Thomas Tuchel sacked by Chelsea: Where did it go wrong for the head coach at Stamford Bridge?

“I didn’t see it coming. Obviously I was in the wrong movie.”

Those were the words of Thomas Tuchel as he digested Chelsea’s latest let down away from home, this time a 1-0 defeat at Champions League minnows Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday evening.

But they could just as easily have been the first words the head coach offered the next morning, when he was informed by Chelsea’s new owners that he was being sacked just 16 months after leading the club to only their second Champions League title.

  • Chelsea sack Thomas Tuchel | Graham Potter set for talks
  • Dinamo Zagreb 1-0 Chelsea – Report
  • Thomas Tuchel’s last press conference: I didn’t see Dinamo defeat coming

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Thomas Tuchel said he was angry at himself for a ‘huge underperformance’ during Chelsea’s 1-0 defeat to Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League on Tuesday – his final game in charge

Only three weeks ago, Tuchel had revealed he was in talks over extending his contract, enthusing: “You know how glad I am to be here and how much I like it.”

But look a little closer and the cracks at Stamford Bridge had begun to show long before the disastrous result in Zagreb, with a leaky defence, unhappy forwards, unwanted departures and tactical tinkering resulting in Todd Boehly and his consortium marking 100 days in charge by executing their most controversial decision to date.

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Sky Sports News’ chief reporter Kaveh Solhekol gives greater insight into why Chelsea sacked former head coach Thomas Tuchel

Big spending failed to spark improvement

Image: Kalidou Koulibaly – a £34m signing – was sent off in the 3-0 defeat at Leeds last month

Chelsea made headlines this summer as the highest-spending club in Europe, with £278.4m spent on 10 new players.

Todd Boehly was primarily responsible for handling business in his role as interim sporting director but Tuchel’s fingerprints could also be found on Chelsea’s dealings, particularly the arrival of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a 33-year-old who was released by Arsenal less than a year ago.

Also See:

  • Chelsea results

  • Chelsea fixtures

  • Chelsea sack Tuchel | Brighton boss Potter set for talks

  • Tuchel’s last press conference: Angry at myself | Team lacks determination

While asking Tuchel to mould his new-look squad into an effective unit just days after the transfer window closed was unrealistic, the early signs weren’t promising.

Chelsea's big-spending summer

  • Raheem Sterling – £47.5m
  • Kalidou Koulibaly – £34m
  • Omari Hutchinson – free
  • Gabriel Slonina – £12m
  • Carney Chukwuemeka – £20m
  • Marc Cucurella – £63m
  • Cesare Casadei – £16.6m
  • Wesley Fofana – £75m
  • Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – £10.3m
  • Denis Zakaria – loan

Kalidou Koulibaly has had his moments since signing from Napoli for £34m – most notably his goal against Tottenham on his home debut – but he has also struggled at times, being sent off in the 3-0 hammering at Leeds and making an error that led to Dinamo’s winner on Tuesday.

Wesley Fofana, Koulibaly’s new £75m partner in defence, was also culpable for the goal in Zagreb, while the decision to start Aubameyang in Croatia was bizarre.

Chelsea's 2022/23 results

  • Everton 0-1 Chelsea
  • Chelsea 2-2 Tottenham
  • Leeds 3-0 Chelsea
  • Chelsea 2-1 Leicester
  • Southampton 2-1 Chelsea
  • Chelsea 2-1 West Ham
  • Dinamo Zagreb 1-0 Chelsea

Tuchel may trust Aubameyang thanks to their days together at Borussia Dortmund but the former Barcelona forward had barely trained with his new team-mates, had just eight minutes of first-team football under his belt this season and was recovering from a broken jaw suffered when his home was robbed just days before.

Despite early results, Chelsea’s new owners believe they had a very good window and their belief that a new head coach will bring more out of the players played a role in their decision to move on from Tuchel.

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Jamie Carragher says he ‘fears’ for Graham Potter and he ‘should be very wary’ should he be appointed Chelsea manager following the sacking of Thomas Tuchel

Dominant defence a thing of the past

Image: Antonio Rudiger was a key player for Chelsea but left for Real Madrid this summer

“Soft.” That was the damning verdict handed down by Tuchel when assessing Chelsea’s defensive performance in their 2-1 defeat at Southampton late last month.

It’s not hard to see why the German was so frustrated with his side. Defensive dominance had been Chelsea’s hallmark from the moment Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard in January 2021, with the Blues going on to concede just 24 goals in his first 50 matches in charge.

However, matches 51-100 were a very different story. Tuchel brought up his century of games in the Blues’ dugout away to Dinamo, whose winning goal was the 53rd strike Chelsea had conceded in their last 50 matches.

While allowing opponents to score an average of fewer than a goal every other game was probably not sustainable, the speed at which the defence crumbled during the second half of Tuchel’s reign was startling.

For comparison, Chelsea’s average of 1.06 goals conceded per game across the final 50 matches of Tuchel’s time in charge was more than Manchester City (0.92) and Liverpool (0.78) conceded over the same period, and was also greater than the number Tottenham (0.95) have let in since Antonio Conte took charge.

Tuchel could point to the departures of Antonio Rudiger – a key pillar of the defence during the head coach’s time in charge – and Andreas Christensen this summer as reasons why time was needed to rebuild the Blues’ backline, but the worrying trend of defensive instability dated back to before their exits.

Misfiring attack struggled to keep up with rivals

Image: Kai Havertz has just one goal this season

The best way to mask an underperforming defence is to have an attack that is capable of firing on all cylinders. Unfortunately for Tuchel, Chelsea’s forwards rarely reached those heights during his time in charge.

During the head coach’s 100 matches as Blues boss, he saw his side score more than twice in a match on 20 occasions. During the same period, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool achieved the feat 32 times, while Pep Guardiola’s Man City did it 58 times.

Chelsea’s troubles in the opposition penalty area have been laid bare this season, with just eight goals being scored in seven matches. Meanwhile, Erling Haaland has scored 12 goals so far this season for Man City, while Liverpool scored nine in one match.

Tuchel’s relationship with his forwards doesn’t appear to have been the easiest. Romelu Lukaku arrived in the summer of 2021 for a club-record fee but was sent back to Inter Milan on loan less than 12 months later after comprehensively failing to integrate himself into the head coach’s team.

Timo Werner also sought a return to his former club this summer, with Chelsea sanctioning his sale to RB Leizpig for around half of what they paid for him after he struggled to consistently find the net under his countryman.

Callum Hudson-Odoi also left Chelsea for a loan at Bayer Leverkusen after the academy product failed to convince Tuchel he was worthy of a regular spot in the starting XI and, while Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech didn’t follow through the exit door, both appeared keen to do so.

Pulisic – who worked under Tuchel at Borussia Dortmund – has also struggled for game time and was keen on a loan move before the window closed earlier this month in a bid for more minutes, while Ziyech was in talks to join AC Milan.

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Timo Werner scored from outside the box for RB Leipzig on his Bundesliga return against Koln last month

Tuchel rebuilt his forward line this summer, spending £47.5m on Raheem Sterling and £10.3m on Aubameyang, while Mason Mount and Kai Havertz continued to be entrusted with regular places in the line-up.

But, as with the revamped defence, the early signs were disappointing. Sterling, Havertz and Mount have just five goal involvements between them, while Aubameyang – who had spoken of his excitement at linking up with Tuchel again – managed just one match under the head coach before they were forced to go their separate ways.

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Soccer Saturday pair Michael Dawson and Darren Bent discuss Chelsea’s decision to sign former Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Tactical tinkering failed to produce solution

As well as a watertight defence, another theme of Tuchel’s early days as Chelsea boss was the regular use of his tried and tested 3-4-3 formation. The use of two holding midfielders in front of three centre-backs immediately helped to stem the flow of goals the Blues had been conceding under Lampard.

But the loss of defensive organisation in the second half of Tuchel’s reign seemed to prompt him to trial different systems, with a 3-5-2 and 4-3-3 used on occasion last season. This term saw a more radical shift, with Chelsea lining up in a 4-4-2 three times – two of which were the losses at Southampton and Leeds.

The tinkering led to players being asked to fulfil a variety of roles in the opening seven matches of the campaign. Tuchel had previously spoken of Reece James’ importance as an attacking outlet at wing-back but used him as both a full-back and centre-back this season.

Image: Reece James is one of Chelsea's key players and signed a new six-year deal this month

Mason Mount has also been shunted around the field. The England international was Chelsea’s most potent attacking force last season, with his 29 goal involvements coming mainly from his role as part of the front three, but he has been used as a left-midfielder regularly this term, while he lined up as one of the holding midfielders in Zagreb.

In fact, Tuchel’s tinkering against Dinamo encapsulated the problem perfectly. After starting in a 3-4-3, Chelsea switched to a 4-4-2 – with Sterling as one of the central midfielders – after half-time, before quickly shifting back to a three-man defence.

The downbeat reaction of Hakim Ziyech – who had come on to play as a right-midfielder for the second half – when being told to switch to left wing-back was telling.

Boardroom departures led to ‘big change’

Image: Tuchel enjoyed a healthy relationship with Petr Cech, who left Chelsea after their takeover

In Tuchel’s defence, the departures of key members of his squad haven’t been the only exits he has had to deal with this summer.

Influential director Marina Granovskaia and chairperson Bruce Buck left the club following the takeover. Petr Cech, the legendary former goalkeeper turned technical and performance advisor, also moved on in what was a blow to Tuchel.

“It’s no secret that I loved to work with Petr. It’s a big change not to have him,” said the head coach.

Cech often acted as a buffer between the boardroom and Tuchel. However, the new owners are said to be very hands-on and developed the feeling that Tuchel – now required to work more closely with those above him – preferred to spend his time with players and coaches.

Navigating the changing scenery above him as well as trying to get his revamped squad to gel was a lot to ask of Tuchel and he was ultimately unable to do so, with his increasingly difficult relationship with the owners understood to be a key factor in their decision to sack him.

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