Chelsea are set to appoint Thomas Tuchel as their new manager after the ruthless dismissal of Frank Lampard, who was sacked less than 24 hours after watching his side beat Luton Town in the FA Cup fourth round.
The sensitivity over firing one of the greatest players in Chelsea’s history was reflected by Roman Abramovich, the club’s owner, taking the unprecedented step of releasing a statement after deciding to relieve Lampard of his duties. Abramovich was regretful in tone, speaking of his “excellent personal relationship” with the 42-year-old and calling him an important icon, but the Russian was also pragmatic, saying that the Stamford Bridge hierarchy felt that a managerial change was required “under current circumstances”.
Lampard’s status at Stamford Bridge was not enough to save him after a run of form which has seen Chelsea slide to ninth in the Premier League, five points below Liverpool in fourth place, despite spending £220m on seven players last summer. They have lost five of their last eight league games and trust that Tuchel, who is available after being fired by Paris Saint-Germain last month, is capable of reviving their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.
The 47-year-old German is expected to be installed in time for Chelsea’s home fixture against Wolves on Wednesday and the club hope he we will be able to attend the game, which he can do after first being permitted to join their secure bubble, in accordance with Covid-19 rules. Although Tuchel is not exempt from quarantine rules, meaning he will have to stay indoors when not at training or games, he can link up with his new squad as long as he tests negative before entering the country.
If Tuchel is unable to take charge against Wolves, first-team coaches Joe Edwards and Anthony Barry could stand in, with help from Petr Cech, the club’s technical and performance adviser.
Chelsea said the decision to sack Lampard, who was 18 months into a three-year deal, was not taken lightly. Yet the writing was on the wall after the shambolic 2-0 defeat to Leicester last Tuesday. Lampard feared that game would mark the end of his tenure. It is understood that he even said goodbye to some players in the dressing room after full time.
Lampard hung on for a few more days and it seemed that he had bought himself some time after the win over Luton. Yet Chelsea were not swayed by victory over a Championship side.
After Wolves they host Burnley on Sunday, visit Tottenham on Thursday week and face Atlético Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League next month. The hierarchy want to give a new manager time to build momentum and informed Lampard of his sacking after delaying training on Mondayyesterday morning. The former England midfielder’s trusted assistants, Jody Morris and Chris Jones, are also expected to depart.
In a statement released on Monday night via the League Managers Association, Lampard said: “When I took on this role I understood the challenges that lay ahead in a difficult time for the football club. I am proud of the achievements that we made, and I am proud of the academy players that have made their step into the first team and performed so well. They are the future of the club. I am disappointed not to have had the time this season to take the club forward and bring it to the next level.”
Chelsea had long been concerned with performances and the club began to consider alternatives after recent defeats by Arsenal and Manchester City. They were aware of Tuchel’s interest and stepped up succession planning after the Leicester game. Petr Cech, the club’s technical and performance adviser, was involved in identifying replacements for Lampard, his former Chelsea teammate.
RB Leipzig’s Julian Nagelsmann was one option but, after exploring the possibility of hiring Ralf Rangnick on an interim basis, Chelsea turned to Tuchel. The former Borussia Dortmund manager, who won two Ligue 1 titles with PSG and led the French side to the Champions League final for the first time last season, will be charged with rebuilding the entire squad’s damaged confidence.
Tuchel’s task is not just to revive his German compatriots Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, both of whom have struggled since moving to England. Werner has scored one goal in his last 16 games and Havertz has disappointed but the problems are widespread. Lampard has been unable to find a balanced team, while Chelsea conceded too many goals during Lampard’s reign. Kepa Arrizabalaga, the £71.6m goalkeeper, has struggled.
There were positives under Lampard, who overcame a transfer ban to qualify for the Champions League last season. His legacy will be seen in promoting academy products, many of whom are said to be fiercely loyal to him. Yet expectations were higher this season and Lampard, who has struggled to win over the powerful director, Marina Granovskaia, has failed to move Chelsea closer to Liverpool and City at the top of the league.
There was a lack of consistency in selection and players felt the team had no identity. Unrest in the dressing room has grown, with the mood worsened by Lampard’s occasional public criticism of his side after defeats. It is understood that Antonio Rüdiger, an influential figure in the dressing room, had fallen out with Morris.
Lampard was not helped by his own awkward relationship with Rüdiger. The German defender was fifth-choice centre-back at the start of the season and was expected to leave. Yet he ended up staying and Lampard, whose bloated squad also contained three left-backs, ended up trying to protect harmony within the squad by bringing Rüdiger, who is rated by board members, back into the fold in recent weeks.
It came to feel that Lampard, who had spent only a year managing Derby County in the Championship before returning to Stamford Bridge, was too inexperienced when he replaced Maurizio Sarri in 2019. Although he did well in his first campaign there has been no visible progress this season.
Chelsea’s fans remained behind Lampard but he had the worst points-per-game average of any manager in the Abramovich era. It is down to Tuchel to pick up the pieces. He comes with risks given that he has a reputation for falling out with his bosses, but his coaching pedigree is not in doubt.