There are good days and there are bad days. Sometimes, your team makes it to the final against all odds. And sometimes, your team loses to a team you had dismissed as easy pickings. Those will be the bad days.
Not even the most optimistic of Chelsea fans can tell you they expected their season to pan out the way it did. After thrashings handed by Arsenal, Manchester City and Leicester City, their season looked bleak. Frank Lampard, a club legend, was at the helm overseeing such results, the result of which was a ninth-place standing in the league at the time. This was despite a healthy investment of a nine-figure sum in the summer.
The thought of replacing him clashed furiously with loyalty.
Thankfully for Chelsea fans, owner Roman Abramovich keeps and sticks to high expectations. His desire to win triumphed over loyalty to old Lamps. The ex-midfielder was relieved from his duties, and in came former PSG coach Thomas Tuchel.
Now they are in the Champions League final. Good days and bad days, remember?
Keep in mind this is the exact same team, with the exact same players under Lampard. It is quite remarkable how Tuchel took one look at a crippled team and decided it was perfect. With his adjustments and management, Chelsea went from being a mentally-broken side to a team no one likes to play against.
Ask Atletico Madrid, Liverpool, Real Madrid or the aforementioned Manchester City. It hasn’t even been six months into his tenure, and Tuchel’s Chelsea has beaten some of the most elite sides in Europe. The German genius has outwitted some big names like Diego Simeone, Jurgen Klopp, Zinedine Zidane and Pep Guardiola, and they have all been convincing wins.
European invasion by storm
Rewind to the Champions League Round of 16 draw, and Chelsea fans sighed when they drew Atletico. The team morale was at an all-time low, and the La Liga giants were considered strong favourites.
But 180 Champions League minutes later, it was crystal clear that Roman was right to sack Lampard. Chelsea thoroughly outclassed and overran Los Rojiblancos. Atletico couldn’t score a single goal against Edouard Mendy and company. This was a stark contrast to the old Chelsea, which leaked goals left, right and centre.
Most Chelsea fans would have ironically said the squad was in need of an overhaul despite them splashing the cash. Yet, all Tuchel did was change the team’s formation to a 3-4-2-1, giving Chelsea a better structure. The result was a complete transformation of the way the team played.
Firstly, switching to a three-at-the-back formation gave them more defensive cover. This is highlighted in the exceptionally high number of clean sheets Chelsea have kept under Tuchel. It also helps that their defenders are in the form of their lives. Antonio Rüdiger has been a rock at the back, Andreas Christensen has had a mini John Stones-like resurgence, and Thiago Silva is Thiago Silva.
Tuchel’s wing-backs also look super sharp. He has the luxury of playing any combination of Ben Chilwell, Marcos Alonso, Reece James and César Azpilicueta, the latter also part of the centre-back gang. They maraud forward with their attacking runs, while also tracking back to help the team out. In the middle of the park are N’Golo Kanté and Jorginho, two imperious figures who pull the strings.
Their attack, meanwhile, looks lethal. What was a toothless strike force under Lampard is now creating and scoring at will. Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech, Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic are shining brighter than ever. Among them, they create and finish chances in abundance (mostly that is, looking at you Timo and Kai). You get the feeling they will only become better with time.
You also have to applaud the way Chelsea approach games under Tuchel. They don’t play only one brand of football, like they did under Lampard. The problem with Frank’s Chelsea is that while they played high-pressing attacking football, there was no Plan B. If managers figured them out, they had no answer. They looked ponderous with the ball if their opponents parked the bus. If they were pressed constructively, like they were by Man City at Stamford Bridge, they completely fell apart.
This is where Tuchel’s philosophy comes in. Upon observing his Chelsea and the matches they have played, one can notice multiple playing styles. For some games, they employ their usual heavy-metal football with aggressive pressing and emphasis on possession. Other times, they have been pragmatic and result-focused. They haven’t always been a joy to watch. They know how to grind out games and results.
More importantly, they are all on the same page no matter the style of play. That is the sign of a winning team.
So when Tuchel’s young guns thoroughly swept Real Madrid away, it was like seeing Ajax or Prime Barcelona dismantle them all over again. Throughout the two legs, Chelsea were imperious at the back, save for a Karim Benzema moment of magic. They subdued the dynamic Kroos-Casemiro-Modric midfield trio, and threw wave after wave of attacks at the Real backline. Seeing his former team run roughshod over his current one, Eden Hazard probably wished he had stayed at Chelsea.
The only flaw in Chelsea’s game is their abysmal ratio of chances created to chances converted. For example, they realistically should have scored seven or eight goals against Real Madrid, but only managed three across the tie. Yet, that added another layer of confidence in the team for Chelsea fans. How good could they be if they were more clinical?
Consistent reality checks keep Tuchel honest
It hasn’t completely been sunshine and rainbows for Chelsea. They recently blew their chances of a double, losing the FA Cup final to Leicester. They also suffered a defeat to Arsenal in the league, while West Brom of all teams thrashed them 5-2 at Stamford Bridge.
But in all those games, the team gave everything they had. The West Brom game had an early red card for Chelsea, while the solitary goal scored by Leicester was simply unstoppable. Moreover, Tuchel’s Chelsea shows fighting spirit in every game, and that’s something a lot of other teams can’t say. Your writer is a Barcelona fan, so he is only too aware of this tendency.
Many will say Chelsea’s recent success is down to the exorbitant money they have spent. But look at Paris Saint-Germain and the season they are having. They were emphatically and embarrassingly knocked out by Man City in the Champions League semi-final. They are very close to relinquishing the Ligue 1 title, something they almost have a monopoly on. Plus, they sacked Tuchel and didn’t re-sign Thiago Silva at the beginning of this season. Now both are at a UCL-finalist side. Karma works in strange and often comical ways.
But anyway, PSG’s case shows money alone does not make a good football team. It takes a winning sporting project and a manager who can place the pieces of the puzzle together. Chelsea, who face Man City in the Champions League final on May 29, have both at the moment.
In 2008, Chelsea reached their first Champions League final under Avram Grant, losing to Manchester United, Four years later, they beat Bayern Munich in their own backyard to win it for the first and only time in the club’s history. There is a difference between those teams and the current one.
Both those teams were hardly the best ever Chelsea sides. They were incredibly lucky at times during their runs. By contrast, Tuchel’s Chelsea looks considered and controlled. It’s too early to call this team one of Chelsea’s best ever sides, but a year or two of this consistency, and they are staring down that road.
The only thing needed is for Roman to not resort to his usual impatience and fail to back Tuchel during a rough patch. Impatience and Chelsea go hand-in-hand. They have let players like Kevin De Bruyne, Mohamed Salah and Romelu Lukaku leave because they weren’t world-class at the time. You can’t even imagine how dominant Chelsea may have been if they had shown a little patience.
Next season, Tuchel will undoubtedly be backed in the transfer market to further strengthen the team. When that happens, Chelsea will be a force to be reckoned with. The expectations of Chelsea fans, thanks to Tuchel and his revitalized players, will be sky-high for the next season.
Like I said in the beginning, there are good days, then. And it looks like more of them are on the horizon for Chelsea.