It was a whirlwind first month for Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea.
Seven games. Five wins. Two goals conceded. Zero loss. A public disguise of a player.
Oh, and thousands and thousands of passes.
The net result is widespread acceptance that Chelsea have made an upgrade by sacking big club Frank Lampard and replacing him with a more experienced tactician at Tuchel, who has already put his own mark on the squad as he he comes to life in English football.
The schedule has been pleasant for the German coach so far, however, with Premier League games against out of form sides (Wolves, Tottenham and Southampton) or relegation contenders (Newcastle, Burnley and Sheffield United) flanking an FA Cup match at the Barnsley Second-Division Club.
Now is the time for the toughest test by far of Tuchel’s tenure at Chelsea – a final 16 in the Champions League against Spanish league leaders Atletico Madrid and his nearly 10-year-old coach Diego. Simeone.
“This is exactly what we want, the biggest test,” Tuchel said on Monday. “Because I hope it brings out the best in us. When you play against Atletico what you get is clear: you get tough fights, an experienced squad, a lot of mentality.
“We will do it our way, and they will do it their way.”
The statistics under Thomas Tuchel and Frank Lampard are interesting to read. Your thoughts? pic.twitter.com/CoIOboASEN
– Frank Khalid (@FrankKhalidUK) February 22, 2021
So what has Chelsea’s ‘path’ been since Tuchel arrived on January 26, a day after Lampard’s sacking and a day before Tuchel took charge of his first game?
In a clear game plan change, Tuchel immediately switched formation, going from Lampard’s 4-2-3-1 to a three-way defense with tall full-backs and two seated midfielders to protect the back line.
Further, Tuchel sought to make the most of the offseason by signing Timo Werner by deploying him as an inside striker, positioned to the left and right next to the main striker, who alternated between Olivier Giroud and Tammy Abraham.
Slate has been cleaned up in the squad, with a number of players brought back including left-back Marcos Alonso – who hadn’t played since September under Lampard – center-back Antonio Rudiger and Callum Hudson-Odoi , a winger who is occasionally functioning as a right-back under Tuchel.
Reliable club captain Cesar Azpilicueta has been a regular on the team as a right center-half. His days had seemed numbered under Lampard.
Then there was the clear change in style of play, with Chelsea dominating the ball and having at least 70% possession in four of the seven matches. Against Wolverhampton Wanderers, Chelsea had 79% possession and completed 820 assists – more than any other team in a Premier League game this season.
🗣 “I can understand what he feels like that because the value and the competition that we are in the PL is a much higher value than for PSG in their league”
Thomas Tuchel responds to Thiago Silva saying he feels less pressure to win Champions League at Chelsea compared to PSG pic.twitter.com/8p4CA6B52Q
– Daily Football (@footballdaily) February 22, 2021
Yet some old habits die hard. Chelsea continue to struggle to convert their dominance of matches and territorial pressure into goals, as in the 1-1 draw at Southampton on Saturday when Tuchel lamented his side’s “lack of precision”.
“I didn’t feel in the last 20 meters that we were going to kill the game,” he said.
Expect odds to be scarce against Atletico’s experienced and reputedly robust defense as Tuchel takes charge of a different second team in this season’s Champions League, after leading 2019 finalist Paris Saint-Germain -2020, in the group stage before being fired. December.
Tuchel said Chelsea would have to “outperform” to overtake Atletico.
“This is only possible if you feel a connection between the players as a coach, and I feel those things,” he said.
Tuchel said Hudson-Odoi was in contention to start the first leg on Tuesday, having pulled the 20-year-old England international just 30 minutes after bringing him to half-time against Southampton – claiming his ‘attitude’ was not correct.
It was Tuchel’s first open argument with a player since joining, underscoring his reputation as a one-minded coach who isn’t afraid to speak his mind.
Tuchel said on Monday he spoke to Hudson-Odoi in front of the team in training and the case was over.
“Sometimes you ask yourself, ‘Should I have done that?’” Said Tuchel, “because the media, the outside, the family make him bigger than he wants. Still, I did and got the reaction I wanted.
“I said after the game that it was the decision for today, it is the lesson for him to learn. For me too.”
Indeed, Tuchel still has a lot to learn about his squad, highlighting the scale of his task against Atletico as he seeks to outsmart a Simeone coach who has held his post since 2011.
“You know you get to the top when you play Atletico in the first round of knockouts,” Tuchel said. “We feel confident. We feel excited. “
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