Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel tries to take the sting out of last-16 Champions League clash with Atletico Madrid as German says it is NOT his priority to win the competition this season
- Thomas Tuchel says the Champions League isn’t Chelsea’s priority this season
- The German’s side take on Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their last 16 clash
- Tuchel concedes overcoming Diego Simeone’s team will be a very difficult task
- Callum Hudson-Odoi is in contention despite being hauled off at Southampton
Having reached the final with Paris Saint-Germain last season, you might imagine Thomas Tuchel’s priority would be to complete the job with Chelsea this time around.
With that in mind, on the eve of his side’s last-16 first leg against Atletico Madrid, his answer as to whether Chelsea’s Champions League campaign will take precedence this season was perhaps surprising.
‘No. My priority is the next game we play,’ stated the German.
Thomas Tuchel seemed to play down the importance of Champions League glory for Chelsea
‘That has never been different and hopefully will never change because it’s exactly what I expect from my players and my teams: that when we wear a Chelsea shirt, we play a Chelsea game and that means we play to win and give 100 per cent of effort and intensity.
‘It’s very nice and exciting to play Champions League games in the knockout stages but there is no preference.’
How Tuchel feels privately and what he is prepared to divulge in public are two very different matters, of course.
You wonder how his answer was received by Roman Abramovich, who surely wouldn’t have thought he would be waiting for his second Champions League triumph nearly a decade on from that unforgettable Munich night in 2012.
Tuchel fell just short of winning the Champions League with Paris Saint-Germain last season
Cesar Azpilicueta alluded to the frustration on Monday.
The Chelsea captain joined the club days after the triumph over Bayern Munich and said: ‘When I joined Chelsea in 2012 after just winning the Champions League, of course my aim was to repeat that.
‘It’s something that sticks inside and every year when the chance comes we want to go further. It’s the biggest competition in Europe, we know it’s very tough.
‘But we have to be ready for a challenge. It’s something that is in me and hopefully we can start against Atletico by having a good game and see how far we can go.’
Chelsea defender Cesar Azpilicueta says he is determined to win the Champions League
Chelsea head into Tuesday night’s clash in Bucharest without key central defender Thiago Silva, who has returned to training but is not fit enough to play after the muscular complaint that has kept him sidelined for two weeks.
His absence is a significant blow but Tuchel cannot complain too much. Covid red tape means Diego Simeone’s fiery and physical side have been forced to give up home advantage.
Tuchel admitted: ‘Well clearly, yes, it’s certainly a disadvantage for Atletico to lose their home ground. That’s obvious.’
Tuchel knows Chelsea face a very difficult task in attempting to overcome Atletico Madrid
Even without the home comfort of playing at the Wanda Metropolitano, Atletico — riding high at the top of LaLiga — will fancy their chances of edging past Chelsea, especially after signing star striker Luis Suarez from Barcelona.
Tuchel admitted he failed to sign Suarez for PSG last summer but says a fresh move as Chelsea boss is unlikely.
He said: ‘He was about to leave Barcelona and who could not be interested in signing one of the best strikers in world football?
‘We tried our luck, we did not make it. He chose to stay in Spain, changed for Atletico and again he is proving his quality. He is a natural-born striker. He has the will to show his intensity. He’s never satisfied. What a player.’
Tuchel tried to sign Luis Suarez for PSG but at present is unlikely to try to bring him to Chelsea
When asked whether he may revive his interest in the Uruguayan now he is Chelsea boss, Tuchel replied: ‘I don’t know. At that moment it would have maybe been a fit for our squad in Paris.’
He added: ‘It’s a bit strange for me to play a group stage in a different country and then to arrive in the knockouts with another team. But I’ve been here for three-and-a-half weeks and I jumped into this opportunity and I do not regret one single minute.
‘Atletico is a big test and exactly what we want. We want the biggest tests because it brings out, hopefully, the best in us. That’s why it doesn’t feel so strange anymore. It feels natural with my team.’
Tuchel spoke to his players about his choice to take off Callum Hudson-Odoi at Southampton
Having been substituted only 31 minutes after coming on at half-time against Southampton on Saturday, Callum Hudson-Odoi has made the trip to Romania and is in contention to feature on Tuesday night.
Substituting the substitute is almost a taboo subject in football dressing rooms across the country. But it is a sign of Tuchel’s inclusive man-management style that he chose to address the issue head-on in the aftermath.
‘We decided to speak to him in front of the whole group because I had my reasons to do it,’ said the German.
‘Was it the right decision? I don’t know but it was my decision at that moment. We spoke in front of the whole group not to make it bigger than it is because, for us, it’s not a big thing.
‘I know sometimes it can make you reflect, “Should I do it?” because of the outside and the family — it makes it bigger than it is actually meant.
‘But still I did it and we’ve had the only reaction that we wanted which was that he went back to a normal mood, to a good mood, to a smile, to very good training.
‘And that’s it. We move on and it’s forgotten. Business as usual, no big thing.’
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