What Thomas Tuchel’s Borussia Dortmund spell tells us about what his Chelsea will be

Stefan Bienkowski
·5-min read
Borussia Dortmund head coach Thomas Tuchel (Getty Images)
Borussia Dortmund head coach Thomas Tuchel (Getty Images)

If Thomas Tuchel knows one thing for certain it’s that he’ll have very little time to prove that he’s the manager to improve Chelsea’s standing in the Premier League and in Europe.

The Stamford Bridge side are many things but a safe space for managers to try new ideas and enjoy the goodwill and patience of their employers they are not. Tuchel will have to hit the ground running and to do that he’ll need to prove that he can get a tune out of Chelsea’s attacking players from day one.

While Tuchel’s CV speaks for itself, there’s little doubt over the qualities that quickly drew the German manager towards Chelsea when the club began their search for a successor to Frank Lampard. Not only did they need an accomplished, modern coach but they also needed one that could get the best out of their recent imports from Germany, Netherlands and France. Not to mention the young American talent that he first nurtured into a star at Borussia Dortmund.

Fortunately, Chelsea’s current conundrum isn’t entirely different from the mess Tuchel inherited at the Bundesliga side in 2015 and while his time at the club may have ended in tears, that wasn’t before he turned the club around and built a squad capable of challenging Bayern Munich domestically and some of the best clubs in Europe.

Perhaps the most obvious parallel between the two situations is that in both instances Tuchel is taking on an underperforming squad that is still full of talent. Chelsea currently sit ninth in the Premier League, just as Dortmund finished seventh in the Bundesliga a few months before he arrived at the Westfalenstadion. And just as he did in Dortmund, Tuchel is likely to tinker and improve what he has rather than attempt to wipe the slate clean.

Tuchel got the best out of Dortmund’s young playersBongarts/Getty Images
Tuchel got the best out of Dortmund’s young playersBongarts/Getty Images

His first task will undoubtedly revolve around getting Timo Werner back into the habit of scoring goals. Fortunately for the troubled German goalscorer and his club, Tuchel is likely to fall back on how he got the best out of another Premier League striker back when he was a Dortmund player: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Signed as a winger and an occasional back-up striker to Robert Lewandowski, Aubameyang never really began to show his gift for scoring goals until the Polish forward departed for Munich and Klopp finally allowed the Gabon international to play through the middle as a traditional No 9. However, it was under Tuchel that Aubameyang undoubtedly played his very best football.

Despite having a tendency to drift out wide - as Werner now does for Chelsea - Aubameyang was placed at the centre of an attacking three with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marco Reus either side of him. In his final season under Klopp, Aubameyang managed a perfectly respectable 25 goals in 46 games. However, in his first season under Tuchel the Gabon striker hit new heights and finished the 2015/16 season with a remarkable 39 goals in 46 games. In his second season under his new manager, Aubameyang went one better with 40 goals in as many games, as Real Madrid and then Arsenal came calling for a star that was once little more than a wide player with an inconsistent goalscoring record.

Werner is a far more accomplished player than Aubameyang was when Tuchel arrived at Dortmund, but he too has been shunned out wide when he should be starting each game as Chelsea’s undisputed No 9. The new Stamford Bridge manager will know that and quickly get to work. As such, we may see a quick turn around in Werner’s form.

Tuchel will also have a plan for Chelsea’s muddled midfield. At Dortmund he rebuilt the centre of the team around the industrious, box-to-box talents of Gonzalo Castro, Julian Weigl and Ikay Gundogan in order to provide support and cover for Dortmund’s attacking trio to do their thing. In Mason Mount, Mateo Kovacic, Jorginho and perhaps Billy Gilmour in particular, Tuchel already has the players he needs to do exactly that again. This, in turn, will allow the new Chelsea manager to properly iron out the team’s other issues in attack.

At Dortmund, Tuchel’s stable midfield trio allowed Reus and Mkhitaryan to attack at will from either flank and as a result both players racked up a combined 46 goals between them over the course of their first season under the new manager. Mkhitaryan’s form in particular would attract the interest of Manchester United and a move to England in the summer of 2016, but it’s worth noting that neither Reus or his Armenian attacking partner ever managed a more impressive goalscoring campaign than what they did under Tuchel.

Unfortunately for Tuchel, Dortmund decided to not only sell Mkhitaryan that summer but also Mats Hummels and Gundogan too, which forced the manager to rebuild his squad. Yet, once again, Tuchel showed his ability to get the best out of attacking players by promoting a 17-year old Christian Pulisic from the youth team and fast-tracking a 19-year Ousmane Dembele. That season the duo bagged 15 goals and 34 assists between them. The following summer Dembele left for Barcelona for a reported £117 million. Pulisic left 18 months after for £58million.

Tuchel eventually lost his job at Dortmund after one too many arguments with the club over its tendency to sell his best players every summer, but there’s little doubt that just about every attacking player in that squad thrived under the German coach. And as he arrived in London, Tuchel will be eager to do the very same thing with Kai Havertz, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Hakim Ziyech and once again with Pulisic.

Chelsea have replaced the club legend with the boyish charms with a coach that often shows all the warmth and compassion of a boarding school headmaster. But in many ways Tuchel may be the perfect appointment. He’s perfectly adaptable, he’ll get the very best out of the young players at hand and he’ll do his very best to challenge for major titles as Chelsea manager. And, after all of that success, he may still give the club a perfect excuse to sack him.

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