Is Tuchel right to rule out a Chelsea comeback against Real Madrid?
Thomas Tuchel was still upset and angry when asked if his Chelsea side had a chance of overturning a 3-1 deficit in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final with Real Madrid in Spain.
The visibly emotional German manager simply replied ‘No’.
It was just 45 minutes after the final whistle of Wednesday’s first leg at Stamford Bridge and he had already said BT Sports that Chelsea would be ‘hammered’ if he played that badly at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The Blues boss has never taken such a harsh tone with his squad since joining the club in January 2021.
Usually when defeated, Tuchel moves quickly to defend his players but, after back-to-back defeats with seven goals conceded, he threw them under the bus.
It was a calculated message from Tuchel and he followed it with a team meeting in which he highlighted all the players’ tactical and defensive failures against Karim Benzema & Co.
He went on to reveal that he was even tricked into eating comfortably while reviewing their first leg, saying he needed a ‘tremendous’ amount of chocolate to gain the advantage of reviewing a match which he says him, included “one of the worst”. halves” of football he had seen his players produce at home.
“At some point you press the button to watch [the video] at double speed, just so it goes fast,” he told reporters in Cobham on Friday. “When you do that, you know you’re in the wrong place!
“At some point, you have to stop and take a walk in the kitchen or the living room, and come back to calm down. It was not pleasant to watch.”
Despite the performance’s sparseness, his defeatist post-match tone still surprised many observers, but he insisted he was merely “realistic”.
“At least there’s no more away goals rule [in the Champions League]which is a very good thing for us in this tie now,” added Tuchel.
Tuchel’s pessimism was clearly an attempt to provoke a reaction from his players, and he got one at St Mary’s on Saturday as Chelsea won 6-0 over Southampton.
Mason Mount and Timo Werner pocketed braces, with Marcos Alonso and Kai Havertz scoring a goal apiece.
Given the one-sided nature of the contest, Havertz, Thiago Silva and Mount were all substituted in the second half to rest them ahead of next week’s trip to Spain.
That’s key, as far as Tuchel is concerned, as he believes Chelsea aren’t capable of winning games unless he fires on all cylinders.
“I think [the last few games] tell us that we are not the team that can come out of this with good results if our contribution is only 80 or percent in terms of energy, commitment and investment,” said he added.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of, but we’re only a special group when we have the right priorities, when we engage, defend with courage, have the right attitude and the right hunger.
“It’s not always easy for us to have that kind of energy because we’ve had a ruthless schedule. We’re the team that has played the most in 2022.
“So it’s not about blaming the players either. I can understand why it was difficult for them after the international break. But today just proves that if we have the right commitment we will show our quality. “
So there is hope for Chelsea at the Bernabeu, not least because many of their best performances this season have come on the road, as highlighted by their tally of 36 Premier League points from 16 away games.
They also equaled their record number of seven consecutive away wins in all competitions – first in the 1988-89 season and then in 2019-20.
Of course, facing Madrid in their own backyard is a whole different proposition for this Chelsea side, especially with Benzema in the best form of his career.
It’s also worth noting that no English side have ever won a Champions League game at the Bernabeu by more than one goal, while Real have advanced in nine of their last 10 matches in the competition after winning at outside during the first.
“The question was whether (Madrid’s draw) is still alive. I said probably no. The task doesn’t change,” Tuchel said after Southampton. “It’s always a big task and as I said after Madrid, let’s have the answer now and not just in Madrid.
“Now we have the result and the performance and that’s good because I’m sure it lifts everyone’s spirits, but the task is huge. Let’s be honest.
“Anything is possible in football, but let’s be real – it’s still Bernabeu and it’s still crowded and a very different opponent today. But it’s the best way to prepare.”
Chelsea will therefore have to upset the odds in the Spanish capital if they want to set up a semi-final showdown with Manchester City or Atletico Madrid.
However, Tuchel’s pointed comments in the first leg brought out the best in his players at Southampton on Saturday.
He will now be delighted if they can prove him wrong when they try to turn things around against Madrid on Tuesday night.