‘Almost impossible’: Tuchel still down on Chelsea hopes
From no chance to almost impossible.
Thomas Tuchel’s stance on Chelsea’s hopes of making the Champions League semi-finals could soften, if only slightly.
“It’s very unlikely that we will achieve that,” Tuchel said on Monday, “but it’s worth trying.”
Flash back to last week and Tuchel ruled out his side’s chances of overturning a 3-1 loss to Real Madrid in the first leg of the quarter-finals at Stamford Bridge.
“No,” was his terse response to a question whether Chelsea’s title defense was still alive.
And while that response – coming just minutes after the game was over – may have been born out of frustration, it’s easy to see why he was so downbeat ahead of Tuesday’s second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Aside from the two-goal deficit and the opponent being a record 13-time European champion, Tuchel pointed out that Chelsea’s main advantage over Madrid – the physicality and energy of their players – has been diluted this season. .
Indeed, Chelsea have already played 52 games in all competitions, including a trip to the Middle East for the Club World Cup in February and 30 games in what Tuchel described as the “most demanding” domestic league in the world.
Madrid have played seven fewer games this season and were able to rest key players, like Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, for the 2-0 win over Getafe in the Spanish league on Saturday.
Tuchel also said Madrid can make five substitutions in La Liga games this season – in England teams can only make three – left his side at a ‘huge disadvantage’ and explained why Chelsea couldn’t play with his usual intensity against aging Madrid. but a high quality midfielder in the first leg.
Last season, Chelsea topped Madrid in two semi-final matches, drawing the first leg in Spain – albeit on Madrid’s training ground when the Bernabeu was under renovation – and winning the second leg 2- 0.
“It’s not always easy to play a physical game,” said Tuchel. “We are a team that needs physicality, sharpness, commitment and investment to be a special team.
“We couldn’t implement that in the last game. This was also due to their quality and ability to slow down play and control the game through possession of the ball.
The Champions League has, however, seen some remarkable turnovers in the knockout stage over the years. Who will never forget that Barcelona recovered from a 4-0 first-leg deficit against Paris Saint-Germain to advance from the Round of 16 in 2017? Or Liverpool beating Barcelona 4-0 after losing the first leg 3-0 in the semi-finals in 2019?
Tuchel might want to take inspiration from a return to the Bernabeu six years ago involving one of his own players.
Mateo Kovacic recalled on Monday how the Madrid side he played for in 2016 lost 2-0 to Wolfsburg in the first leg of the quarter-finals and won the second leg 3-0.
Chelsea, Kovacic was keen to point out, have already come back from a 3-1 defeat in the first leg to qualify for the Champions League knockout stages. It was 2012 – the year the London club first won the competition – when they beat Napoli 4-1 in the second leg in the round of 16.
“Football is always surprising,” said the Croatian midfielder.
He seemed more convinced than Tuchel, however, with the German coach calling Chelsea’s task ‘one of the biggest challenges’ in football and ‘almost impossible’.
“But you are always allowed to dream,” he said.
Cesar Azpilicueta is available again after testing negative for coronavirus, but Romelu Lukaku was not traveling with the squad to Spain on Monday due to an Achilles tendon injury.
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