When Paris Saint-Germain relieved Thomas Tuchel of his duties just four months after he guided the club to their first Champions League final, both Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp reached out to contacts in Germany to ascertain if what they believed was true: his next job would be in the Premier League.
The feedback was in the affirmative, but at the time, Arsenal and Manchester United had looked like the plausible destinations.
Tuchel assumed he’d have a break, but fresh after being sacked, Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia was on the phone to him, and in a month, he was unveiled at Stamford Bridge.
This was both great and bad news for Guardiola and Klopp: another managerial heavyweight to challenge them, but also a very significant threat to their ambitions of domestic and continental dominance.
Tuchel in the Premier League was a testing enough thought, but armed with the riches of talent in Chelsea’s squad, the pair were braced for a new power.
In his opening three months at the helm, the 47-year-old got the better of both as well as Diego Simeone, Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho – without conceding a goal in any of those fixtures.
Deeper still, since being appointed in January, Chelsea have collected 44 points in 21 games under Tuchel, with only title holders Manchester City winning more (51) having played a match more.
That form in the top flight was crowned by ousting Guardiola’s men to become champions of Europe, which even at the time felt like only the start.
Adding a confident and complete Romelu Lukaku to the ranks only heightens the feeling that Chelsea are returning to superpower status at a point where the one question mark around Tuchel – whether he would typically combust and fall out with a notoriously impatient board – has massively lessened.
Two of the manager’s former colleagues at Borussia Dortmund have told The Independent how surprised they have been by his much more relaxed and jovial state.
One of the reasons for this is he has been allowed to focus squarely on coaching at the club, not getting roped into boardroom battles as was the case at BVB, where he fell out with Sven Mislintat, their chief scout at the time, sporting director Michael Zorc and CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke.
There has been no sign of the daily political struggles encountered at PSG, where Antero Henrique and then Leonardo could not find common ground on the recruitment view and ultimate shape of the team.
At Chelsea, Tuchel also somewhat returns to his roots of development – albeit with higher stakes and greater expectations – given the scale of gifted players aged 25 and under that he is tasked with moulding.
“I’m in a top club with fantastic support, super organised and strong group on the field,” Tuchel recently told Sky Sports. “It’s a pleasure to work every day and it’s like this since day one.”
Success, so quickly too, naturally breeds happiness and a buy-in from players. This is aided by a tactical set-up that aims to squeeze play into the centre of the pitch, where the intelligent passing of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic, aligned with the close proximity of the three centre-backs, attracts the opposition before working the ball out to the advanced wingbacks to exploit space and numerical advantages.
Guardiola explained this approach ahead of the Champions League final. “They have the three central defenders and the two holding midfielders so close and then at the same time, they are so wide with the wing-backs and can go direct with the forwards getting in behind,” he said.
“You cannot get too close, cause they push you inside and then push you wide and have all the talented players then working through the middle to hurt you in the half-spaces.”
This is armed with an aggressive press, and now an almost unplayable version of Lukaku who has shed the perception that he is just a target man.
Tuchel was equipped with incredible tools when he walked into Chelsea, but he has maximised them. It is what Guardiola and Klopp predicted he would do, which is why the prospect of him at Chelsea – or even at United – was always a much scarier prospect than Frank Lampard or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer being in situ.
Tuchel spent a large portion of time idolising City’s manager and modelling a possession game gleaned from Pep’s fundamentals. He had consecutive spells in Klopp’s shadow both at Mainz and Dortmund.
He has morphed into a respected rival to both, all while wearing the responsibilities of being in the dugout better.
Chelsea travel to Anfield on Saturday to navigate the first serious challenge to their billing as genuine title candidates. Tuchel will finally arrive as an equal to Klopp rather than the man trying to claw out of the shade and catch his light.
Their teams have contested the last four Champions League finals and will duel it out for the domestic crown starting with a fixture that promises much – and will have a very intrigued viewer in Guardiola.