In two cup games, Thomas Tuchel’s record as Chelsea boss reads two 1-0 wins away from home and unless the small market town of Barnsley shares a hitherto unknown relationship with Bucharest, that is where the comparison ends.
While the win in South Yorkshire was a minor achievement, good for little more than the boost that comes with progression in any cup competition, the Atletico Madrid win was a major accomplishment on the biggest stage of all. Few games can lay claim to being more challenging in the last decade than facing Atletico away from home in the knockout stages of the Champions League. Of course, as it happens, the ‘away from home’ designation also applied to the hosts on this occasion, but in the fan-less environ that we find ourselves currently in, that is no excuse for Diego Simeone’s side. The visitors were deserved victors, and it’s a deserved triumph for one man in particular.
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Few could say that Tuchel’s start to life in west London has been unimpressive, but that’s not to say there weren’t a fair few of the Stamford Bridge faithful left unconvinced. His possession-heavy, highly tactical style has been maligned as ponderous and mechanical at times, and at times it has been so, though a lot of fans’ previous experience with such football—cigarette-induced cough Sarri-ball cough—hasn’t helped.
Neither has the scrambled nature of his mid-season arrival. Which, for a perfectionist such as Tuchel, permits mere brushstrokes of the meticulously detailed overarching philosophy he’s attempting to impart. Yet, none of those teething issues were on display in the National Arena on Tuesday night. As Belgium boss Roberto Martinez remarked upon in CBS’ post-game discussion, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the boys in light blue as the ones with 10 years of tutelage under one exacting tutor.
It was Diego Simeone’s men whose game plan of defensive disruption appeared brushstroke-like, and it was Tuchel’s tutees who dutifully carried out their tasks with well-oiled precision. This was a vintage European display, up there with any number of famous Chelsea overseas outings from over the years. The way it came about could herald a new—and potentially just as noteworthy—era at the club.
In that context, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this win went a long way—nearly the longest imaginable—in justifying the German’s appointment in the first place. This kind of performance, particularly its defensive discipline and without the talismanic talons of Thiago Silva no less, was unimaginable under Frank Lampard. Sure, there’s a world in which a result could’ve been had, but never with this clear a plan, this level of control. That’s what Tuchel has provided, and in just a month he’s offered a glimpse at another trophy-laden tenure at Stamford Bridge.
Of course, the job is far from over. A home leg remains, and though as noted there are few tougher opponents in world football than Los Rojiblancos, they aren’t the domineering force in European football right now. They aren’t Paris Saint-Germain and they’re definitely not Bayern Munich. Even so, Tuchel’s history with both may well get some fans dreaming of a farfetched 2012 repeat in the aptly anagrammatic 2021.
In his first five encounters with Bayern in charge of ‘lowly’ Mainz, Tuchel managed three wins, going undefeated in the 2011/12 season. Meanwhile, in his last three clashes with Dortmund, he masterminded two victories. Sure, his most recent game against Bayern was the 1-0 Champions League final defeat with PSG, but there’s no doubting his side ran the Germans the closest of anyone in the competition. In any case, if we’re talking about the Chelsea boss’ edge over other continental contenders, then who has a better notion of PSG’s weaknesses than the man in charge two months ago?
Yes, all of this is conjecture. Yes, it all could be overexcited chatter that amounts to nothing, but the point is: it wasn’t a conversation worth considering under Lampard. Thanks to Tuchel, it’s all Chelsea fans will be thinking about this week.