Pupil beats the master as Chelsea’s Tuchel gets the better of Guardiola
Five months after being sacked by Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel lifted the Champions League as he got the better of Pep Guardiola once more to keep Manchester City waiting for European glory.
A 1-0 victory in Porto rounded off a rollercoaster year for the German, who was handed the chance to revive Chelsea’s fortunes less than a month after losing his job in Paris.
Chelsea were ninth in the Premier League table at the time with owner Roman Abramovich seeing little return on his £220 million ($312 million) outlay on new players under Frank Lampard.
In fact, Tuchel had never met the Russian billionaire in person until they crossed paths on the pitch at the Estadio do Dragao as the wild celebrations went on around them.
“Maybe I have a new contract now with that win,” said Tuchel, who was only handed an 18-month deal when he signed on at Stamford Bridge.
“I spoke to Roman just now and it was the best moment for the first meeting, or maybe the worst moment. Maybe it can only get worse now!”
Kai Havertz was the most expensive purchase of that summer splurge after his £71 million move from Bayer Leverkusen.
Getting the best out of Havertz was one of Tuchel’s major tasks and the 21-year-old German came good on the biggest stage of all with the only goal three minutes before half-time.
Unlike Guardiola, Tuchel did not have a glittering playing career. A series of knee injuries forced him to retire at 25 and take up a job as a waiter, while he began his coaching career in the youth ranks of Stuttgart.
From afar he watched and was inspired as Guardiola won 14 trophies in four years at Barcelona before joining him in Germany where they battled for Bundesliga supremacy in charge of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich.
During their first meeting, the two football obsessives talked long into the night using glasses and salt and pepper shakers to mimic formations.
“I was such a huge admirer of Pep when he was a player and then when he became a coach it was like learning on the job for me,” Tuchel said this week.
“I was an academy coach and then in the Bundesliga with Mainz, but I don’t think I missed a game because there was so much to learn.”
Tuchel did not win any of the first five clashes between the pair during his time at Mainz and Dortmund against Guardiola’s dominant Bayern side.
But the pupil has now outfoxed the master three times in the past six weeks as Chelsea completed a treble of victories over the English champions after wins in the FA Cup semi-final and Premier League.
– Tactical battle –
Guardiola spoke glowingly ahead of the game on how Tuchel’s switch to a 3-4-3 formation had transformed Chelsea’s season and denied City’s abundance of creative midfielders space between the lines in their two previous meetings.
That allowed Tuchel to arguably win the tactical battle before a ball had even been kicked.
Often accused of overly tinkering with his line-ups when the pressure is ramped up in the final stages of the Champions League, Guardiola’s bold call to start without a recognised holding midfielder backfired.
Tuchel was dismissed by PSG despite leading the French giants to their own first Champions League final in August.
That time he had to suffer the pain of a 1-0 defeat to Bayern Munich, but his desire not to leave Portugal empty-handed again was in evidence as he prowled the touchline, constantly cajoling his players and whipping up the Chelsea fans into a frenzy.
The travelling support from London were among a 14,000 crowd that contributed hugely to the spectacle after almost a full season of European football behind closed doors.
Chelsea fans showed they have not forgotten the club’s all-time record goalscorer with cries of “super Frank” in honour of Lampard’s part in getting the Blues into the top four last season to qualify for this competition, and then through the group stages before his dismissal.
But this was Tuchel’s triumph and he wants more.
“Nobody wants to rest, I want the next one, the next title,” he added. “I want to be a part of it and I demand to be a part of it.”