Thomas Tuchel's in-tray: what the new Chelsea manager must tackle

Jacob Steinberg
·5 min read

1) Inspire Havertz and Werner

Figures close to Chelsea believe that Roman Abramovich was the main driver behind the £62m signing of Kai Havertz last summer. The German arrived from Bayer Leverkusen despite whispers that Frank Lampard, who was fired on Monday, had misgivings over the deal. It was a reminder of where the power lies at Chelsea: Lampard might be a fan favourite, but it is Abramovich’s club and history shows that the owner’s patience tends to wear out when big-money signings struggle.

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The end of José Mourinho’s first spell at Stamford Bridge stemmed in part from his inability to work with Andriy Shevchenko, who joined from Milan in 2006 and remains close to Abramovich to this day, and Lampard also ended up paying a high price after failing to get the best out of Havertz, who has been underwhelming during his first season in England.

While allowances must be made for midfielder Havertz contracting Covid-19 in November, the 21-year-old has been a huge disappointment, drifting through games and failing to nail down a position. The hope, however, is that Thomas Tuchel can revive both he and Chelsea’s other expensive Bundesliga import, Timo Werner, who has scored once in his last 16 games. Lampard did not know how to use Werner, who scored 34 goals for RB Leipzig last season. The pacy striker has played on the flanks and through the middle but is yet to hit his stride in a malfunctioning, confused attack. Chelsea need Havertz and Werner to benefit from working with Tuchel’s more familiar style.

2) Sort the defence

Dismal defending was a major concern during Lampard’s first year in charge. Chelsea conceded 54 goals in the Premier League last season, often capitulating at set pieces and giving opponents too many opportunities to punish them on the break. Individual errors proved costly, there was a lack of tactical discipline and it was clear that something had to change after Chelsea lost to Arsenal in the FA Cup final.

Defensive reinforcements were a priority for Lampard. He did not rate Kepa Arrizabalaga, the £71.6m goalkeeper, and replaced him with Édouard Mendy. He needed a new left-back and bought Ben Chilwell. Thiago Silva, who played for Tuchel at PSG, came in to offer experience in central defence. But the flaws have returned despite an initial improvement. After a promising start, Mendy’s authority has decreased. For all his promise, Reece James remains naive at right-back.

Yet is not just down to individuals. It is telling that some of the defenders felt the criticism about their performances was unfair, arguing in private that they had been exposed by Lampard’s tactics. The problems with counterattacks flared in defeats to Wolves and Manchester City, while Leicester hit Chelsea with a short corner last week. The defending was amateurish at times. Tuchel has to introduce more security.

3) Balance the midfield

The defensive issues were partly down to structure. In fairness to Lampard, it is questionable whether Chelsea have the right blend in central midfield. N’Golo Kanté has become susceptible to injury and is no longer the dynamic force of old. The France midfielder often played as a single pivot this season, with Lampard trying to introduce a more dynamic style, but he was exposed in the defeats to Arsenal and City. The need for West Ham’s Declan Rice was clear.

Perhaps the solution is two screening midfielders. The question is who to use. Although Tuchel wanted to take Jorginho to PSG, the Italian has flattered to deceive in England, while Mateo Kovacic lacks positional discipline and offers little incision.

All of which means the answer could be a feisty little Scot. Step forward Billy Gilmour, 19 years old but brilliant on the ball and not afraid to tackle. Gilmour was excellent alongside Mason Mount in the FA Cup win over Luton on Sunday. It is time to trust him.

4) Repair squad harmony

Although Chelsea spent £220m on seven signings last summer, Lampard had a few dilemmas at the end of the previous transfer window. Chelsea’s habit of handing out big contracts made it difficult to sell unwanted players with other clubs struggling to spend because of pandemic-enforced financial pressures.

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Lampard was left with three left-backs after failing to sell Emerson Palmieri as well as Marcos Alonso, who has been frozen out after a breach of discipline during the 3-3 draw with West Brom last September. Alonso returned to the team bus without permission after being withdrawn at half-time and the Spaniard’s insubordination is one example of Lampard finding it hard to keep the dressing room on board.

Chelsea also have five centre-backs after failing to shift Antonio Rüdiger. The German was fifth choice at the start of the season but is influential within the squad and had an awkward relationship with Lampard.

There were problems in attack, with Olivier Giroud and Callum Hudson-Odoi unhappy not to be used more. Tuchel needs to keep the mood light with consistent selections, ensuring he cannot be accused of favouritism, and for Chelsea to find buyers for unhappy players.

5) Trust the academy

Lampard’s lasting legacy is his promotion of the club’s talented youngsters. Mount captained the team in Lampard’s final game and there were opportunities for players such as Tammy Abraham, Hudson-Odoi, James, Gilmour, Tino Anjorin and Fikayo Tomori. It did not always run smoothly, as Tomori and Hudson-Odoi would admit, but the kids were a rare positive and often the best performers.