Our no.11 looks ahead to the FA Cup final, compares it to last year, talks about recovering from Covid and how he must get the better of a former team-mate at Wembley…
We’ve been here before!
For a third year in a row and the fifth time in six seasons, Chelsea are about to play an FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium and for the second time this season, we face Liverpool in the deciding match of a domestic knockout cup competition.
However having lost our previous two FA Cup finals by a one-goal margin and having taken the Reds all the way to the goalkeepers taking a spot-kick in a penalty shoot-out before missing out on Carabao Cup silverware, there really is a sense this time that we are overdue a win in one of these.
The fact that all three of our meetings against Liverpool this season have been epic encounters that ended all-square in open play adds to that feeling too.
Timo Werner, increasingly a regular choice in the side in the later stages of this season, came on in the second half of our February final against Jurgen Klopp’s side, and was one of the successful penalty takers at the end of extra time. He was a starter in last year's FA Cup final defeat by Leicester.
Unlike for that showpiece event when the pandemic limited the Wembley crowd to only a quarter of its capacity, the stadium will be packed today and Werner is pleased to learn that the number of the seats occupied by Chelsea fans will be pretty similar on this occasion to the Carabao Cup final.
‘The FA Cup final is always a nice game and with the stadium in Wembley full, the two sides, Chelsea and Liverpool, the atmosphere will be very good,’ our speedy striker says.
‘I think against Leicester it was also a very good game, a lot of fun to play, but we were unlucky we didn't win it. This time I think there will be much more atmosphere. We had this in the Carabao Cup final and the FA Cup semi-final. We want to win this this cup and the Chelsea fans will support us very good.
Racing against the Reds
‘Chelsea against Liverpool has always been very, very good games,’ Werner continues. ‘A lot of fun for the people to watch and also very good for us players. This season we haven't lost one game against them, we always played very good, and that gives us a lot of confidence to go into this game and say we want to win it.
‘I think the reasons why the games have been good is they are open games, both teams want to win. No one is sitting deep and defending, both want to have the ball, both teams want to attack. Both teams have very fast players as well to attack the goal.
‘It was always up and down in those games this season and in the Carabao Cup final at the end, it was a shame that it was 0-0. I think it could be 3-3. So always good games and hopefully again this time.’
When Werner is talking about the two teams having fast attacking players, he is not necessarily referring to himself but he will surely be what others have in mind when they think about that scenario. We have certainly seen when he has played against Liverpool in his two seasons in England how he has been used as a weapon against the Reds’ high defensive line.
‘I think it makes it a lot of fun because I have a bit more space than against teams who are sitting deep and defending very deep in their own half,’ the 26-year-old nods.
‘Against teams like Liverpool, they also want to play, they are also very brave and they want to make pressure on us and that gives us also a bit space behind. It helps me or our team to play also counter-attack. That suits my style.
‘But it is not only that. We managed a lot of games where we had possession against teams and we control them. That was also very key for us in those games.’
Liverpool’s man from Leipzig
If Timo is selected today and is to get the better of the Liverpool backline, it may mean overcoming a defender he knows especially well and who knows him too. Ibrahima Konate made the move from Werner’s former club RB Leipzig last summer and is starting regularly in recent weeks.
‘I like him a lot. He's very calm. I played three years with him and he is a brilliant defender,’ Werner praises. ‘It was unlucky that Chelsea did not buy him one or two years ago, but I think Liverpool did a very good deal with him.
‘I remember one story from Leipzig when he said when he was injured that normally he has only problems with Timo in training, and now he has problems with every player in training! That was because he was not on his level because of the injury. He was saying this to the manager and we were laughing because he is very good in duels.
‘It is good for him that he's back in shape but bad for us because he helps Liverpool a lot. In this final we have to beat him as well!’
As mentioned earlier, Chelsea have been in this cup final situation before and this season, our opponents Liverpool find themselves in a similar scenario to the Blues a year ago, with having to balance an FA Cup final with a Champions League final appearance, while at the same time needing to collect Premier League points. Indeed it was also the case for Chelsea 10 years ago when we last played Liverpool in the FA Cup final at Wembley.
That 2011/12 campaign of course pre-dates Werner considerably, but he did live through the end of last season.
‘It was not easy because you can't handle the FA Cup final like a final, because every game was in this time like a final for us.
‘But on the other hand, it was also good because it didn't make it too big for us. It didn't make it too much excitement. We handled it like a normal game and that was maybe a good thing because we were not so nervous or over-excited.
‘Of course we lost in the end, but I think it was still a good thing that every game was a final and everything was handled separately.’
The pain of our 1-0 defeat to Leicester was soon eased considerably when we won in Porto. That was a game Werner started and as the current season has reached its climax, he has again found himself a regular in Thomas Tuchel’s starting line-ups, with four goals in his last eight starts.
‘In the start the season was not so good,’ he admits. ‘I had some injuries and Covid, it was up and down this season but it is good that I’ve finished the season with better games and with some goals, and had a good end of the season.
‘It did take a while to get over Covid. I had it a bit worse than other players, it took a bit longer. It was not serious but for an athlete, you have to be careful and handle it a bit slower than other people. Still after that the first one or two weeks were a bit hard in training.
‘Sometimes the problem was that I got a bit sick between training and I had a little cough always there, but I think that's normal for Covid. A lot of people have this.
‘It is something different in football because now players with this illness have to miss games. Normally it would be the decision of the club depending on how the players feel.’
Back fully recovered now, Werner has the perfect opportunity today to really make it a successful end to his season.
‘Of course to score goals in a final is always nice,’ he agrees, ‘and to score goals against Liverpool in an FA Cup Final, that would be great, but in the end we want to win and it doesn't matter who scores.’