Thomas Tuchel today confirmed Mateo Kovacic has suffered a ‘little setback’ in training and will not be able to feature as hoped against Fulham, while the knock Toni Rudiger sustained in Madrid will keep him out of the weekend game.
The boss was speaking at his pre-match media conference ahead of the Cottagers’ short trip across SW6 tomorrow tea-time. Off the back of a well-earned draw in Madrid, and before the second leg of that Champions League tie, Tuchel was keen to narrow the focus on Fulham and not get ahead of ourselves.
Three more precious Premier League points are up for grabs in the race for the top four, and the boss will have to do without the services of two of his players, including Kovacic.
‘Unfortunately he’s still injured,’ said Tuchel.
‘He trained with us but he’s still not fully confident. He felt something at the end of the training so he’s not available.
‘Before training today, we thought Kova has a big chance to join us latest for Madrid, maybe even for Fulham, so now we have a little setback with him. I don’t want to be too negative. Let’s see how he feels tomorrow.
‘All other players are available except for Toni Rudiger who got injured in the last minute of the Madrid game. I am quite positive for Toni [being available] for Wednesday.’
With Kovacic unavailable, Tuchel was asked if Billy Gilmour has a chance of playing against Fulham tomorrow so N’Golo Kante or Jorginho can have a rest.
‘It could be, but it’s not decided yet,’ responded Tuchel.
‘N’Golo feels very good, Jorgi looked very good in training today, fresh again. The guys are super professional, they know we miss Kova a lot. I have the feeling N’Golo and Jorgi step even up in doing everything to recover as fast as possible.
‘They looked very good today in training, I was quite impressed, so the last decision is made today in the evening. Billy is in the squad, he was very close to playing some minutes in the last games, and he is in good shape so he could play.’
Focused on Fulham nothing more
Tuchel also discussed the subject of rotation more broadly when it was put to him tomorrow’s game could be an opportunity to make full use of his squad and rest some players for the return leg with Real Madrid.
‘Fulham is a good chance to keep our advantage in the league, nothing else. It’s a moment to prove to ourselves we can fully focus on one match. There is one match to play tomorrow, nothing else.
‘I know very well it’s a match between two semi-finals. That’s not a usual week, and I’m happy because it’s a big thing to play in a semi-final of a Champions League, but it’s a moment to prove to ourselves we are capable of putting all our energy into tomorrow’s game. This starts with me, with the line-up, with the preparation, with the talk and the mindset from the coach.
‘We are in the middle of the race and it’s not always super easy to switch between one competition and another, but who cares. Everybody can do easy.
‘It’s our job to switch focus, and my job to find the mix, put the players in the right mindset, and prepare for this match in a way everybody understands its importance.
‘We have not worked this hard all these weeks, and during the game against West Ham, to give us this advantage just to let it slip through our hands by not being focused.
‘You can lose any match, this can happen, but us not being focused and prepared cannot happen. This is what I demand from everybody tomorrow. I want us to be fully on and not hold back one percent.’