Thomas Tuchel reaches Chelsea anniversary as stunning success despite recent stumble

German manager hits one year at club having secured major silverware to a demanding owner - but knows Blues role is rarely a long-term one

Powered by automated translation

Thomas Tuchel’s anniversary falls on Wednesday. He was invited to describe his first 12 months at Stamford Bridge. The answer involved understatement. “A nice year, a good year,” said the first manager to take Chelsea to the finals of each of the FA Cup, the League Cup and the Champions League.

His new side were 10th before his first game and champions of Europe little more than four months later. Tuchel’s transformative effect was such that he looked the game’s outstanding defensive strategist.

His choices of adjectives may have reflected the demanding nature of a manager who can invariably identify scope for improvement. But had the question been posed after he had been in charge for 10 months, his response may have been more emphatic.

Since then, Chelsea have only won four of 12 league games, dropping 16 points, going from three points ahead of Manchester City to 10 behind.

December and January have seen a different side of Tuchel, a grumpier figure. When Chelsea’s matchday programme mentioned the number of games each club has played since the November international break – Sunday’s win against Tottenham was their 19th, two more than anyone else – it echoed his complaints.

The last two months have all but eliminated Chelsea from the title race, highlighted Tuchel’s uncertain relationship with Romelu Lukaku and his struggle to get the best from his record signing.

It also touched on a wider issue: one of his rare failings is that too few of Chelsea’s gifted attackers have played to their potential under him. If they are to challenge Manchester City and Liverpool over 38 games, he needs to find a formula to be more prolific. But both individually and as a unit, defenders and midfielders have flourished.

Rewind a year and it would have sounded utterly implausible to suggest that Jorginho would be named Uefa’s Player of the Year for 2021.

Tuchel’s numbers reflect both his prowess and Chelsea’s workload. His 40 wins in a calendar year, even excluding the Super Cup penalty shootout triumph over Villarreal, puts him second only to Jose Mourinho, who got 42 in his maiden campaign of 2004/05. He overtook Carlo Ancelotti, with 39, and Antonio Conte, with 37.

But Tuchel has overseen an extraordinary 67 games and his win rate of 60 per cent puts him behind Ancelotti (70), Mourinho (72) and Conte (79). He is entitled to argue his inheritance was worse than Mourinho’s and Ancelotti’s, and not merely because he was denied a pre-season.

His combination of an immediate impact and major silverware has marked him out as a Chelsea great. He has prospered in quintessential Chelsea fashion: Roman Abramovich may want beautiful football, but the club’s greatest managers tend to be tactically brilliant pragmatists.

Tuchel understood Chelsea’s short-termism from the start. He tends to reference the reality their managers do not have much longevity.

The sacked Frank Lampard tended to talk about the future. At his unveiling, Tuchel declared: “Chelsea is about results. I am in a club whose DNA is to win.” He talked immediately of challenging for the Champions League. He arrived with excellent English and spoke Chelsea’s language from the start.

A reputation as an awkward customer preceded him from Paris Saint-Germain but he has managed upwards better. “The support here at the club, from day one, it’s been outstanding,” he said on Sunday. “I feel like I can be the best version of myself.”

And the best version of Tuchel has been a revelation. Chelsea’s recent slide has offered reminders of how perilous the manager’s position can be. Mourinho, in 2007, was the last to bring up his third anniversary. Perhaps emulating him would be a greater achievement than winning the Champions League.

Updated: January 25, 2022, 3:50 AM