"We are beginning to learn that the narrowness and rigidity of formations are no longer quite there. Maybe they are no longer that important."
Tuchel famously said in 2016, ideating with students at Universität Witten-Herdecke. To this day it remains one of his many incredible quotes that perfectly capture his strong footballing ideology and belief.
He is a revolutionary, or, as Christoph Biermann put it in words better than mine, a 'rule-breaker'. He talks a fair bit about Tuchel's constant willingness to learn and innovate in his insightful book "Football Hackers", and the title applies even to Tuchel. His fierce and strong personality and ability to handle big egos is known by all, but his career journey, making him this ultra-successful, tactically brilliant coach is all the more interesting when we see his coaching practices.
This is not a tactical analysis of Thomas Tuchel's play-style, for there are many better suited to writing such a piece than I am. Neither is it a documentation of his journey from failed footballer to tactical mastermind. Rather, it is an attempt at understanding his philosophy of the beautiful game through what we can see on the pitch, and what went on behind the scenes. How he sees things, how he implements them. And in truth, it's fascinating.
What is Tuchel's strategy?
After Tuchel's gloriously successful stint at Chelsea, it has become much of a growing stigma: Thomas Tuchel is a defensive coach. FC Bayern have always been a club who's ideals are deep rooted in the fluidity of attacking football. It's no surprise that many fans, inclusive of myself are totally against such a rudimentary, sat-back system to come into play at the club.
It is, obviously, untrue.
And that brings us to our main point — we've seen Tuchel gain success almost everywhere. But, many want to properly understand what one can expect from a Bayern team, under the 'Deutsche Mastero'. And for that, it is crucial to understand what type of a coach Tuchel is.
Tuchel being one of the best coaches on the planet, has an ability to come into a club, analyse and identify the possible playstyle and successfully implement what he sees fit for the situation. It is one of his great traits, and has been very well showcased during his early Dortmund days. When he succeeded Klopp, Klopp's gegenpressing ideals very still very visible throughout Tuchel's system. Yet, by the end of his tenure, he had experimented and implemented his own plethora of playstyles, the most notable one being Piszczek dropping deep to make way for his three at the back systems.
Thomas Tuchel and Jurgen Klopp (formerly at Dortmund) pictured laughing with each other. (Source: Sky Sports)
But there isn't any 'defining' system for Tuchel. 4-2-3-1? 4-2-2-2? 4-3-3? Heck, 3-2-4-1? 3-5-2? To quote the man himself,
"The system (in attack) is merely a framework that enables individuality to function. It is not rigid — but rather to be used as only a guidance."
To him, basic formations lost most of its relevance in the modern game. Tuchel's match-plan is less about a system, or a framework.
Tuchel's tactical preparations before every game rely almost always on the opponent. It is his firm belief to play the game to counter the opposition, as he'd see fit. It is worth noting how meticulously he crafts a plan for every game. Tuchel was one of the early believers in statistical analysis. He laid great emphasis on statistical evaluation of his team's performance. For him, it is equally important to know the team he's at odds with very well too. If they play a 4-2-3-1, Tuchel would line up a 4-1-4-1.
Tuchel's antics: a different view of the game.
At Mainz, he'd have his players perfect the system he thought was best for every game — even going as far as to having the B team act out the game plan of their opponents to give the players an idea of what they'd come up against. He dropped this practice soon enough, saying it proved inefficient. Even back then, him and his assistant Arno Michels and video analyst Benjamin Weber would 'disect' the opponents games and from there devise their own plan to face them.
Thomas Tuchel pictured with assistant coach Arno Michels and video analyst Benjamin Weber at PSG, who have followed him throughout the years. (Source: Getty Images)
His Mainz days earned him that 'revolutionary' status. During his stint, he broke a few pre existing beliefs or gospels: while most big clubs would have one formation throughout years (as is Bayerns 4-2-3-1), Tuchel's formation regularly flickered. Almost everyone in his Mainz team, from the first team to the youths would all regularly get their chance at Bundesliga football. And with that, he saw immense success.
One of Tuchel's famous practices at Mainz were his psychological surveys that his players were subjected to. It was the start of his phenomenal man management skills. Tuchel felt that he needed to know everything. From his players' incentives, to what makes them tick. His aim was for the players to know what he was about in order to from them to feel comfortable around him, and to create much better conditions for social interaction. He wanted to know who needed to be encouraged, who needed to have a personal conversation, who needed to be instructed - all to maximize results on the pitch.
He even went as far as testing himself - "a security-minded creative" and told his squad aspects of him own peronality he needed to work upon. He was controlling, authoritative. He was a perfectionist. He could become too indulgent and get carried away. But, he was also an enthusiast, a person who would ideate.
Tuchel has a relationship with space on the pitch. He always tells his players, "respect space" which does sound unorthodox. But his idea was not that. He remains a sort of perfectionist, taking care of the smallest of details. He understood the game on a very granular scale and made it his duty to focus on a even those aspects. For him, centimetres on the pitch can make a difference.
What really does go on inside the brain of a tactical revolutionary, with such detailed drills about interpreting space during attack? (Source: The Guardian)
Play-style & training under Tuchel
There is a play-style, Tuchel says. It's noticeable, really. His teams have focused on a possession oriented play. But, unlike Pep's "death by a thousand passes", Tuchel's teams are often seen making quick passes along the backline to retain possession. And, the very moment there is space that opens up, a groundbreaking pass, typically through the centre backs, while it could also be from the advanced fullbacks, finds its way to the attack, and it all comes together in a perfect harmony.
It is as if the players know what has to be done and when, and they had practiced every possible sequence in that game. And yet, they hadn't. Tuchel said that in training, his teams focus almost exclusively on defence. But then, where were these spurts of brilliance in attack coming from?
If we were to take every goal or every attacking chance created by any of Tuchel's teams, till date, it would be hard to find much of a similarity, with the exception that many a times, the sequence began from the back.
The reason here is, as he says, attacks arise from vastly different patterns, which vary depending on the opponent. He does however, make sure to show his players instances and weaknesses in the opposition's tactical plan which they can exploit. He shows them how to interpret the space that arises and patterns that they can implement on video, but under him, it is rarely practiced.
The amount of time in training spent on perfecting the defence explains his teams' solidity at the back. When we talk about Tuchel and his defense, the discussion shouldn't be limited to Chelsea. While it was seen most prominently there, in truth, it is shown in all of his teams. Even at PSG & Dortmund, there was a distinct style the backline followed. Whether it be a four at the back or a three at the back, it is typical for his fullbacks to be pushed forward in possession. What would start as a 4-1-4-1 formation would many a times look like 2-3-5 with the ball and in defense, 5-3-2. This dropping back of certain players to certain positions is common across all his high profile jobs so far, it shows his dedication to fluid yet flexible football.
Thomas Tuchel instructing his players in a Chelsea training session. (Source: Chelsea FC)
Tuchel and Bayern - a new beginning.
Thomas Tuchel pictured being announced to FC Bayern fans at his first pess conference with the club, alongside board members Oliver Kahn and Hasan Salihamidžić. (Source: FC Bayern, AFP)
After all, Tuchel's uniqueness as a coach is largely attributed to his travels across Europe. Experience is the greatest teacher, and Tuchel has not only 'collected' trophies, he has also gained experience. From growing up subjected to the "Swabian School of Tactics", as many influential German managers have in this era; to succeeding Klopp twice, Tuchel remains a top coach today.
And while I am not a big fan of Nagelsmann's dismissal, I am definitely a fan of Tuchel's appointment, for hardly anyone is as well versed as he is in regards to German football. And regardless of the tactics he implements at Bayern, fans can surely expect an era glittered with trophies under the man himself, Thomas Tuchel.
If you've made it this far, I'd like to thank you. This piece on Tuchel's philosophy took a TON of research & reading, and is also my first ever fan-post on BFW. Here's to more! This article marks the start of Tuchel's time at Bayern, and here is to hoping that it is one filled with great memories.