Three wins from 10 Premier League games proved terminal for Frank Lampard at Chelsea this time last year, and the run Thomas Tuchel is enduring is little better.
Tuchel’s team have also won just three in 10. They have 14 points to Lampard’s 11, although that hasn’t been enough to stop Manchester City disappearing out of sight and concern will deepen if they fail to beat Antonio Conte’s Tottenham tomorrow.
Chelsea will not play again in the league for nearly a month, and owner Roman Abramovich must be acutely aware they could be engulfed by the chasing pack when they return from the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi.
Thomas Tuchel is enduring a rotten run of results at Chelsea – but his job is safe for now
Frank Lampard was sacked by Chelsea after posting the same poor run of results last year
Even so, as Tuchel nears one year in the job, there is no one agitating for change at Stamford Bridge. Anxiety has not gripped as it sometimes can and Abramovich is not loading the bullets.
At least not yet, and that is testament to Tuchel’s first 12 months in charge. Winning the Champions League helped, of course. As did the Super Cup, little more than an exhibition game on these shores but a glitzy prize to command the international prestige modern owners like.
Lead Chelsea to their first world title and there’s another feather in the Tuchel cap, with a Carabao Cup final to follow against Liverpool and the FA Cup still in play.
It could be another glittering season, although form must improve to protect the club’s Champions League status. Once that goes, the landscape can change very quickly.
Lampard’s tenure reached its critical stage when Chelsea crashed rapidly from the top of the Premier League to ninth, by which point no mitigating factors could save him. Tuchel’s reaction, when first approached, was to question whether Chelsea really needed to oust a club legend who had performed well and nurtured the academy graduates in the midst of a transfer ban.
But minds were already made up at board level. Not only were results tanking, but key relationships were damaged. Arguably as important as his Champions League triumph has been Tuchel’s ability to nourish lines of communication with director Marina Granovskaia and technical and performance adviser Petr Cech.
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and other key figures have been delighted with Tuchel
Abramovich’s Chelsea might be a peculiar club in English terms but after the rampant egomania on parade at Paris Saint-Germain, it must have seemed like an oasis of serenity to Tuchel. The German was pleasantly surprised by the culture and support structure he found. Equally, key figures at Chelsea have been delighted to find Tuchel more inclusive and less argumentative than the reputation that preceded him.
Very quickly, it seemed to be a good fit. Club officials like his public persona and his handling of dressing-room egos. Perhaps he is wiser for the experience with Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Co.
His cajoling of two goalkeepers illustrates the point. Upon his arrival, he made it clear Edouard Mendy would be No 1 but engaged Kepa Arrizabalaga with a plan to bring him on for shootouts. In the Super Cup against Villarreal, in August, Kepa came on and made saves to win the cup. His confidence, destroyed under the Lampard regime, is restored.
Kepa has impressed with Mendy at the Africa Cup of Nations, excelled in the Carabao Cup quarter-final at Brentford, and those who agreed to make him the world’s most expensive goalkeeper no longer feel as though they are being ridiculed by their own head coach.
Perfect dressing-room harmony, however, can be transient, always at the mercy of results. And Chelsea have been haemorrhaging points since the euphoric high of a 4-0 win against Juventus, when N’Golo Kante and Ben Chilwell were injured.
For 60 days since, Tuchel cursed his luck with injuries, a Covid outbreak and the Premier League’s refusal to postpone a game at Wolves when he detected the schedule taking its toll.
This is his first taste of English football’s relentless winter. He is not the first to find it difficult to control and, when results go bad, other problems can develop. One bristles in the shape of Romelu Lukaku, an issue some of Tuchel’s predecessors will recognise.
Someone at Chelsea, possibly Abramovich, is absolutely certain of Lukaku. They signed him as a big-money teenager, tried to sign him again when he left Everton for Manchester United and invested £97.5million to bring him back from Inter Milan.
Presented as the missing piece in the puzzle, he has not slotted in easily. There have been goals, but also injury, illness and that interview, pining for Inter and bemoaning Chelsea’s tactical system. Tuchel has given the impression he prefers the intensity generated without Lukaku up front.
He must solve this issue without triggering more. Without losing respect in the dressing room, dropping more points or letting a season unravel. Chelsea will back him to do this.
Perhaps, if they feel he is ‘the one’ they will respond with some patience. That might serve as evidence of a maturing club.
Until then, we will proceed in the knowledge the head coach is disposable and the wheel spins quickly. Sophisticated communication skills will not insure for ever against a team on the slide.
So happy anniversary Thomas and do remember only the three Chelsea bosses to deliver the Premier League title have celebrated two years under Abramovich.