Nineteen wins, six draws, five losses, one Champions League trophy: Thomas Tuchel leads Chelsea to first title

Chelsea was languishing in ninth spot in the Premier League when Thomas Tuchel took over. In a little over a hundred days, the German marshalled the club to its second Champions League title and his first less than a year after he lost last season’s final.

Thomas Tuchel, evidently, is hungry for more: “Nobody wants to rest, I want the next one, the next title. I want to be a part of it and I demand to be a part of it,” he says.   -  Getty Images

One hundred and twenty four days. In one hundred and twenty four days, Thomas Tuchel went from being unemployed to a Champions League winner.

The German was without a club at the turn of the year. He had just been sacked by Paris Saint-Germain after guiding the side to back-to-back Ligue 1 titles and wins in the Coupe de France and Coupe de la Ligue in 2020. He also led them to the Champions League final. He was still shown the door.

Then Chelsea came calling. Roman Abramovich had dismissed club legend Frank Lampard and swooped in to offer Tuchel an 18-month contract with an option to extend. Tuchel grabbed the opportunity to become the first German to manage the English club.

The 47-year-old inherited a sprightly squad from Lampard that was languishing in ninth spot in the Premier League. Having cut his teeth with the youth teams at Stuttgart and then working with Mainz and Borussia Dortmund, Tuchel knew how to marshal a young batch of stars.

He had his task cut out — to get Chelsea into the top four at the very least. Anything else would be a bonus. And so he unassumingly began his journey with the Blues and the results were encouraging from the get-go. Chelsea’s defensive structure improved remarkably and the side went on a stunning 14-game unbeaten streak. It was no mean feat — the club kept 12 clean sheets and conceded only two goals in this run. The campaign was back on track and Chelsea was well-poised to make it to the top four.

Chelsea’s 21-year-old Kai Havertz, who was signed for a club-record fee of £72 million, beats Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson to score the only goal of the 2020-21 Champions League final.   -  Getty Images

 

Chelsea’s Champions League season was also going swimmingly, with the side storming past eventual La Liga champion Atletico Madrid, 13-time Champions League victor Real Madrid and Portugal’s Porto. In the other half of the draw was Manchester City, the Premier League champion, which was blazing through the knockout rounds. A delectable contest was in the making between Tuchel and his idol of a time, Pep Guardiola.

Tuchel had never beaten Guardiola until his arrival at Stamford Bridge, but he outfoxed the famed Spaniard twice in the buildup to the Champions League final. The first was a 1-0 win in the semifinal of the FA Cup and the second was a 2-1 last-gasp stoppage-time win in the Premier League.

Despite the defeats, City clinched the League Cup as well as the Premier League title, and Guardiola had only Tuchel between him and a third title of the season and his third Champions League trophy.

Guardiola, leading City to its maiden Champions League final, shot himself in the foot with his team selection in the final. He chose to start with Raheem Sterling, who last started a Champions League game in February and has not scored in the competition in more than seven months. Guardiola also bizarrely chose to leave out Fernandinho and Rodri. This was only the second time this season that the Spaniard had started a game without either of the two. This forced Ilkay Gundogan, who topped the club’s scoring charts with 17 goals this season, to play a far more subdued deep defensive midfield role, thereby robbing him of any scope for creativity.

The fiddling around of the lineup in the club’s first major European final saw Guardiola pay the price. Barring the opening 15 minutes, City struggled to dominate. The Chelsea defence shored up after a shaky opening quarter and thereafter seized control. Reece James and Ben Chilwell hugged the flanks to neutralise any threat posed by the City duo of Sterling and Riyad Mahrez. Sterling was left frustrated as he kept running into James wherever he went; it was almost like James was drawn to Sterling by a magnet — there was just no escaping him.

One of Tuchel’s key tasks at Chelsea was to get the best of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, the club’s two recent recruits from the Bundesliga. Werner had a few decent chances but his finishing was horrendous, while Havertz rose to the occasion. The 21-year-old German, who was signed for a club-record fee of £72 million, converted Mason Mount’s defence-splitting ball to bust the net. It was a combination of two of Chelsea’s finest youngsters and Havertz struck his career’s first Champions League goal.

“I don’t know what to say. I really don’t know what to say. I waited a long time. I’ve waited 15 years for this moment and now it’s here,” he said after the full-time whistle, shaking his head in disbelief.

City was pegged back in the second half when Kevin de Bruyne had to be taken off after suffering fractures to his face. Gabriel Jesus replaced him and Fernadinho came on soon after, but City failed to create any clear-cut chances. The only opportunity came in the 69th minute when Mahrez drilled a low cross towards Gundogan at the far post, but Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta made a heroic sliding tackle to clear the danger.

Christian Pulisic, who had earlier worked with Tuchel at Dortmund, had a chance to put the tie to bed in the 73rd minute, but his dink from a one-on-one opportunity drifted wide. But it did not matter as Chelsea defended tooth and nail to ensure the title came home to Stamford Bridge.

Pep Guardiola, leading Manchester City to its maiden Champions League final, shot himself in the foot with his team selection in the final.   -  Getty Images

 

There was no treble for City, no fairytale goodbye for Sergio Aguero and no third Champions League title for Guardiola, but it was the dawn of a new era for London’s Chelsea.

Tuchel had marshalled Chelsea to its second Champions League title and his first less than a year after he lost last season’s final with PSG. As the Chelsea camp broke into celebration, Tuchel would run into his employer, Abromovich, for the first time since signing for the club. “I spoke to Roman just now and it was the best moment for the first meeting, or maybe the worst moment. Maybe it can only get worse now!” Tuchel quipped.

Nineteen wins, six draws, five losses and the Champions League title: read Tuchel’s stats from the season. One could say he has overachieved at Chelsea. He’s led the club to the pinnacle of glory, something that the more decorated Jose Mourinho or Carlo Ancelloti could not manage. Considering the exciting young squad he boasts of with the likes of Mount, Reece, Havertz, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Pulisic and the ageless N’Golo Kante, trophies should be the name of the game at Chelsea.

Tuchel, evidently, is hungry for more: “Nobody wants to rest, I want the next one, the next title. I want to be a part of it and I demand to be a part of it.”

From having to cut short his playing career due to a knee injury to working as a waiter in a bar to coming through the youth coaching teams at Bundesliga clubs, Tuchel, whose contract has been extended by two years, has finally been rewarded with the ultimate prize. His legacy at Chelsea has just begun and we’re here for it.