. Tuchel met those expectations perfectly — for the majority of the fans as well — and he fit very well into the setup we used to have at the club.
Ahead of that second (first full) season, the attack was reinforced by a club-record signing in Romelu Lukaku, but after leading the Premier League for the first few months of that season, things went south. We could not adjust for key injuries (both wing-backs and Kanté frequently unfit), the attack remained stagnant as the Lukaku situation blew up, and the title-challenge was gone. We still finished comfortably in the top-four and reached a couple finals, but Tuchel’s apparent inability and/or unwillingness to change the system was starting to raise more and more questions.
Still, the new ownership seemed ready to give him all the power, until they changed their minds not long after.
When it comes to on-pitch responsibilities, what weaknesses did Tuchel show in his time ay Chelsea?
I’m not sure there were definite “weaknesses”, though some aspects certainly could have been done differently, especially in hindsight.
Tuchel’s insistence to stay with the Kanté/wingback-centric setup even in the frequent absences of the players required to make that system work the best wasn’t ideal. He had hinted at a need to change that up this season, but he never really got the chance to show what he might have (or might not have) had in mind. He was also unable to really ever get the Chelsea attack to deliver consistently, although that’s been an issue in this team for a while now.
Squad rotation and selection policies only really became an issue when results weren’t spectacular, and those players who weren’t playing despite subpar results started grumbling. However, compared to many other managers at the club over the past two decades, Tuchel kept the dressing room relatively harmonious overall. (Winning always helps!)
Youth development was never high on the priority list, though he still found ways to hand out some minutes and a few debuts to Academy youngsters, including most notably in a League Cup quarterfinal against Brentford, when three teenagers, 18 or younger made their full debuts (and won!) as we grappled with fixture congestion and an injury list in the double-digits.
What were the circumstances of Tuchel’s departure from Chelsea?
It’s not clear how far we need to go back, but after Chelsea won the Club World Cup in February 2022, things became rather dramatic as the club went through sanctions and then a quick-sale to new ownership that was completed at the end of May. Tuchel stayed in charge throughout a tumultuous summer before being let go one week into September.
Throughout that period, results on the pitch suffered not unexpectedly. When the head coach has to field questions about whether the team will have fuel for the bus to travel to the next game, or whether we’ll have money to pay our employees, there may be some extra concerns and pressures.
We finished last season by winning just 6 times in 14 tries (including a defeat in the FA Cup final and near-historic comeback against Real Madrid, away), and began this season with just 3 wins in 7 games. That’s not a great standard by (previous) Chelsea standards, but his sacking ultimately didn’t have much to do with that.
Was the sacking justified?
I should preface this answer (and all the other answers) by acknowledging my personal bias in that I was a big fan of Tuchel (both his personality and his approach to the game) and much less of a fan of his replacement, but Tuchel’s sacking, for me, was not at all justified.
His results hadn’t been brilliant since the last few months of the previous season, and preseason was a bit of a mess with too much travel, too many changes at the club, too much of everything, but not all of that was his fault. I’m sure he would’ve found (better) solutions to our issues, just as he had navigated a truly unprecedented 18 months with aplomb (from a pandemic, to sanctions and existential threats due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, to then a forced sale of the club).
That said, Tuchel’s sacking had less to do with results or anything football-related, and pretty much everything to do with behind the scenes issues. In that regard, his sacking was probably justified — certainly from the owners’ perspective — but it would’ve been a lot better if they had just done it earlier. The timing, 100 days into their reign but only a few days after the summer transfer window closed, was horrendous for all involved, including the players (including those Tuchel just brought in), the club, and not to mention his replacement, Graham Potter.
When they took over, Todd Boehly & Co made it very clear that they wanted to build around Tuchel as our long-term head coach. But then they went about destroying (reorganizing) the entire backroom and front-office setup at the club.
As a consequence, the coach was saddled with the responsibilities of a sporting director for the summer. Tuchel made it pretty clear that he didn’t like this — he knew his own limitations, and it also affected his ability (and time spent) on coaching the team.
He complained about this in public as well, but just when it looked like he could finally concentrate on just coaching (the summer window closed and new recruiters and directors were about to be brought in), he was sacked 100 days into the job. Boehly said that Tuchel “didn’t share our vision of the future” and didn’t really want to “collaborate” the way they had imagined he would.
Insiders’ reports spoke of a strained working relationship, with Tuchel not responsive and accommodating enough to people new to the world of professional football. “It wasn’t a decision that was made as a result of a single win or loss; it was a decision that was made really about what we thought was the right vision for the club,” said the Chelsea chairman and co-owner. If you can’t work with your bosses (however reasonable or unreasonable they may be), you will get fired in any job.
Where do you think Chelsea would be right now if Tuchel had stayed?
There is no doubt in my mind that we would be better off now if Tuchel had stayed.
While some of the things that Potter has had to deal with — even more key injuries, and then a massively bloated first-team squad of 30+ players — would’ve caused problems for any coach, he has looked unable to deal with the pressures, the demands, and the magnitude of his position, especially once a bad result or two crept in after a decent first month on the job.
Notably, Tuchel lost back-to-back games just twice in his 100-match tenure (and never three in a row). Potter has already lost three in a row, three times, in just 30 games! And even as the new ownership have shown immense patience for him to start instituting some style of play, we’ve looked largely incoherent on the pitch while putting together the worst run of results in three decades. They remain fully committed to him growing into this assignment, but the jury remains out.
I have no doubt Tuchel would’ve dealt with the challenges in a much more effective fashion, and without dropping our standards to mid-table. Alas, we will never know.
A huge thanks to Dávid for taking the time to answer our questions! Now that you have more info, has you opinion changed on Tuchel’s appointment? Comment below! Also, don’t forget to check out our latest podcast episode, concerning the wider implications of this move and a lot more! Listen below or at on Spotify.
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