Champions League: Thomas Tuchel wants no let-up in intensity
Chelsea will have a spring in their steps when they head into the second-leg fixture of their Champions League semi-final against Spanish giants Real Madrid. Not just because they go into the match with an away goal advantage after the first-leg in Madrid had finished 1-1, but also because under Thomas Tuchel, the Blues have been playing probably their best football in the last few years.
Chelsea have been a resurgent force under manager Tuchel, improving in almost every aspect of the game. That they are coming off a 2-0 win against Fulham over the weekend will keep their spirits high on Wednesday.
If there is one worry for the home team besides the fact that Madrid often prove to be a taller opposition in big matches, it is their poor record in European fixtures at Stamford Bridge. The Blues have picked up just three victories in their last nine European fixtures at their home ground, drawing four and losing two.
But Chelsea are yet to lose a Champions League match under Tuchel. The German manager, however, knows that the job will not be easy and has asked his boys not to be slack in their intensity.
“The challenge is to keep the intensity going through the whole match. It is a semi-final, the pressure is on… a knockout game, so to arrive with a level of belief and confidence is necessary, or we will have no chance,” Tuchel said.
His team had given a good account of themselves in the first-leg against Zinedine Zidane’s men. Christian Pulisic had given Chelsea the lead at the Alfredo di Stéfano Stadium inside the first 14 minutes before Madrid stalwart Karim Benzema fired home the equaliser. Tuchel knows that self-belief is the key.
“The main lesson is that we can trust ourselves and we have the right to be in the semi-final. We deserve to be there and perform on this level. It is a no-brainer to go for a win. This club is about winning,” Tuchel says.
Tuchel, who replaced Frank Lampard in January, added that the biggest challenge his team faced was to forget the first-leg scoreline.
“The challenge is always over two games, you play the first game and then you start at 0-0 again,” he said. “I don’t know any other way to prepare a match than to encourage my team to go out and try to win.”
Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovacic will miss the game with a hamstring injury, while defender Antonio Rudiger will have to wear a protective face mask if he is in the squad.
Madrid have injury issues of their own, with Raphael Varane out for 10 days and Lucas Vazquez and Dani Carvajal both out for the season. There is uncertainty over the availability of Marcelo as well.
Their skipper Sergio Ramos, also missed the first leg, but Tuchel fully expects the centre back to feature at Stamford Bridge.
“I think that he will start, we will prepare for that,” Tuchel said. “Does it change a lot for Real Madrid? Yes, he’s their captain.
“So it changes a lot but we cannot lose our heads about this decision. We should be self-confident and have no fear to face this challenge.”
Record says that Madrid have struggled whenever they have drawn the first-leg at home. In nine such Champions League ties, they have been eliminated seven times. They have also lost two of their last three Champions League trips to England.
But they are on a nine-match unbeaten away streak in all competitions, winning six and drawing three, and that will definitely be a confidence-booster.
Zidane refuses to read too much into Chelsea’s away-goal advantage. “We’re alive and we’re going to the second leg with the idea of winning.”