Season finale holds no fears for Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel ahead of Leicester rematch
Two defeats on the spin for London club but German coach insists battle for top-four spot is 'still in our hands'
Thomas Tuchel is in the worst run of his time as Chelsea manager, which is another way of saying that after only two defeats in 25, he has lost consecutive games.
It is an exaggeration to call it a slump, but it is an ill-timed blip, costing the German a first trophy in England and potentially denying the 2020 and 2021 Champions League finalist a place in next season’s competition.
If Tuesday’s FA Cup final rematch against Leicester does not bring revenge then Chelsea’s destiny will be dependent on others. In the meantime, however, Tuchel is exuding positivity. “It’s still in our hands,” he said. “We are in the lucky situation where we can rely on ourselves. No one needs to be afraid of this situation.”
And yet the decisive moment in the race for top-four places may yet prove a 95th-minute header from Liverpool’s goalkeeper. “That didn’t make things boring, that late goal from Alisson, that is for sure,” smiled Tuchel.
His skills as a strategist have taken Chelsea this far but sometimes events can take on a life of their own. “That is nothing you can plan,” said Tuchel. “We let the door open so Liverpool have a foot in the door. We make a huge effort to overcome and overtake them. We should be aware of the huge performance we've made so far but we need to finish the job.”
His regret is not the FA Cup final, but the preceding match. Last week’s defeat to Arsenal was, Tuchel felt, perhaps a natural human reaction to defeating Real Madrid and Manchester City. He drew a distinction, arguing that Chelsea’s numbers positioned them to win but nevertheless admitting they were below par in a London derby.
“The setback for us was the Arsenal game,” he added. “It is an awkward feeling. We lost two games but if you look at the data you can see no reason why we lost them.
"I think we had a lot of games that we won 1-0 with the same performance, same attitude and same statistics. But while we were winning the data against Arsenal, still I was missing a certain energy and determination.
"For Leicester, I have no worries, no regrets. We are disappointed about the result but not about how we behaved on the pitch. If we bring the same performance as in the final, the same work rate and energy, but improve some of the details, we are able to win games.”
This season, however, Chelsea have not been able to beat Leicester. Frank Lampard’s last league match was against City, whose superiority was far greater than the 2-0 scoreline in January suggested. While Chelsea cannot secure Champions League football on Tuesday, Leicester can: victory would ensure they finish before the Londoners.
“Another huge game,” said manager Brendan Rodgers. “It was a very important game at the weekend to create this legacy of being the first team in the club’s history to win the FA Cup.”
He relished the prospect of a sequel. “I think it will be tactically the same, two teams super organised, a tight game,” he said. “That was the beauty of it. Maybe neutrals are looking for a 5-4 but if it’s the same, I’ll be very pleased.”
Until the last week, Chelsea have tended to prosper in tight, tactical affairs. Tuchel at least has more options to add freshness, with Andreas Christensen back to bolster his defence.
In contrast, Leicester will be without Jonny Evans, who limped out of the FA Cup final. Rodgers has the smaller squad and, with 8,000 fans back at Stamford Bridge, his side may start as underdogs, but they relish that role. They have already beaten each of the supposed big six this season; now they could finish before at least three of them.
Tuchel has tried to downplay the importance of it. “We approach this like any other game, with a clear will and desire,” he said. And yet it has become a match to shape Chelsea’s future; maybe his, too. “I don’t like ‘win at all costs,’ that is not what we do,” he said. “We are in sports. It is not about life and death but it is super important for our ambitions.”
Published: May 18, 2021 07:45 AM