This is exactly how it was not meant to be. Yet, this is exactly how it has always been. When the mist clears in the blue of the Bridge, a realisation will dawn. Frank Lampard was hired to do a job and his time was the perfect embodiment of its execution. Lampard is a Chelsea man who was asked to bring the Chelsea back to Stamford Bridge. He sort of did. He sort of did not. And then, there was a moment of poetic irony. It was so Chelsea like in its manifestation that even the melancholic would afford a smile. Of resignation, of course. So, when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer brings his vibing bunch of reds, romance is a currency only one dugout can avail. Chelsea vs Manchester United now has a new dynamic. A wonderkid for a wonderkid. An outsider for an insider versus an insider.
The newest outsider at the Bridge has met a mixed welcome. His only apparent fault being: He is not Frank. There are very few Franks in the Chelsea kingdom. In fact, one would be rather hard pressed to find a second Frank in any kingdom. A true, blue club legend. Their highest scorer and a serial winner in blue. Now also their latest sacked manager. There was a lot of romance about Frank's second-coming at Chelsea. But, even the most optimistic could have predicted an outcome of similar bottom line.
Chelsea vs Manchester United - Wonderkid for wonderkid
Lampard was never really armoured to succeed at cut-throat Chelsea. And someone as self-aware as an elite professional footballer, would know. A manager with only one year's experience is fodder for Premier League feast. It became increasingly clear that Lampard was firing tactical blanks. Yet, he could not have turned the offer down. Glamour and lure aside. He is a club man the club turned to in a time of crisis. It was a dream job. At a wrong time. And the end was one of poetic irony. One Lampard has seen so often and now feels first-hand. An accelerated and merciless thud of the guillotine. Goodbye and his time now a tale of two Chelseas.
One Chelsea is of course the one signified by ruthless Roman Abramovich. The Chelsea that leaves no space for emotion. The Chelsea that moves on. The other Chelsea is the one Lampard has left behind for Thomas Tuchel. Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and Reece James. Even Fikayo Tomori and Billy Gilmour to a certain extent. These are all men who will fight for the badge. A side of Chelsea often unseen in the thrift of pound shelling. 222.48 million in GBP no less. At a time of real suffering caused by a global pandemic. Even Lampard will understand why Chelsea chose a different wonderkid to him.
Chelsea vs Manchester United - Tuchel & non-negotiables
"(Football management is) something you need to learn and understand. Not a thing you do because there’s nothing else left. Or because it seems like the logical next step after 400 professional matches,” Chelsea's new wonderkid had once remarked.
Tuchel is polar opposite to Lampard. He retired at 24 and had no playing career of note. Not at all a wonderkid in that regard. Akin to his predecessor's managerial career. But as a manager, Tuchel has been the Bavarian wonderkid following the footsteps of another German - through Mainz and Dortmund - to land up in England. They are a little different of course. The teeth-clenching, cap wearing Merseyside man is a hugger. Tuchel is touchy of a different ilk. Punctuality. Good manners. Looking into the eye while greeting. He has certain quirky non-negotiables. And his current job description comprises some typical non-negotiables. Quick fix is primary on that list.
Two people who could do with swift repair work are Timo Werner and Kai Havertz. In fact, the German has been brought in with these specifics to tend to. A failure that cost Lampard. Tuchel, meanwhile, is perfectly suited to battle this war. He brings everything that has been German in football over the last decade: gegenpressing, quick transitions and so forth.
Chelsea vs Manchester United - Tuchel, fit & misfit
Tuchel is, by all means, an upgrade on Frank Lampard on every professional front. He has been successful in every managerial gig. He helped Borussia Dortmund reassert their identity after a burnout under Jurgen Klopp. In fact, Christian Pulisic from Hershey was his find. PSG was no different either. There is little to suggest he did anything extraordinary. Paris has become default destination for domestic silverware since Qatari investment.
But, Tuchel's real impact here will remain unquantifiable. Perhaps, even fairly so. He has nothing to show for it - Champions League runners up. Why significant then? European pedigree. PSG had never really recovered from La Remontada. In fact, Tuchel's opposition manager on Sunday is perhaps still at Old Trafford owing to PSG's mental disintegration. That night in Paris and all. Marcus Rashford penalty and Ole's at the wheel. Tuchel would have absolutely exorcised the ghosts had he not met a rampant Bayern Munchen in the final. And he even ran them close, eventually to be undone by a Paris lad.
Despite his lofty achievements, Tuchel seems an odd match at Chelsea. Or perhaps that is how he thrives: as an outspoken mismatch. He fell out with Dortmund's hierarchy merely days after winning the club's first trophy in 5 years. He called out PSG's board after guiding them to their best result in Europe. On that front, he seems like the perfect fit at Chelsea. Here, like his football, it is quick give and go. A place where the blue can descend as blinding mist all too suddenly. Gegenpressing becomes burn out Parkour. Tactical flexibility becomes lack of stability.
Chelsea vs Manchester United - red wine, blue cheese & football
And a man who knows the summit and nadir of life in England all too well will bump fists with the German on Sunday. Ole Solskjaer's world is either red roses or red herring. Promise or crisis. There is never a dull moment aboard Ole's wheel.
Perhaps the two can even discuss vibes over a bottle of wine that Tuchel may still carry from his time in Paris. Who knows, they may even discuss their previous two meetings this season. Perhaps Tuchel can ask him about what it feels to be Lampard. Club legend and a Champions League winner returning as a manager.
Ole, of course, also has a faltering title challenge to take care of. Once a serious contender, now among the pretenders. Ole has promised that his team will try their best. But oftentimes, and regularly in clutch games, the best has only been a mislead for Manchester United. Flirting with the Premier League summit and four semifinal exits. It has been a tale of Hollywood daring with penetrative precision only to eventually be another maze of bridesmaid but not the bride.
And so they head to Stamford Bridge. Red and blue both situated strangely central on the bridge between boom and bust. Chelsea and Manchester United are blue and red of contrasting implications. If Sunday is glorious, either London will breathe blue serenity or Manchester shall receive a red letter welcome. And for he who blinks, a precipitous descent of blue mist or the ignominy of red herring.
Over to Tuchel, Solskjaer, and football as smooth as red wine with blue cheese.