Thomas Tuchel brought up 100 days at Chelsea on Thursday, fresh from becoming the first manager to reach back-to-back Champions League finals with different clubs. The temptation is to call in the first 100 days in charge of anything since Franklin Delano Roosevelt coined the phrase and made an immediate impact.
As Timo Werner put it: “When we started under the new manager we were 10th in the league. Now we can reach everything.” It might not have made for pleasant listening for Frank Lampard, but Chelsea could do the Di Matteo double of winning the FA Cup and the Champions League, but with the bonus of a top-four finish as well.
It may say something for the peculiar dynamics of a club that has institutionalised instability that Chelsea have reached three Champions League finals, each after a mid-season managerial switch.
If Manchester City represent one model, qualifying for the final in their fifth season under Pep Guardiola and with a squad largely signed by him, Chelsea are another.
Saturday's league game is a dress rehearsal for the showpiece in Istanbul; perhaps for next season’s title race, too. City could clinch the title now, but they are the only team with more points than Chelsea since Tuchel’s arrival. No one has conceded fewer. And he has done it with his predecessors’ players, in a quintessentially Chelsea way.
The pattern of rejuvenating those who had been consigned to the margins continues. In 2012, Lampard captained Chelsea after a season when he had been dropped at times by Andre Villas-Boas. In 2021, Cesar Azpilicueta, demoted to second-choice right-back by Lampard, will lead out Tuchel’s team, his fortunes transformed to such an extent that he now looks the first choice in two positions.
Antonio Rudiger only started one league game before Christmas, but is now a cornerstone of the defence. Chelsea have only conceded nine goals in the 27 matches he has started.
Jorginho, who indelicately suggested that Lampard was not ready for the Chelsea job, is the Maurizio Sarri ally who has produced his best Blues form for Tuchel. Alongside him, N’Golo Kante has proved that, while Sarri and Lampard rarely played him as such, he is at his finest as a “double six,” in Tuchel’s terminology, one of two defensive midfielders.
That Kante and Kevin de Bruyne have both got three of Uefa’s man-of-the-match awards in the knockout stages sets the scene nicely for a final battle between destroyer and creator. That Kante was honoured for both legs against Real Madrid highlighted his influence. A catalyst in winning Premier Leagues and a World Cup may add another medal. He proved the scourge of Real’s ageing midfield. They looked a team in decline. The balance of power in Europe has seemed to shift north.
Chelsea v Real Madrid player ratings
Chelsea have dented Real’s chances of renewal. Kai Havertz struck the woodwork twice in another game where he provided everything but the goal. Rewind a little over a year and the expectation in Germany was that he would join Real. Then Covid exerted an effect on their finances and Chelsea took advantage of a market where others could not spend. And yet even as Havertz and Werner’s misses are preventing Tuchel’s Chelsea from being more prolific with a recurring theme of control being undermined by profligacy, it is notable that Mason Mount remains the automatic choice in the front three.
Lampard’s protégé is a study in exponential improvement. There was something symbolic in him scoring the goal that clinched Chelsea’s place in the final, just as there was when he got the opener in Porto and the winner against Liverpool.
It was impossible not to hark back 20 months to Old Trafford, to Lampard’s old mentor Jose Mourinho criticising him for pitching the youngster in for a Premier League debut at Old Trafford. Mourinho was far from Mount’s only doubter, but he is not alone in being proved spectacularly wrong. Mount looks a shoo-in to be named Chelsea’s player of the year, in what might yet prove the outstanding campaign in their history.
“We can achieve greatness,” said Mount. They can do it in an inimitably Chelsea way, of expensive underachievement and unhappy mediocrity giving way to something special.