Tuchel: Chelsea can close gap to 'European benchmark' Man City for 90 minutes

By Sports Desk April 16, 2021

Thomas Tuchel is confident Chelsea can close the gap to a Manchester City side he believes are the "benchmark" in European football alongside Bayern Munich for 90 minutes in Saturday's FA Cup semi-final.

Tuchel has never beaten a side managed by Guardiola during his career, having met the Catalan tactician five times across spells in charge of Mainz and Borussia Dortmund, earning two draws against his opponent's Bayern Munich side.

Both Chelsea and City are through to the semi-finals of the Champions League but, with the Blues 20 points behind Guardiola's men domestically, Tuchel accepts his team are a long way off the standard set by the Premier League leaders.

Asked if, having always been an underdog against him in Germany, Tuchel's Chelsea and Guardiola's City can be considered equals at Wembley, Tuchel told a media conference: "Yes and no. We have to accept there is a gap between us and Manchester City.

"If you look at the fixtures in the Premier League and if you look at the fixtures in the last few years we have to accept this. It's important that we accept it but without making us too small.

"From day one next season we will hunt them and try to close the gap between us. For me, in Europe, there are two teams who are the benchmark: Bayern Munich and Manchester City.

"But I know what you're saying of course, he made it impossible for us to beat them with Mainz, I think we had two draws with Dortmund, one ended in the cup final in a penalty loss and we had another draw at home, so we came close, it's time that we beat them, the next try is tomorrow.

"I don't believe in how big clubs are, are we equal or not? We have to admit that there is a gap but for 90 minutes we are very self-aware and very self-confident that we truly believe we can close the gap for one game, this is the target for tomorrow and I arrive with a team that I'm absolutely happy to arrive, to compete against the benchmark in England and Europe.

"We don't have the momentum of football on our side. If we want to have this we have to play on our top level, to force things and need a bit of luck.

"If we manage to beat them it will be a huge boost if not we will have to accept and take it as a challenge and opportunity to grow because we have some fights coming up. It's not only about the FA Cup, it's about the top-four race and the Champions League."

Tuchel takes joy in competing with Guardiola, identifying him as a significant inspiration in his managerial career.

"[Guardiola is a] huge influence because when he was coach of Barcelona I was watching almost every game," Tuchel explained. 

"I was very impressed by the way they made success happen with the style they were playing with their own academy guys, the offensive way, the ball possession.

"The most impressive thing about this team was their mentality, how they defended when they lost the ball. I learned a lot watching the game and understanding more of the game, how adventurous, how brave you can approach this game.

"So it was a big, big lesson. At this time I was a coach at the academy and then became a coach at Mainz. Almost every match was a lesson in these days and then later we had the opportunity to play against him.

"It was not always a pleasure but when you arrive on a certain level it's of course a pleasure to play against him and to meet him and to fight on the highest level."

Related items

  • Tuchel: Chelsea facing two cup finals with Leicester Tuchel: Chelsea facing two cup finals with Leicester

    Thomas Tuchel believes Chelsea face "two finals" against Leicester City over the course of four days that could do much to define their revival under his leadership.

    The Blues have been a team reborn since Tuchel succeeded Frank Lampard as head coach in January and Saturday's FA Cup final at Wembley is their first of two shots they have at silverware – the other coming in the Champions League final against Manchester City in Porto at the end of this month.

    Chelsea and Leicester will reconvene on Tuesday with qualification for next season's Champions League still on the line, especially after contrasting fortunes in their most recent fixtures.

    Leicester won 2-1 at Manchester United to move ahead of Chelsea in fourth, who went down to a lacklustre 1-0 derby loss at home to Arsenal.

    Liverpool, who also beat United in their match at Old Trafford on Thursday, could be one point behind Chelsea by the time Tuchel's men are back in league action and he lamented his team's failure to be "decisive" in the Arsenal game.

    "Obviously I cannot judge it," he said when asked which game was more important. "These are two finals and we do not think about anything else but the two finals.

    "It's a final for the cup, it's a final for the top four. We missed a chance against Arsenal to be decisive and now we have to cope with it – first of all to show a reaction at Wembley and have the upper hand when it comes to Tuesday."

    Tuchel took his share of the blame immediately after Emile Smith Rowe was gifted the only goal by a dire Jorginho backpass at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, and he conceded his irritation at the result had not quite subsided.

    "'I still have a hangover from the last defeat, it's always like this. I'm a bit more in angry mode, not at myself or the players but because of the result and the opportunity we missed," he explained.

    "I will hopefully transform that to a good preparation and push the team to the edge to play sharp. We have to show a reaction, it's the FA Cup final at Wembley.

    "I am fully focused to prepare my team better than two days ago."

    On Thursday, the Champions League final was relocated from Istanbul to Porto due to Turkey being on the UK government's "red list" for travel in relation to COVID-19 restrictions.

    Tuchel insists his squad should not be paying any attention to an eagerly anticipated fixture still two weeks away.

    "I'm happy to go to Porto, I'm happy to go to a final. That's the easy answer - I would go anywhere to play a final," he said.

    "But right now the bigger challenge is to forget the Champions League final and to be fully focused on our two finals that are ahead of us.

    "We cannot lose one percentage of concentration and focus. We did this the last game against Arsenal and we got punished for it. Lesson learned and well accepted."

    Kepa Arrizabalaga will keep his place at Wembley as Chelsea's cup goalkeeper and Tuchel confirmed Mateo Kovacic was fit to feature again after a month on the sidelines with a hamstring injury.

    "It's huge because Mateo has everything we need in the midfield," he added. 'Experience, power, he can beat players, he has physical ability and has played big games in the Premier League. 

    "When we missed N'Golo [Kante] and Mateo, we lacked a lot of quality, energy and experience.

    "Billy [Gilmour] did a huge job in huge games but it's not fair to compare him to these players because they have more experience and are a step ahead in their development. 

    "It's big news that [Kovacic] is back because he's a big guy in the dressing room around important matches."

  • Eder willing Lille and Fonte on to 'huge' Ligue 1 title triumph Eder willing Lille and Fonte on to 'huge' Ligue 1 title triumph

    Lille winning Ligue 1 would be "something huge for French football" according to their former striker Eder.

    Christophe Galtier's side could be crowned champions on Sunday when they host Saint-Etienne, if their result in that match betters Paris Saint-Germain's efforts against Reims.

    Even if the race goes to the final weekend, a three-point lead with two games to play and the title race being in Lille's hands represents a phenomenal achievement.

    PSG have won seven of the past eight top-flight titles in France, but Eder has observed a competition reborn this season – something he feels would be validated by Lille completing an unlikely march to glory.

    "I think it's amazing for the championship because a lot of people have been saying that the French championship is PSG and no others," he told Stats Perform.

    "I think that a lot of people, a lot of teams this year have been proving that they are there to compete with PSG, like Lyon and Monaco. They are having a great season.

    "Lille have been doing amazingly well and I think that this is going to be something huge for French football."

    Eder represented Lille between 2016 and 2018, a span that took in his undoubted career highlight – a goalscoring turn off the bench to snatch a 1-0 extra time victory for Portugal over hosts France in the final of Euro 2016.

    The Portuguese link at Lille remains strong, with veteran centre-back Jose Fonte and playmaker Renato Sanches team-mates of Eder's in Fernando Santos' Euro 2016 squad.

    Fonte and Sanches are joined by countrymen Tiago Djalo and Xeka in Galtier's side.

    "We have groups of chats, and we are always cheering for Jose Fonte," Eder added. "We have our fingers crossed and we hope that he is going to win."

    Fonte has played 35 of Lille's 36 Ligue 1 games this season.

    Of defenders to have played more than 20 times in the division, none can better the 37-year-old's 68.7 per cent duel success rate.

  • Rudi can't fail - Rudiger's rise from Lampard outcast to Tuchel's defensive rock at Chelsea Rudi can't fail - Rudiger's rise from Lampard outcast to Tuchel's defensive rock at Chelsea

    Antonio Rudiger is no stranger to putting himself in difficult and painful situations for the cause, as evidenced by the defensive lynchpin of Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea revival sporting a protective face mask during matches over recent weeks.

    Nevertheless, even as a player who appears to relish a challenge and refuse to back down from a confrontation, Chelsea playing behind closed doors might have done Rudiger a favour earlier in the year.

    The Stamford Bridge faithful, for all the success lapped up during the Roman Abramovich era, are certainly not shy when it comes to voicing their displeasure over an unpopular change in the dugout, of which there have been plenty.

    There was the vocal backing for Roberto Di Matteo weeks after his sacking in 2012. Interim boss Rafael Benitez was the villain in that situation but calling out any perceived culprits among a squad often noted for wielding player power has also marked times of tumult.

    When Jose Mourinho's second spell at Chelsea ended with the then-reigning Premier League champions lurching close to the relegation zone in December 2015, he was backed by plenty of fans amid accusations of player betrayal. One banner in the ground famously branded Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa to be "The 3 Rats".

    Had stadiums been full around the time of Frank Lampard's January demise, it is possible Rudiger would have faced similar scrutiny.

    "There have been so many nonsense rumours around about me since last week," he told The Athletic in February, following speculation that urged the Chelsea board to dispense with Lampard. "I've never talked with the board about the situation of the coach or on any other topics."

    In a separate interview with Sky Sports, Rudiger explained he suffered "immense" racist abuse online after Lampard's sacking, both an indication of the levels of toxicity at play and a deplorable sign of our times.

    It certainly did not feel plausible that, in the space of four months, Rudiger would be arguably the form defender in European football and leading Chelsea's charge under Tuchel for a pair of major honours, starting in Saturday's FA Cup final against Leicester.

    Indeed, the most remarkable element of Rudiger being singled out as a man responsible for so many of the ills at Chelsea around the fall of Lampard was how little he had been involved in the first team.

    He started two of their first 17 Premier League fixtures before being recalled in the wake of a 3-1 defeat by Manchester City to start back-to-back games against Fulham and Leicester – the latter of which was a 2-0 defeat that effectively sealed Lampard's fate.

    Overall, Rudiger made nine appearances in all competitions under the former England midfielder this season, with eight of those starts. His 742 minutes on the pitch were dwarfed by first-choice duo Kurt Zouma (1,999) and Thiago Silva (1,552).

    Tuchel's decision to switch Chelsea into a 3-4-2-1 shape obviously did Rudiger and his fellow centre-backs a favour in the most basic terms of one more slot in the team being available, but the Germany international has repaid his countryman's faith emphatically.

    In 21 appearances since, he has been involved in a remarkable 14 clean sheets. No defender in the Premier League, or elsewhere in Europe's top five leagues for that matter, can boast more in this time.

    The six goals conceded with him on the field is also the lowest across the continent's elite divisions for any defender to have started 15 or more games from January 27 onwards, which was the date of Tuchel's first game in charge – a 0-0 draw with Wolves.

    Rudiger rested up for Wembley in midweek when Chelsea went down to a lacklustre 1-0 home loss to Arsenal. He was an unused substitute for the only other league defeat of Tuchel's tenure, an unhinged 5-2 collapse versus West Brom after Silva was sent off.

    In the 19 Premier League games Rudiger has not started in 2020-21, Chelsea have conceded 26 goals at a rate of 1.4 per game. With the ex-Roma man in the first XI, this plummets to seven in 17 (0.4 per game).

    Those seven goals have arrived over the course of 1,530 minutes on the field, meaning Rudiger has seen a goal conceded every 218.6 minutes. This is the best ratio in the Premier League for any defender to have played 1,000 minutes or more this term, with Manchester City pairing John Stones (194.9) and Ruben Dias (148.1) next on the list – suggesting the Champions League final in two weeks' time could be something of a cagey affair.

    When set alongside his Chelsea central defensive colleagues Zouma, Silva and Andreas Christensen, Rudiger's imposing qualities are evident. He has made 29 tackles in the Premier League this season, an average of 1.7 per 90 minutes, with no other member of the quartet averaging above one.

    His 7.1 duels per 90 is bettered by Zouma (7.6), although both have the same return when it comes to duels won (4.8).

    Of course, Rudiger has starred within a collective recalibration. In the Premier League, Tuchel's Chelsea have faced an average of 7.8 shots per game at an expected goals (xG) value of 0.6, down from 10.1 and 1 under Lampard.

    Adjustments beyond the defence have also made the Blues harder to play against. They control matches far more effectively, with an average of 663.6 passes per game up from 612.7 at a slightly better accuracy (87.7 per cent from 86.3).

    Chelsea are also pressing opponents more effectively, allowing an average of 10.1 passes per defensive action (PPDA) under Tuchel, behind only FA Cup final foes Leicester and Leeds United across the period in question. This season with Lampard in charge, they averaged 11 PPDA, which was fourth among all Premier League teams.

    The improvements have made life a little easier for defenders, but when Chelsea step out at Wembley there will be no mystery over the identity of their standout performer at centre-back – even if he is wearing a mask. Rudiger has lifted himself off the scrapheap to become Tuchel's talisman.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.