What will Thomas Tuchel bring to Chelsea?
Once again, one of Europe's great football coaches is coming to the Premier League by the hand of Roman Abramovich. Frank Lampard couldn't seem to manage the cadre of young stars who arrived in Chelsea's post-transfer-embargo spending spree, so now it's Thomas Tuchel's turn. And there are strong signs that he will make a positive difference at Stamford Bridge.
Tuchel succeeded Jurgen Klopp at both Mainz and Dortmund, and he inculcated a similarly energetic high-pressing style at both clubs, albeit with a slightly more academic bent. But when he replaced Unai Emery at Paris Saint-Germain, he had to put his own stamp on the club. He also had to get the most out of a jumble of high-paid stars, which is the same challenge he faces at Chelsea. So let's take a look at Tuchel's coaching profile during his first season in Ligue 1:
Tuchel had a huge effect on PSG's attacking, adding 0.40 expected goals scored per game versus our expectations based on his players' performances in the previous season. So he certainly got more out of his side when they were on the ball than Emery had in his final campaign. And there was a good chance that he had a beneficial effect on their defending, too, reducing their expected goals conceded by about 0.09 on average in our estimates.
PSG pressed higher and played out of the back much more often than any other side in Ligue 1 in their first season under Tuchel. He gave his fullbacks some flexibility to come inside, and his wingers blanketed the playmaking area on the edge of the final third. His side's shot locations were impressive, with very few chances taken outside of prime shooting areas inside the box and centrally around the "D". They played with high intensity, exploiting their advantages to win points in the second halves of matches before ramping up their defending at about 70'.
After Tuchel had remade PSG, what was left for him to do? Well, it turns out he was able to keep improving them in his second season, too. Here's the coaching profile:
In 2019-20, PSG continued to exceed our expectations. Using their metrics in 2018-19 as a benchmark, the squad still outperformed by a total of 0.19 in expected goal difference per game. The wingers were even more ubiquitous in the attacking half, and shot locations became more concentrated. But there were some signs of fatigue, either mental or physical PSG still pressed extremely high but didn't recover the ball quite as quickly at home. They didn't tighten up their defending to slam the door at the end of matches, either.
Yet Tuchel wasn't done. Here's what PSG looked like this season until he left on 29 December 2020:
Once again, Tuchel's players were performing better than expected on both sides of the ball. But ball recoveries were now slower in away matches, too, and PSG didn't play out of the back quite as often. His fullbacks had become a bit more adventurous – or perhaps less disciplined? – in their positioning, and shot locations were getting a bit wilder again. The attack got off to a slower start in away matches, too, and results were declining. But we'll say it again: Tuchel still made the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
The Chelsea job may end up being a better fit for Tuchel, too. As at Dortmund, he'll have a chance to get the best out of young players on the verge of their peak years. Being German, Tuchel already have a leg up on Lampard in communicating and relating to Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, whose development stalled under the club legend. He also overlapped for several years with Christian Pulisic at Dortmund, so he'll be well aware of the American's style and potential.
There are many reasons for optimism, not least that Tuchel has all the hallmarks of a great coach in our numbers. The main question is whether he'll be able to keep a collection of big egos in line for more than a couple of years. Of course, at Chelsea a couple of years may be all he gets.
[Photo: Sandro Halank]