Chelsea head into today’s Emirates FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City knowing that, should both clubs progress to the Champions League final, it would be the first of three more meetings with Pep Guardiola’s side before the season is out.
Even if there ends up being just today’s encounter and our Premier League match in May, that is still plenty of opportunity for Thomas Tuchel to measure his team’s progress against the side setting the pace in England, and our head coach wants those and other opportunities to help judge where his team are in comparison and what is needed in the future to close any gap.
‘Don’t forget they [Man City] had a very rough start to the season and that was the time where Chelsea were ahead, and then they had an incredible reaction and that started an incredible series of victories which brought them very well deserved to the top of the table,’ says Tuchel.
‘I will not judge now how many per cent behind Man City we are, but in the process when you want to compete for the top in any competition, it is important that you know and accept where we are, and we are behind City.
Chelsea are delivering
‘You close the gap step-by step. Recruiting, I don’t know [if this is needed] because we show right now good performances in a very constant level in very important matches. At crucial moments we showed up, and I will tell you maybe after the season where I think we are and where we need to improve, and what the situation can be.
‘Because the crucial moments come now and we are not that long together. We live these crucial moments now together. This is very nice because you get to know your team the very best if they are tight games and the pressure is on. We play a semi-final today and we play a semi-final in the Champions League and we play every game like a cup game in the league to finish in the top four.
‘Then we will have a clear picture and from next year on we will start like everybody expects from us and like I expect from myself, we will start trying to win the very first match and we go from there to every match to win it. Then we will see how consistent we are and how good we are. This is a young team and I believe we will be stronger with every game and with every experience that we have, and a big experience is coming up today.’
These games excite
Tuchel will not go as far as saying taking on Guardiola’s side is the one ultimate test but he readily admits they are one of a few setting the benchmark others strive to meet.
‘This [game today] is the level where people like to watch these games and get excited, where I am getting excited because it is what I would normally watch on TV if I was not part of it. We are very excited to have these experiences now and to use them to grow, and the best feeling is we arrive in this game absolutely confident we have a chance to win this game, and from there we will see.’
Moving the pepper pots with Pep
Taking on City also takes Tuchel back to a meal he had with Guardiola back when they were both managing in Germany.
‘It was one of the first times when we met in person,’ he recalls, ‘and then after that we had one more dinner in Munich, and if you go out with Pep, why not talk about football?
‘For me he was a huge influence so we started to talk about tactics and about positions on the field and what he did with Barcelona. He explained it to me and we had some drawings and we used what was on the table to explain the positions and the tactical situations.
‘We were talking about a lot of positions from his Barcelona teams and how he changed them when he brought Fabregas, and how to play Messi as a false nine, and what was sometimes a double-six and a single-six and how to create in these spaces, or to play with a back-three or a back-four. These things like when two coaches talk.’