Chelsea sacks coach Thomas Tuchel amid shaky, stale start to season

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FILE - Chelsea's head coach Thomas Tuchel leaves after the Champions League group E soccer match between Dinamo Zagreb and Chelsea at the Maksimir stadium in Zagreb, Croatia, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022. Thomas Tuchel has been fired by Chelsea only one month into the season. The decision by Chelsea’s new ownership comes a day after the team lost to Dinamo Zagreb 1-0 in its first group match in the Champions League. Chelsea has lost two of its first six games in the Premier League. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel after the team's Champions League loss at Dinamo Zagreb. It was his last game in chartge at the club. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

Chelsea sacked head coach Thomas Tuchel on Wednesday, one month into the 2022-23 season and one day after an insipid loss in the Champions League to Croatian club Dinamo Zagreb.

The London club announced that it had "parted company" with the German coach, who'd been in charge since January of 2021.

In a statement, Chelsea framed the decision as one made by its new owners, who are led by American billionaire Todd Boehly.

"As the new ownership group reaches 100 days since taking over the club, and as it continues its hard work to take the club forward, the new owners believe it is the right time to make this transition," the statement said.

It added that Tuchel's coaching staff would take temporary charge of first-team trainings and games, beginning with a local derby at Fulham on Saturday.

Tuchel: Champions League winner out after less than two years

Tuchel's tenure had started promisingly. He replaced Frank Lampard midseason, guided Chelsea from ninth place in the Premier League up to the top four, and led a surprise run to the 2021 Champions League title. Then, in his first full season in charge, he had the Blues at the top of the Premier League table in December.

But Chelsea sunk rapidly from there, out of the title race, ultimately finishing a distant third. Results dipped further below expectations as the 2022-23 season began. Chelsea lost at Leeds and Southampton in the Premier League, and then 1-0 at Zagreb in its Champions League group stage opener.

Tuchel was out less than 24 hours later.

A fresh start for a young and evolving Chelsea squad

Chelsea's new owners, who bought the club from Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich this year, spent over $300 million on new players this summer, more than any other club in the world.

On one hand, Tuchel hardly had time to work with most of them — defenders Wesley Fofana and Marc Cucurella, midfielder Denis Zakaria and forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang all arrived late in the transfer window.

But even holdovers from previous seasons, and even young stars full of apparent promise, seemed to have gone stale in Tuchel's regimented system. Mason Mount and Kai Havertz, for example, looked toothless over the season's first month.

A new manager will be tasked with reviving their development — and, perhaps, with better utilizing 23-year-old American star Christian Pulisic. But the new manager will hardly have time. An international break will disrupt training later this month. Chelsea will then play two games per week until the November-December World Cup — when many of its players will spend several weeks away at the tournament in Qatar.

Candidates to take over as Chelsea coach

In its statement, Chelsea offered no timeline for the search to replace Tuchel, other than that it would move "swiftly to appoint a new head coach."

The Telegraph and others reported that Chelsea had approached Brighton manager Graham Potter, and that Potter had been given permission to speak with the Blues.

Potter, whose Brighton team has started the 2022-23 season with 13 points from six games, is the betting favorite to get the job. Other candidates, according to reports, include former Tottenham and PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino and former Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.

Implications of Tuchel sacking for Christian Pulisic

Pulisic was among the players who'd stagnated. Toward the end of Lampard's tenure, after "constantly feeling that I had to prove myself over and over again," as Pulisic said in a forthcoming book, he "felt that I had finally convinced him of my value to the team." The arrival of Tuchel, who'd previously coached Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund, interrupted any progress.

Pulisic played irregularly under Tuchel. He slipped further down the coach's depth chart when Chelsea signed English forward Raheem Sterling this summer. Pulisic has started just one of Chelsea's first seven competitive games this season. He often came off the bench, and sometimes played out of position. Tuchel used him, for not the first time, as a right wingback in the 2-1 loss at Southampton.

Pulisic, a source told Yahoo Sports, wanted to leave Chelsea last month as the transfer deadline neared. But the club wanted to keep him. A week later, it parted ways with Tuchel instead.

A new manager could bring a style that better suits Pulisic, and a willingness to play him more regularly. But Pulisic still faces stiff competition — from Sterling, Havertz, Mount, Aubameyang, Hakim Ziyech and perhaps others — for minutes. He has not been effective in the ones he has played this season. The guidance of a new coach may or may not change that.