Thomas Tuchel looks ahead to getting the better of our counterparts from Manchester, both today, in Istanbul and over a longer race next season…
Tuchel previewed our FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City last month by describing it as ‘a chance to close the gap in 90 minutes’ and the Blues were successful in that task, keeping the champions-elect at bay before securing a 1-0 victory courtesy of Hakim Ziyech’s breakaway goal.
If we can do the same in three weeks’ time in Istanbul, Tuchel and Chelsea will be European champions. Likewise, in the third of our four meetings with the Citizens this season tonight, the stakes are high as the hosts could finally secure the Premier League title, while the Blues still need precious points in order to secure Champions League qualification for next season.
Yet it is closing the gap on Pep Guardiola’s men next term, over the course of a nine-month, 38-game league campaign, that Tuchel believes matters just as much.
‘First of all, we know we cannot close it anymore this season,’ he conceded. ‘They will be champions, hopefully not in this game but in one of the next days, and deserved champions so there is a huge gap because we are battling for the top four and not for the championship right now.
‘Their consistency over the last three or four years is unique so that is the challenge for us to fight against. I still say that Bayern Munich and City was the benchmark in Europe, and City is the benchmark in the league, but we are here to fight them and to close the gap.’
Our record since Tuchel took charge in late January is encouraging on that front. Under the Bavarian, the Blues have lost fewer games than the Mancunians, who have also conceded 38 per cent more goals, and got the better of City at Wembley in the FA Cup.
However, maintaining such levels over time remains the biggest challenge, and one the Chelsea head coach appears intently focused on.
‘I don’t know how fast we can do it and I don’t want to set limits to it,’ he continued. ‘We will try from the first day next season to not let the gap be so big and I’m pretty sure that there are many teams who start with exactly the same ambition.
‘The race is on from day one but first of all this season is not finished yet. We have another crucial match and then Arsenal, Leicester and Aston Villa in the league, which is a pretty tough schedule for the end of the season.
‘We are totally focused on us and what we can do now sets the bar high for our expectations and demands for any match upcoming. We have to earn it and the process is key because the process is reality and the reality we worship every day is that we are together and work hard and are concentrated to earn the results.’
While reaching the final in both the FA Cup and Champions League adds even more games at the end of the most condensed campaign in memory, Tuchel feels recent semi-final triumphs against City and Real Madrid have forged stronger bonds within the dressing room that will stand this young group in good stead in the weeks, months and years to come.
‘The down side is we have more games to come in between because it’s way harder to keep the focus and to always refocus on different competitions,’ he explained.
‘On the other hand, it is clear that you gain confidence when you have these extreme positive experiences together, which gives a certain glue in this group and which strengthens the bond in the dressing room and at Cobham.
‘We feel strong enough to translate this power and confidence into our race for the top four and this is what we are up for. The challenge right now is to forget the praise and the positive feedback, don’t get too influenced by that because it just clouds your mind. The target is to be totally refocused for Man City.’