Frank Lampard will be far from the minds of the Chelsea players and coaching staff as they prepare to host Zenit St Petersburg tonight. Yet, as Thomas Tuchel begins his efforts to defend the club’s Champions League title, he could do worse than reflect on the downfall of his predecessor.
On the face of things, everything is rosy in west London for Tuchel at the moment.
He has made a strong start to the 2021/22 season, winning the Super Cup and going unbeaten in the Premier League after four matches, with nine goals scored and just one conceded.
Chelsea are exactly where they want to be, joint top of the league with 10 points from a possible 12, despite having faced two of the Big Six already.
Romelu Lukaku has hit the ground running following his £97.5million transfer from Inter Milan, while the team has looked solid, well-coached and cohesive.
Chelsea will therefore be full of confidence when they take on Zenit at Stamford Bridge at 8pm this evening in the first of their Champions League matches in Group H.
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The Athletic reports that this way of working has already caused Tuchel some irritation, who described his job as “impossible” earlier in the summer when he realised he had a whopping 42 senior players cluttering up the training pitch at Cobham.
Tuchel has an intense personality and is somewhat of a perfectionist and control freak. Those attributes have been in evidence on the pitch, where Chelsea always have a clear game-plan. But they also work the other way.
Teams are able to name a 12-man bench for Champions League ties, meaning the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Ross Barkley and Malang Sarr will likely be involved tonight against Zenit.
None of those players were in Tuchel’s plans and the club tried unsuccessfully to shift them over the summer. Now they are left in an awkward limbo.
It was something Tuchel addressed in his pre-match press conference.
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“When you step into this building, step onto the training pitches you have to be ready,” he said.
“Once you are on the [squad] list, you have to be ready. You have to train every day to play. This is the baseline. Nobody gets gifts here.”
There are similar issues developing away from the real fringes of the side, too. Timo Werner has been sidelined by Lukaku’s arrival, while Ben Chilwell has not played for club or country since the Champions League final win in May.
Tuchel admitted Chilwell’s situation has been “difficult” and described him as “very unlucky” to have slipped behind Marcos Alonso at left wing-back so far this season.
“We had some talks with Chilly about the situation,” he explained. And something as simple as that is crucial, because that is one of the aspects of management Lampard neglected.
According to The Athletic, some Chelsea players were angry about ‘not being spoken to for months’ by Lampard and complained he had shown ‘no empathy’ towards them.
“The problem was, the manager didn’t talk to the players – well, only the ones he liked,” one source told the outlet.
Tuchel needs to avoid going down a similar route. Like every manager, he has his favourite players – the ones he will call on week in, week out to perform for him.
But he also needs to be sensitive to the needs of those on the fringes: Chelsea have a large squad of players and he cannot afford to let resentment and dissatisfaction build.
Matches like tonight’s against Zenit could provide an opportunity to rotate his players and make sure Chelsea remain a happy team, as well as a successful one.