If an important part of the story of Chelsea’s past six weeks has been players missing through injury or illness, then there are two Blues in particular whose absence Thomas Tuchel believes has had a major effect on our title prospects.
The boss spoke yesterday about some of the reasons why he thinks Manchester City have established a 10-point lead over us ahead of today’s game at the Etihad.
Key players missing for sustained periods was a significant factor, not just because of what they can offer on the pitch but also their influence in the dressing room. Tuchel expanded further on that by citing the cases of Mateo Kovacic and N’Golo Kante, who have been hampered by injury and illness since November.
‘If you have players out like Mateo and N’Golo, and they share their work with Jorginho on the very highest level in the middle of the pitch, then you miss the core of your team,’ he said.
‘They are so important in the way they come to training, the way they push everybody and the way they are positive. The key players, the top, top players, behave the same way every day. No matter if they have to rest one game, or if they have personal differences, or if they have to fight, their experience and attitude is right. They know what it takes to overperform consistently.
‘They push everybody to the limit because they push themselves all the time to the limit. NG is doing this without words. He does it by example, and makes everybody see what the benchmark is. Kova is doing it with words and attitude and a lot of empathy. There are many more like this.’
Tuchel notes the continued disruption has forced so many changes to his starting XIs from week to week, with in-game injuries leading to further alterations. The consequence of this, he says, is that the Blues have missed the ‘intuition, understanding and fluidity of movement’ teams require to maintain consistent results.
Premier League vs Champions League
That has damaged our title challenge with Man City in pole position to retain their league crown. What our hosts today have yet to manage, though, is a triumphant Champions League campaign. Our victory in Porto last year stopped them at the final hurdle, and Tuchel considered if it is harder to win the league than Europe’s elite competition.
‘Both are very difficult, and they are very different,’ he stressed.
‘The Champions League is more like a tournament. You have knockout games, you need a bit of luck in the draw and with injuries. It is about momentum in weeks. It is the toughest tournament you can play in the world, and the Premier League is the toughest league.
‘I don’t know if you can compare it if it’s so different. I have 100 per cent desire to win the Premier League with Chelsea. I would be furious with myself if we didn’t try. We will not hide from the fact this is the goal.
‘On the same side, once you achieve it you want to have it again. We will never be relaxed, we are competitors, we do it to win in the right way with our values and our belief, and it’s a pleasure to be in the middle of it.’