“We know what’s coming,” writes Thomas Tuchel, the Chelsea manager, in his notes in the matchday magazine that will go on sale at Wembley at Saturday’s FA Cup final. “Liverpool will come at you with full speed, high intensity and the highest quality.”
Tuchel knows what’s coming as acutely as any coach working in elite football because he has been taking on Jurgen Klopp, his German compatriot for the last 13 years, on and off, scrapping in the Bundesliga, pitting wits in knockout games and most recently negotiating gripping stalemates.
His Chelsea have spent more time sharing a pitch with Liverpool than any other team this season. The encouraging news for Tuchel, ahead of what he describes as a daunting task, is that Chelsea have withstood the Liverpool juggernaut very capably compared with most others confronted with it.
In January at Stamford Bridge, Liverpool came at Chelsea with all the maximum intensity and speed Tuchel identifies. They were 2-0 up barely a quarter of the way through what was, at the stage, a meeting between clubs separated by a point at second and third in the Premier League. Chelsea recovered to draw 2-2, the only English side other than Manchester City to have taken so much as a point at home against Klopp’s dynamic travellers in 2022.
Back in August, Chelsea held Liverpool 1-1 at Anfield in the Premier League and did so reduced to 10 men, after Reece James’s sending-off, for half the contest. Viewed through the lens of the momentum Klopp’s team have built up since then, it looks an outstanding result. Only four Premier League visitors have gone to Anfield this season and escaped with a draw. No English opponent has won there this term.
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But most pertinent for relieving Chelsea’s feeling they are underdogs this weekend are the two hours Tuchel’s men combated Liverpool at Wembley in February, the first of the season’s two major cup finals between red and royal blue.
The League Cup had to be settled by penalty shoot-out after a lively, chance-filled afternoon had somehow finished without goals through 90 minutes and through extra time. The shoot-out was immaculate, 21 efforts scored, before, deep into sudden death, Kepa Arrizabalaga, who had been brought on by Tuchel as the specialist goalkeeper for penalties, put his spot-kick over the crossbar.
On that detail were the foundations of a possible Liverpool Quadruple built, and the strongest tribute to Klopp’s management and the energy and appetite within his squad is that what was a fanciful idea – the clean sweep of all the major trophies in a single season – four months ago remains a live one with just over two weeks of the season remaining.
A Cup double can be achieved on Saturday, the Premier League could yet be snatched from Manchester City, albeit that would need City, three points ahead with two games left, to slip up. Liverpool will go to Paris on May 28 as narrow favourites to beat Real Madrid in the Champions League final.
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“We can reflect on good games against them this season,” said Tuchel, entitled to be proud of bettering the record of City – who lost the FA Cup semi-final to Liverpool and shared two 2-2 draws in the league – against Klopp’s team, and of guiding Chelsea through the last two months amid the destabilising background of the club’s compulsory sale. Long-term owner Roman Abramovich was sanctioned by the UK government for his perceived links to Russia president Vladimir Putin.
“The League Cup final at Wembley was a fantastic game for both teams and we needed 22 penalties to find a winner,” Tuchel observed. “The home match against them in the league was a great match, when we came back to draw 2-2, and the 1-1 draw earlier in the season, at Anfield, was also a brilliant game.
“So there is a record of very, very close games between these two sides. That should give us courage and also give us a clear picture of what is needed, physically, mentally, in every sense, to win. To say it out loud – we need everything to be at its highest level.”
One setback to that objective is the injury sustained by midfielder Mateo Kovacic during Chelsea’s 3-0 victory over Leeds United on Wednesday. The Croatian will likely miss the Wembley date. N’Golo Kante is also a significant doubt. Liverpool have an equivalent absence, with anchor midfielder Fabinho ruled out because of a hamstring problem.