Thomas Tuchel has urged his players to put the joy of our Champions League semi-final victory out of their minds to focus on tomorrow’s Premier League fixture against Manchester City, which he feels could be our toughest match so far.
In one of the scheduling quirks that the football calendar throws up from time to time, our next opponents are the same side we will meet in the Champions League final, following our win over Real Madrid on Wednesday evening.
However, Tuchel is just looking at this Premier League game with Manchester City and it’s own importance, not as a dress rehearsal for the Champions League final.
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The game will bring its own challenges, with the Citizens knowing that they can be crowned English champions on Saturday and the scheduling that worked in our favour for our FA Cup semi-final win over them going against us this time around.
‘The possibility that they can become champions if they win against us will not lower their ambitions and determination,’ Tuchel pointed out. ‘They have one more day to recover, they don’t have to travel, which gives them a bit the upper hand.
‘We saw how crucial that can be in these days when they arrived at Wembley in the semi-final and we had one more day, we had two games in London and they had to travel from Dortmund and then again to London. I had the feeling on the sideline that it gave us a bit of the upper hand.
‘I think that the final in Istanbul will be pretty unique, no matter what the score is tomorrow. Both teams will reflect enough for this special game in Istanbul to be able to turn around any result tomorrow.
‘So I try to prepare for it in a normal way. The challenge right now is to get the tiredness out of our legs and out of our brains to get refocused. The big challenge is also to forget Wednesday because it will not help us on the pitch tomorrow. We should remember our performance and what we put into this game, but forget all the praise, forget the result and start again new.’
Tuchel also admitted that even without any of those factors coming into play, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side are arguably the toughest opponents in Europe at the moment, even if we have already shown we have the ability to beat them in the FA Cup semi-finals.
‘If you play against Pep you know the most difficult games have arrived, because he is the coach of the best teams in Europe and he leaves his footprint and his style of play. It is full of courage and full of quality and full of flexibility. His teams are always super hungry to win, he transforms any team into a winning machine.
‘They are the benchmark of this league. It’s a big gap but like we did in the semi-final, it’s up to us to close the gap for 90 minutes and then we will do the same thing in the final. When you arrive against Pep the level is high and you need to be on your very best coaching level to push your team to full confidence and to hopefully play on the best level, because they are used to winning, their team are very regular at the highest level and it is another big challenge tomorrow.
‘It was the same in the semi-final, we knew that this is maybe the toughest opponent right now in Europe that you can play. You never want to admit that there is a gap, but if you feel you play a team like City which is the benchmark in the league, the goal is to close the gap for 90 minutes because this is what you can do in football and exactly what we did at Wembley.
‘Now it’s a league game, they can be champions, they have one more day recovery, so it’s a big challenge for us. But this is why we are here and everybody who will play for Chelsea tomorrow will be completely focused and determined to grab the best result possible at the Etihad.’
Two players who will be on opposing sides tomorrow, Mason Mount and Phil Foden, have both been earning plenty of praise for their performances in the Champions League and Premier League recently, and Tuchel sees similarities in their talent and mentality.
‘They are the outstanding examples at the moment of how good young players can be, and how good young players from England can be,’ he added. ‘I cannot speak for Phil Foden because he’s not my player, but you see clearly the talent and desire and ability to decide any game at any level. So he’s a huge player and he gives me the impression that he is the same nice guy, the same clear character, like Mason.
‘I have spoken about Mason many times. He’s outstanding and he has the full package in terms of mentality, of being humble, of work ethic and of course talent. They are absolutely reliable on the highest level and most importantly they are hungry and humble and they behave exactly how you want players to behave at this age. They want to learn, they want to get better and it seems like they don’t feel the pressure, which is pretty amazing.’