Chelsea will face Leicester City for the first time since Frank Lampard’s final league match as manager, on Saturday in the FA Cup final.
The Blues succumbed to a lacklustre 2-0 loss at the King Power in January, signalling the end of the former no.8’s time in the hot seat after a romantic but frustrating 19 months of Lampard at the helm.
Since sacking the Stamford Bridge icon, the Blues have been in fantastic form under German boss Thomas Tuchel, who has guided them back into the Premier League top four, an FA Cup final and second-ever UEFA Champions League final.
The former Paris Saint-Germain gaffer has made a number of alterations to the West London outfit which have been successful in turning Chelsea ’s season from disappointment to excitement.
From a switch of system to re-implementing forgotten players, Tuchel has taken the reins at the Bridge to great effect.
Here, we take a look at five ways Tuchel has changed the Blues for the better.
Employing a 3-4-2-1
Having been announced just a day prior to taking charge of his first Chelsea match, the German tactician took an evening training session on the night, 24 hours before their home match against Wolverhampton Wanderers (which ended 0-0) and worked on implementing a new system.
It immediately improved the Blues at the back, conceding just two goals in Tuchel’s first 14 games in all competitions – although scoring at the other end was an issue during the honeymoon period.
Tuchel’s team are now level with Manchester City for total clean sheets this top-flight term, and the likes of Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen look different players to the first half of the campaign.
Summer Bundesliga signings Kai Havertz and Timo Werner also seem more suited to the dynamic system – proven by their performances of late – while also harking back to Antonio Conte’s shape.
More of a blanket point, the formation has been the foundation to build Tuchel’s side’s recent success – and our list.
An integral component in Chelsea’s shored up back line has been Tuchel’s compatriot.
Although Christensen, Cesar Azpilicueta and Kurt Zouma have all enjoyed strong individual spells under the new boss, it’s the man who signed for Conte in 2017 who has been mostly reignited under Tuchel’s tutelage.
The 28-year-old has more than played his part throughout the 25 games since Lampard was sacked, with the Blues shipping just 11 goals during that period.
Rudiger had only managed four full Premier League matches under the legendary midfielder in 2020/21 prior to his dismissal, before playing every minute of Tuchel’s first four top-flight outings, going on to do the same on nine more occasions – notably sitting on the bench for the Blues’ shock 5-2 home loss to West Bromwich Albion in April.
The defender’s averages of 2.8 clearances, 1.7 tackles and 0.9 interceptions per-league match are impressive, especially for a possession-heavy outfit.
No wonder Tuchel reportedly wanted him at PSG.
Unleashing Mason Mount
It was only a matter of time until he was mentioned, right?
Unlike Rudiger, someone who wasn’t out of favour under Lampard was the acclaimed Cobham academy product.
Mount received his fair share of criticism having followed his manager back to the Bridge from a loan spell with Derby County, where he showed glimpses of his potential.
It’s been under Tuchel where his doubters have turned into admirers, though, and slightly more advanced roles as a number 10 or wide attacker has allowed the 22-year-old thrive in a creative sense.
Moving freely around the final third and between the lines, his 77 total key passes over the course of the Premier League campaign (second only to Manchester United ’s Bruno Fernandes) illustrate his attacking incision and ability, with his work rate significantly helping his team’s destructive counter press.
Set to be one of the first names on the team sheet in both of Chelsea’s upcoming finals and England’s EURO 2020 opener with Croatia on June 13, Mount has made a mockery of his critics – and Tuchel is substantially to thank.
Ensuring midfield solidity
What has allowed the likes of Mount and Havertz (to a lesser extent) to flourish under the guidance of their new gaffer has been a solid midfield duo, sitting disciplined in front of the back three.
N’Golo Kante’s fitness was an issue for Lampard, but now the Frenchman is back to his best, running the show against Real Madrid in their Champions League semi-final second leg last week.
Playing alongside a more technical midfielder such as Jorginho or Mateo Kovacic, Kante has been back on song with an average of 2.7 tackles and two interceptions per-90 in the Premier League (both the best numbers in the squad), and even earned an assist for Mount’s classy winner against Liverpool in March.
The pair’s role in build-up is restricted to the middle third and Tuchel’s preference for three defence midfielders in PSG’s run to the UCL final last year demonstrated what he wants from his central generals: hard work and deep-lying play-making.
The forward men might get the limelight, but it’s in the engine room where the Blues are blossoming, with youngster Billy Gilmour gaining more minutes there recently.
Finally, with a three-man back line and two more conservative central midfielders, Tuchel has had to drill his wing-backs to be effective up and down the flank in order to score goals – and spoiler alert: it’s worked.
Reece James, Ben Chiwell, Marcos Alonso and Callum Hudson-Odoi have all featured plenty under the ex-Borussia Dortmund boss, and the quartet all average at least one key pass every league outing, with Hakim Ziyech and Mount only ahead of the four in the squad rankings for that metric, while Werner is level with one.
The manager made an example of the levels required in the role when he substituted second-half substitute Hudson-Odoi after just 30 minutes in one of his early encounters, citing his lack of pressing intensity as the primary reason – but the player and boss’ embrace at full-time at the Etihad on Saturday showed all is well.
Alonso’s winner in the game at champions Manchester City displayed the impact the wing-backs can have going forward, while James’ and Chiwell’s performances in the FA semi-final against Pep Guardiola and co were a joy to watch.
Whichever two get the nod on Saturday, Leicester will have to be very wary.
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