Before January, Thomas Tuchel had never beaten Pep Guardiola. Since then, he’s done so three times in three different competitions, with Guardiola trying three different things and yet fo happen upon the magic formula.
In those three meetings, Tuchel pretty much stuck to the 3-4-3 he’s used for all his Chelsea games:
- back three of Rüdiger, Silva or Christensen, Azpilicueta, left-to-right
- wing-backs of Chilwell/Alonso and Reece James
- midfield of N’Golo Kanté and Jorginho/emergency-Gilmour
- front three of Werner plus two of Mount, Ziyech, Havertz, and Pulisic
Guardiola meanwhile has used at least three different setups, to very little avail. And that’s despite Guardiola breaking down Tuchel’s tactics so clearly before the Champions League final.
Pep just broke down the Chelsea tactics, I’m sh*tting breaks right pic.twitter.com/ztVBXgSOov— (@CFCNar) May 28, 2021
- In the FA Cup, City lined up in a 4-2-3-1, using Fernandinho and Rodri in the double pivot
- In the Premier League, City dropped Fernandinho and went with a 3-1-4-2
- In the Champions League final, City eschewed ever Rodri and went all out 4-0-3-3
They managed to break Chelsea down just once in those 270 minutes, and even that required a Christensen injury to create the scoring chance.
That’s not say that it was easy for Chelsea. Far from it. It required immense commitment from the players and rarely a moment to let our guard down. But as Tuchel reflected in his post-match interview, we knew what to expect and were also able to adjust to Pep’s latest tactical wrinkle.
“I expected Fernandinho in the lineup to start so he chose a very offensive lineup and a very technical line up, it was very hard to steal the ball and recover the ball. Everything else we more or less expected.
“We expected them to play very wide so it was important that we stepped out with Azpi and Toni constantly, out of the back five to support our midfield and to stay in that block in the front five to stop the diagonal switch of play.
“We were absolutely sure we needed to play with a strong bond and belief, that is what we did. Minute after minute, we grabbed possession, second balls and initiated counter-attacks. From then on, it was a tough match to the end.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Football.London
I was watching the game with my father-in-law and he asked afterwards just how much credit for the win should go to the head coach. As ever, it’s a fair question. We do tend to overrate coaches’ contributions, be they positive or negative. Giovanni Trapattoni probably had it right when he said that a good coach can make a team 10% better while a bad coach can make the same team 30% worse. Then again, in the modern game, at the very highest level, those are massive margins.
Tuchel’s impact has been undeniable. He said he wanted to make Chelsea “hard to beat” and that’s been the case in almost every game since he’s taken over, from day one to day today. And for that, he deserves immense credit, having engineered this in the middle of the most congested season, even, and especially when we compare our defensive record to the preceding 18 months. Chelsea aren’t perfect and we can still hardly finish a good chance, but in terms of tactics, Tuchel got it spot in almost every time in the past six months.
The goal that decided this morning's incredibly close UCL Final. Just one of many intriguing tactical discussion points.— Riccardo Marchioli (@RMarchioli) May 30, 2021
Video is for educational purposes. pic.twitter.com/PCZiKG6W0M
We can probably trust that he will continue to evolve and improve the team as we move into next season, and truly close the gap to the top.
You never know what will happen next in football of course, but the future is looking immensely bright. Tuchel’s first few months have had more than a shade of Mourinho Mk.I about it. We’re just getting started.