So Frank Lampard is out as Chelsea manager. And while the timing might seem strange — less than 24 hours before Lampard was fired on Monday, the Blues advanced to the FA Cup quarterfinals — the decision to replace him, reportedly with Thomas Tuchel, wasn’t. Not after the London club won just three of its last 10 Premier League games.
That’s just how it goes at the sport’s highest level, and at Chelsea in particular. Things change quick: Lampard was flirting with first place as recently as December, when just about everyone besides the manager himself was openly speculating that the Blues might even be a legitimate title contender after adding $300 million worth of new recruits during the summer transfer window to a squad that had finished a pleasantly surprising fourth in Lampard’s debut season.
Tuchel, of course, knows all about the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately culture of the modern game. The German took Paris Saint-Germain to its first Champions League final last August and is considered one of the world’s top young bench bosses, but that didn’t stop PSG from sacking him last month and replacing him with Mauricio Pochettino, another universally respected up-and-comer who accomplished the same feat with Tottenham Hotspur in 2019 before he too was pink-slipped mere months later.
Tuchel’s availability apparently was too tempting for famously impatient Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich to pass up. Lampard’s status as a club icon — he captained the Blues to their only Champions League title in 2012 — may even have bought him a few extra weeks. It was undoubtedly the reason Abramovich publicly commented on the news, something the Russian billionaire had never done after any of the 15 previous managerial changes since he assumed control of the club nearly two decades ago.
“This was a very difficult decision for the club, not least because I have an excellent personal relationship with Frank and I have the utmost respect for him,” Abramovich said as part of his statement.
Now, it’s Tuchel’s turn in the Prem’s hottest seat. The 47-year-old is an ideal choice for Chelsea at this particular moment for a number of reasons, not least his familiarity with American star Christian Pulisic, whom he coached at Borussia Dortmund.
“For Christian I think the benefit is, if Tuchel is the coach, that he knows him very well,” U.S. men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter, speaking Monday on a Zoom call with reporters, said in response to a question from Yahoo Sports. “He’s coming in with a real good understanding of what Christian can do and his skill set. I think that’s important. He also has seen Christian develop and improve over his time at Dortmund, and for Christian it’s the familiarity with how he coaches, his coaching style, his communication style, and that’s all helpful. There’s not that uncomfortable period when you’re getting to know the coach.”
While the 21-year-old established himself as a consistent starter under Lampard in his second season after some early struggles, he has yet to rediscover the light-out form that made him one of the Premier League’s most dangerous attackers at the end of the 2019-20 campaign. Tuchel gave a then-16-year-old Pulisic his professional debut at Dortmund. There’s a level of trust there already, and the new coach figures to lean heavily on the U.S. men’s national team frontman on and off the field at least in the early going — a responsibility that Pulisic will no doubt take seriously.
Abramovich will be hoping that Tuchel can also get a whole lot more out of his prized compatriots Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, who have struggled mightily to adapt to the breakneck pace and physicality of the English game since moving from the Bundesliga. (Werner, who has scored just four times in 19 league matches, missed a penalty during Sunday’s contest.)
Tuchel is only five years older than Lampard, but he boasts the sort of top-end experience that his predecessor quite obviously lacked when he was handed the Chelsea job after a single season at the helm of second-tier Derby County. He knows how to manage egos after coaching the likes of Neymar, Ángel Di María, Kylian Mbappé, Edinson Cavani and current Blues center back Thiago Silva in France. And he know he needs to win, and soon.
This isn’t a long-term appointment. There’s no such thing at Chelsea. After all, Abramovich sacked José Mourinho twice, the last time in 2015, not long after Mourinho won his third Premier League crown with the club. Tuchel’s honeymoon will end eventually, too, perhaps in ugly fashion — he left both Dortmund and Paris after two years not because his teams imploded, but rather because he fell out with his bosses.
But in the “win right now” world we live in, Lampard’s firing and Tuchel’s hiring make plenty of sense. And in perhaps the most wide-open Premier League season ever, a few victories can thrust Chelsea right back into the mix — if not for silverware, then at least for one of four Champions League places. The mandate for Tuchel is clear. His clock is already ticking.
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