Champions League in the balance as Chelsea and Leiceter reunite
Cup final all over again! The Champions League battle is in the balance as Chelsea and Leicester reunite at Stamford Bridge after Foxes triumphed at Wembley
- Chelsea take on Leicester at Stamford Bridge in a crucial top four battle
- The Foxes beat Thomas Tuchel’s side in the FA Cup final on Saturday
- Chelsea can go above their opponents with a victory on Tuesday
- Liverpool have made things tight after closing the gap at the weekend
It goes without saying that Thomas Tuchel has had better weekends.
Having been denied his first English trophy by Leicester City in Saturday’s FA Cup final, the Chelsea manager walked into his front room 24 hours later to find the fight for a top four place had just got a little bit harder too.
‘I came home in the afternoon and I switched on the TV and saw 1-1 with Liverpool and West Brom,’ said Tuchel. ‘I thought, “Oh, that wouldn’t be a bad result”.
Chelsea and Leicester will reunite at Stamford Bridge for a Champions League battle
Thomas Tuchel’s side were beaten by the Foxes in the FA Cup final at Wembley on Saturday
‘I was a bit superstitious so I did not follow it. I checked on my phone in the 95th minute and it was still 1-1. Then I checked one minute later and I realised that superstitions don’t always work!
‘So it doesn’t make things boring does it? It was a fantastic header in the last minute. I saw it today and it makes things pretty interesting and tight. But still, it is in our hands.’
The header in question was from Liverpool’s goalkeeper Alisson. Given that Chelsea and Leicester face each other once again on Tuesday, it was probably enough to give Liverpool an advantage over both of them.
In terms of what happens at Stamford Bridge, it is impossible to call. Leicester may well be emotionally exhausted after Saturday’s victory. Equally, with a trophy already banked, they may be able to play with a little freedom.
Leicester could find themselves emotionally exhausted after their efforts on Saturday
Chelsea, meanwhile, purely have a desperate need. They really must be in next season’s Champions League, for reasons of money and pride. This could propel them forwards but it is also quite possible that successive defeats against Arsenal and Leicester indicate a drop off in form at the just the wrong time.
Asked if the success of Chelsea’s season depends on what happens over the next two weeks, Tuchel — whose team face Manchester City in the Champions League final on May 29 — said: ‘Maybe that’s too black and white but I also don’t want to be shy about it. The ambition is very clear and I can’t say now we are happy if we play two draws now and finish up fifth. Because I am not, I am not.
‘Then I will constantly have the feeling that we could have done better. There is other stuff out there that makes you happy as a coach — such as pushing teams to the limits.
‘But once you arrive at a certain level and have the luck to coach Dortmund, Paris and Chelsea, pushing to the limit means you are able to win competitions and go to the very end.’
Tuchel’s reflection on the Cup final remains the same as it was in the aftermath, namely that his team were unfortunate not to win. Chelsea were downed by a superb goal and then denied by a superb save and, at the death, a tight VAR call.
The Blues know that they have to be better if they are to seal their place in the top four
Equally the German knows his team have to be a little better, a little sharper over the three games — against Leicester, Aston Villa and City — that will decide their season.
For their part, Leicester can afford to view things a little differently, but only a little. Manager Brendan Rodgers and his players have already brought the club something they have never had, an FA Cup triumph. But Leicester have been in the top four all season and, having tailed away at the death last year, it would leave a sour taste were it to happen again.
Rodgers insisted that his team were ready for Tuesday’s game but it’s hard not to wonder. The Northern Irishman and his staff enjoyed a few drinks and a sing-song back at Leicester’s training ground in the early hours of Sunday morning. That was an indulgence not extended to the players but it is expecting a lot for the Leicester team to be right back on their mettle this evening.
‘Lots of the players became winners at the weekend,’ said Rodgers. ‘Once you’ve become a winner that activates something within you that wants you to have more of that. Our mental strategy around the weekend game was that we’re not there as tourists. We’re there to win.
‘It was fantastic to get the trophy but now we’ve got to move on and get the work done. For us, it will be equally as tough. It gives you confidence of course, but it doesn’t take away the task in terms of how difficult it’s going to be.
Brendan Rodgers insisted his team are ready for Tuesday’s game despite a short turnaround
‘It’ll be a huge effort. We’ll prepare for that. But I’ve got a group of players who want to win and are prepared to do what it takes to win. That will continue I am sure.’
Rodgers feels Chelsea’s deep squad affords them an advantage. Few managers rotate their team more than Tuchel does.
The truth is that both teams would have benefited from another day’s rest. Why Tuesday’s game could not have been scheduled for Wednesday is a mystery.
The odds would appear to be in Chelsea’s favour. They are at home with Chelsea fans in the ground.
Tuchel has described it as another cup final and in truth it does feel a little like one. The stakes could hardly be higher.
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