Although Thomas Tuchel insisted that the FA Cup final defeat did not raise the “pressure” on Chelsea’s last three games of the season, the view from the club’s hierarchy may be rather different.
The head coach rightly identified Chelsea as a club defined by winning when he succeeded Frank Lampard in late January. So he knows defeats at the business end of the season are even more costly. Tuchel also knows that however impressively he has done so far in reaching two finals, losing both and potentially missing out on the top four and Champions League football, having worked so hard to get there, would be a serious setback.
As harsh as it sounds, it would also mean he has failed in his brief. “No, absolutely not,” Tuchel said when asked if the defeat by Leicester sharpened the focus ahead of another meeting with them in the Premier League. “[Losing to] Arsenal increased the pressure for the game on Tuesday,” he said. “It [the final] was an isolated game, it has nothing to do with the race for the top four or the Champions League final. Arsenal had a lot to do with it, the Man City win had a lot to do with it, in a positive way. Arsenal increased the pressure, unfortunately, for Tuesday not this game. This was a different competition.”
Victory over Leicester would not just go some way to redress the FA Cup final failings, but would mean Champions League qualification remains in Chelsea’s hands going into the last round of fixtures, when they face Aston Villa away. Then there is the Champions League final on May 29 against City, having beaten Pep Guardiola’s side twice recently.
Losing in Porto to City would not feel like failure as long as Chelsea finish in the top four, but being defeated in two finals will take the gloss off Tuchel’s early reign. It will place the FA Cup defeat by Leicester into even sharper focus as a glorious lost opportunity.
“It [defeat] is super hard to accept, but there exists no team in the world that never loses a final. We are not the first: we are not the last,” Tuchel reasoned. “This is about bouncing back and we will not stop pushing the team. We know very well this was a different competition and now we push back in the race for the top four. It’s in our hands.”
Watch: Thomas Tuchel takes full responsibility for Chelsea's defeat to Arsenal
Even though Tuchel argued that Chelsea were the better team against Leicester, were unfortunate not to win and that he was “not ready to analyse this game from the result backwards”, the reality is that he made mistakes, not least in his team selection. It was a compliment to Jamie Vardy that Tuchel changed his back three, with the pacy Reece James on the right-hand side. Although James was at fault for Youri Tielemans’s goal, he performed well. The errors were elsewhere.
Was it wise to stick with cup goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, when Edouard Mendy clearly inspires far greater confidence in the team? Tuchel argued why Marcos Alonso was selected ahead of Ben Chilwell, but Chelsea were far more threatening when the former Leicester full-back came on, while Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech did not just disappoint, but were kept on the pitch too long.
Having not even included Tammy Abraham in his squad, it would be perverse if Tuchel did not urge Chelsea to sell the forward this summer. The German has huge credit in the bank, but suddenly, after progressing so serenely and with such self-assurance, his feats are a little bit more in the balance.
There will also be alarm that Chelsea’s outstanding performer this season, Mason Mount, is beginning to look tired. No Chelsea player has played more minutes than the 22-year-old and, although he came closest to scoring, being denied by Kasper Schmeichel with an outstanding save, Tuchel acknowledged fatigue was a factor for someone he hailed as the “absolutely decisive player” in his team.
“He has struggled a bit to have the same impact as usual,” Tuchel said. Now is not the time for Chelsea to run out of steam. A win over Leicester in the league will change the complexion again. Anything short of that will be a problem. It’s about bouncing back, this is sports. It’s so hard to accept because you never think about losing a final when you arrive in it. But once it’s like this, OK, it’s the best thing to play again on Tuesday. There are a lot of teams out there who are jealous of our situation.”