A year or so ago, Jose Mourinho was Thomas Tuchel.
The incumbent manager had posted a bad run of results and seemed to have misplaced his ability to coax better performances out of his squad. His dismissal felt a bit harsh, given the recency of better days. But he was out all the same. Time for the next man.
That was Mourinho replacing Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham Hotspur in November 2019. The Portuguese did better, pushing his side up the table in spite of major injuries to key players. This season, an early charge put Spurs in first place for four matchdays until Dec. 16. Since then, they have won just two of nine, including three defeats in a row, tumbling to seventh place in a tightly packed table. Now it’s Mourinho whose time might be running out.
He lost that third straight league game to Tuchel, in the latter’s third match in charge of Chelsea. On Jan. 26, Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard, who evidently had no remaining credit for getting a rebuilding, understaffed team into the Champions League last season.
Tuchel in turn had been fired by Paris Saint-Germain on Dec. 29, just four months after he’d brought the club to the first Champions League final in its history — a narrow 1-0 loss to Bayern Munich.
Tuchel was replaced by… Pochettino. And on Thursday he faced his two-time Chelsea predecessor in Mourinho.
Chelsea beat Spurs 1-0 in a victory that was closer than it ought to have been, given the Blues’ dominance of much of the game. Then again, Spurs put two of their seven shots on frame and had the better chances — including a lovely curler from Erik Lamela, a header by Carlos Vinicius that just missed the mark and a late look for Heung-min Son. Chelsea, meanwhile, got only one of 17 attempts on target. It was that kind of game.
The goal came from a Jorginho penalty kick after a grounded Eric Dier inexplicably chopped Timo Werner down in his own box:
But Chelsea was in charge for much of the game. In the teeming rain, it set the pace, controlled the ball, moved assertively and quickly snuffed out Spurs’ feeble counterattacks — hampered yet again by the absence of Harry Kane. If Spurs had a game plan at all, it was hard to discern one as it creaked and groaned through the motions until it finally put Chelsea under pressure and threatened to nab a point late on.
That late spell clouded an impressive first hour for Chelsea. It was evident again that Tuchel’s impact has been immediate, and the contrast with Lampard’s final games is remarkable. Lampard never quite worked out how to field an effective defense while also keeping the attack kicking over, and vice versa. And toward the end, his team was feckless on both ends. Tuchel’s attack may have misfired in North London, but the defense posted a third straight clean sheet.
If there is a way of gauging managers head-to-head, it felt like Tuchel had Mourinho well beaten, just as his team ran circles around Spurs for most of the game. And so Tuchel is now the exciting new manager, the shiny one. Especially now that the infatuation with Jurgen Klopp has abated amid Liverpool’s slumping season. Pep Guardiola remains sui generis, of course, with his rampant Manchester City threatening to pull away from the rest of the league.
Tuchel seems to have an acute understanding of the same lesson Mourinho has learned time and again. That love is fleeting. That the job of manager is now exclusively a short-term one. Klopp is the longest-tenured manager in the Premier League at five years and change — only Burnley’s Sean Dyche has been in his job longer, although this is only his fifth season in the top tier. And even Klopp is a few bad months away from worrying about his job, never mind that he reached two Champions League finals, winning one, and claimed the club’s first league title in 30 years.
If Tuchel has any sense, he’ll know that Chelsea and its fans won’t be smitten with him for long. After a tricky schedule to start his new job, he gets a respite with games against Sheffield United, Newcastle and Southampton. But then come games against La Liga-leading Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, Manchester United, Everton, Leeds United and Liverpool.
Lose a few of those and things will look very differently. People and pundits will talk about Tuchel in a new and harsher way. Maybe Mourinho will have turned things around by then. Or perhaps somebody else is managing Spurs. The present never last long. Yet the future is too far off to plan for it. The honeymoons are brief and the divorces quick.
Thomas Tuchel is Chelsea’s fashionable new manager. Soon enough, he won’t be and Roman Abramovich will appoint the 18th manager of his 17-year ownership of the club.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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