Soccer

Why Chelsea’s Thomas Tuchel can lean on Champions League experience before Atletico Madrid clash

Thomas Tuchel returns to the UEFA Champions League stage on Tuesday just over two months after his Paris Saint-Germain side thumped Istanbul Basaksehir. However, this time the German will be leading Chelsea instead of the French giants after his December sacking at Parc des Princes and subsequent arrival at Stamford Bridge just over one month later as Frank Lampard’s replacement.

Tuchel, 47, oversaw two full seasons in Paris and half of a third. Last summer’s run to the UCL final — where they were stopped in their tracks by Bayern Munich — was the undoubted highlight of his increasingly rocky tenure.

PSG might have been sluggish in this campaign’s group stage, ultimately topping Group H despite losing two of their three opening fixtures, but the former Borussia Dortmund boss did turn it around as Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and teammates strung together three consecutive wins to advance.

RB Leipzig, Manchester United and Basaksehir were all disposed of as Les Parisiens awoke and roared into the knockout phase at the last possible moment with the Red Devils dropping into the UEFA Europa League as the Germans took second place. The Istanbul victory was one of Tuchel’s final positive moments as PSG coach, and he was unceremoniously fired after a 4-0 home win over RC Strasbourg in Ligue 1 around the same time that he criticized club hierarchy in an interview with Sport1 — a recurring theme toward the end.

“To be completely honest, during the first six months, I said to myself: ‘Am I still a manager or am I a politician in sport, a Minister for Sports?’ he said. “Where is my role as manager in such a club now? I said to myself: ‘I just want to coach. I think that is why I became a coach and that is why I still am.'”

Now installed as Chelsea manager, the man from Krumbach, Germany has the possibility to build on his progress made in the French capital and the first UCL challenge presented to him at Chelsea is a road test against La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid.

Tuchel has won five of his seven games across all competitions so far with nine goals scored, three conceded and five clean sheets to lift the West Londoners up to fifth in the Premier League and to build up a bit of early momentum with his new squad.

The first few weeks have not been perfect, and he still does not appear to know his preferred starting XI, but Chelsea are already tough to beat and getting results with room for improvement in certain areas where the squad is blessed with plenty of talent.

Tuchel’s main PSG legacy is the fact that he was the first manager to lead them to a Champions League final, and although he also was in charge for the humiliating exit at the hands of Manchester United in 2019, he coaxed some notable performance out of that star-studded outfit — especially in Europe.

A 2-1 home win over eventual winners Liverpool in late 2018 and a 4-1 win in Belgrade against a tricky Red Star side ensured qualification from Group C at SSC Napoli.

Deprived of star talents like Neymar and with injury and fitness issues limiting availabilities, Tuchel conjured up a 2-0 win that should have been enough to reach the quarterfinals using innovative moves such as deploying Marquinhos as a deep-lying midfielder and Dani Alves as a winger.

Such tactical mastery earned him a contract extension, but like Unai Emery before him, his excellent first leg achievement was undone in the second and that deal was not made official for months as PSG debated their next move in the wake of the embarrassment.

Tuchel was ultimately kept on by returning sporting director Leonardo for the 2019-20 season and it turned out to be a wise choice as the French capital outfit navigated Group A with Real Madrid, Club Brugge and Galatasaray with relative ease and finished five points clear of the Spaniards.

Borussia Dortmund were pushed aside in a highly polished second leg performance this time last year and then COVID-19 hit to bring the French football season to a premature end and plunge the domestic scene into a crisis that it is yet to emerge from.

Against the odds, Tuchel led his team past Atalanta BC in dramatic circumstances before RB Leizpig were neutralized as PSG finally made it to the final that Qatar Sports Investments had craved since their arrival almost 10 years earlier.

Although Bayern ultimately had too much for PSG in Lisbon, Tuchel had taken the team as far as he could, and he appeared to recognize that with public barbs directed at Leonardo about the decreased quality of his squad as the likes of long-serving Thiago Silva and Edinson Cavani left.

“Thiago was my captain, it was a pleasure to have a player of his quality and personality,” said Tuchel after Silva’s departure. “Whatever the decision, he will always be my player. He is in my heart and it has been incredible this journey with him.”

Now reunited at Stamford Bridge while Cavani also plays in the Premier League with Manchester United, the Brazilian will know better than most of his teammates how the new boss operates and how best to bring his methods to fruition.

Performances against the likes of Liverpool and Dortmund at home, Leipzig in Lisbon and United at Old Trafford — twice — are indicative of Tuchel’s ability to craft tactics that obtain favorable results in difficult circumstances.

Considering that he has not had long with his new players and finds himself up against the wily Diego Simeone, do not bet against him identifying a workable formula for Chelsea to return from Arena Nationala in Bucharest with a result that stands them in good stead for the return leg.



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