What Manchester United can learn from Chelsea in the art of the quick managerial fix

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What Manchester United can learn from Chelsea in the art of the quick managerial fix
What Manchester United can learn from Chelsea in the art of the quick managerial fix

As Manchester United seek an interim head coach to breathe life into their season, what could they learn from Chelsea, their opponents on Sunday and the masters of using new managers to spark revivals during the Roman Abramovich era?

Ignore the noise and emotion

There were only two questions in the mind of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich when the possibility of appointing Rafael Benitez as the club’s interim manager in November 2012 was put to him - would he ensure a top-three finish and could he save the season with a trophy?

Nothing else mattered. Having sacked former player Roberto Di Matteo, Abramovich was warned the fans would not like it, that he and the board would face criticism, but his first priority was to do what gave Chelsea the best chance of success and deal with the rest later.

Sure enough, Benitez delivered a third-place finish and the Europa League, together with qualification for the Champions League, before Abramovich took Jose Mourinho back to Stamford Bridge seven months later in a move that was celebrated by the fans who had refused to get behind the Spaniard.

In January, Abramovich and the Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia were warned again over appointing Thomas Tuchel, who had a reputation of falling out with his bosses, and how that would sit with supporters who had been upset by the sacking of another club legend Frank Lampard. But, just as with Benitez nine years previously, results were the priority.

Chelsea had initially offered Ralf Rangnick the chance to succeed Lampard as interim until the end of the season, but the German was not keen on a short-term post so Tuchel was given an initial 18-month contract. In effect, he was the interim and would most likely have been replaced in the summer if things had gone badly.

A top-four finish and a trophy were once again the aims, and Tuchel spectacularly achieved both by landing the Champions League and fourth place in the Premier League table. Unlike Benitez, he also won the hearts of the Chelsea fans and earned a new deal until 2024. The fears, spread from sources close to his former clubs, over Tuchel’s temperament have so far proved to be unfounded.

United allowed their hearts to rule their heads when they made Solskjaer the club’s permanent manager following a good spell as interim. Chelsea, on the other hand, are the masters at never mixing sentiment with business and blocking out the opinions of those on the outside. They do not care about the headlines sacking certain managers generate or the outcry over a lack of stability that is accentuated when another interim comes through the door. All they care about is whether or not results will improve.

Similarly, Chelsea do not let the status of a manager or a former player dictate their working practice and it is almost certain they had been speaking to Tuchel, and Rangnick before him, ahead of sacking Lampard.

United, on the other hand, did not apparently start the process of identifying a successor to Solskjaer before dismissing him out of respect for the Norwegian. United must now be ruthless in pursuit of the man they feel can make the quickest impact on results. They should not be afraid of appointing an unpopular interim if he can put the club in the best possible position for the arrival of the next full-time manager, just as Benitez did at Chelsea.

Bring the squad together

One of the cleverest aspects of Tuchel’s management since arriving at Chelsea is the way in which he has managed to engage the entire squad. The German did this immediately and quickly won the trust of the players by making early moves to reinstate players such as Antonio Rudiger, Marcos Alonso, Cesar Azpilicueta and Jorginho. Over time, he also handed opportunities to Kepa Arrizabalaga and this season has given minutes to Trevoh Chalobah, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ross Barkley - none of whom were confident of remaining at Chelsea.

There were clearly players who felt sidelined by Solskjaer at United, such as Donny van de Beek, Jesse Lingard and Jadon Sancho, and whoever comes in needs to make everyone feel wanted - at least in the short term - to achieve quick results.

Juggling squads the size of Chelsea and United is never easy, but Tuchel has proved to be a master at keeping everybody involved, whether it be as a starter or from the substitutes’ bench. Michael Carrick was clever to offer opportunities to Van de Beek and Sancho from the start against Villarreal, while also keeping Bruno Fernandes involved from the bench.

Back the captain

Debate is currently raging over whether or not Harry Maguire deserves to be United’s captain, following another nightmare against Watford when he was sent off for two quick bookable offences. Azpilicueta and Jorginho were nowhere near that low under Lampard, but there were times when both players were left out or benched at the same time - something Lampard may well now reflect on as a mistake. Tuchel’s approach was clear from the word go and that was to put his faith very much in Azpilicueta and Jorginho, reasoning that Chelsea needed their experience and personalities. The pair were immediately made key figures on the pitch and asked to act as examples off it, and they grasped the opportunity to prove a point. Jorginho enjoyed the best six months of his career and Azpilicueta added yet another winners’ medal to his collection in the Champions League, and both men were nominated for the Ballon d’Or.

Maguire is unlikely to repeat that particular feat, but whoever comes in at United will need him for the rest of this season to stand any chance of making it a success.

What Manchester United can learn from Chelsea in the art of the quick managerial fix - GETTY IMAGES
What Manchester United can learn from Chelsea in the art of the quick managerial fix - GETTY IMAGES

Back to basics

Tuchel pretty much only had the plane journey from Paris to London to prepare for his first game in charge of Chelsea against Wolverhampton Wanderers and his first move was to revert to a back three - a system the players at the club had achieved success within in the past. He wanted a formation they knew and could take responsibility in, and that, most importantly, suited the strengths of his players and masked some of their deficiencies.

Tuchel decided that Silva would be able to lead the team from the back in the centre of a three-man defence that could offer protection to Jorginho, who can occasionally be out-muscled. Chelsea’s full-backs are also suited to the wing-back roles and most of their success in recent years, under Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, had come by utilising the counter-attack.

United were dangerous as a counter-attacking team under Solskjaer last season and the move to try to play a more possession-based brand of football during this campaign has not worked. Whatever the preferred philosophy of the next manager, at least until January when the transfer window reopens, he must use a system that the current group of players are most comfortable in and that would point towards a return to counter-attacking and hitting teams on the break.

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