After making half-time changes in four of the last five matches, Thomas Tuchel has outlined why the dressing room culture is so important in allowing him to take brave decisions during games.
Some of those substitutions at the interval have been more obvious or pre-planned than others, most notably away at Anfield in the aftermath of Reece James’s red card, though Tuchel’s effective use of early alterations has not gone unnoticed in recent weeks.
N’Golo Kante was introduced in place of Mason Mount last weekend against Tottenham, coinciding with an increase in tempo and a second-half performance that meant we triumphed 3-0 in north London.
Similarly, Jorginho replaced Saul Niguez in the Premier League game prior to that, while both Thiago Silva and Mateo Kovacic were introduced at the break against Liverpool as the Blues sought to shore up defensively in anticipation of a difficult second period.
Such changes, and their culmination in improved displays and positive results, have led to praise for the boss. However, he admits that only the feeling of trust and togetherness among the squad allows him to make such swift personnel decisions without worrying about any adverse after-effects.
‘When I feel confident, I feel brave enough to make these kind of decisions and free enough to do it but I need to feel safe with my players,’ he explained.
‘All the credit goes to them that I don’t think in too much of a political way - can I do this? What effect will it have on the dressing room? Will we cause a big fight? Will we create an awkward situation?
‘I’m happy that the team here is open enough and humble enough to accept it because that helps me a lot. When I do it, I’m in the zone of coaching so I don’t think so much about the effects.’
‘When I feel confident, I feel brave enough to make these kind of decisions and free enough to do it but I need to feel safe with my players.'
— Thomas Tuchel
Tuchel outlined how that culture of trust between the players and staff meant no decisions were ever taken personally, only through the prism of helping the team at any given moment in time. The fact that all decisions are subsequently explained gives players the opportunity to understand and move on without resentment or misunderstanding.
‘I never experienced a situation where people took it too personally,’ continued Tuchel. ‘I want to be reliable so that when I’m convinced about something helping the team, then I do it.
‘I have the freedom and trust from the team that it’s not against somebody or pointing my finger, it’s just to help in the moment. It might feel rude to some players but in general I have the feeling that we can do it, we explain the thoughts behind it and the players can swallow it.
‘Maybe it’s also important how we treat the guys after. It’s not like if you are exchanged at half-time and you had a bad match then we don’t speak for three weeks. It’s not like this and I want to take care about that.’
One player set to return to the starting team today is Edouard Mendy following a two-game injury absence. That will mean a place on the bench for Kepa Arrizabalaga at the end of a week in which he has excelled with a clean sheet at Spurs and a penalty shoot-out save against Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup, though Tuchel is adamant that the Spaniard accepts such decisions. Once again, effective communication plays a key part.
‘The situation is clear,’ added the boss. ‘Mendy at the moment is the number one and the number one is ready to play, not at 99 per cent but at 100 per cent, so he plays.
‘It maybe sounds tough but there are no hard feelings. Kepa is a fantastic goalkeeper and we are so happy to have him here. I was so happy that he could show everybody what he shows us here every single day and we are here to push him to the absolute limit.
‘The situation can be difficult if we don’t talk before but we have so it is clear. He can only play so good because he feels good, otherwise it’s not possible to perform like this.
‘They push each other, they are happy for each other, they behave like friends in this competition to be number one but the situation is so clear and super calm.’