A plan to replace N’Golo Kante, finding the right attacking formula, and how much to read from two wins against Pep Guardiola… Thomas Tuchel’s dilemmas ahead of Champions League final against Manchester City
- Chelsea finished in the top four despite a 2-1 final day defeat against Aston Villa
- But pressure will be on before club’s first Champions League final in nine years
- Before the European showpiece in Porto, Thomas Tuchel has problems to sort
- He has key players out, attacking issues and potential complacency to deal with
Chelsea have limped rather than raced towards the end of the season, losing three of their final four matches before their mouthwatering Champions League final showdown against Manchester City on May 29.
The Blues did just about make the top four and therefore qualified for top-level European football next season via the Premier League despite a 2-1 final day defeat against Aston Villa, which saw them rely on Leicester also losing against Tottenham.
That finishing position takes the pressure off somewhat for the European showpiece, but manager Thomas Tuchel still has several dilemmas to ponder ahead of his side’s first Champions League final in nine years.
Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel has several issues to ponder before the Champions League final
After losing to Aston Villa and in the FA Cup final against the Foxes earlier this month, there are questions marks over key players’ availability, the right attacking formula, avoiding complacency, coping with adversity and maintaining composure.
So Sportsmail has looked at all the issues facing the German boss, and what he can do about them, before they face Pep Guardiola’s formidable City outfit in Porto on Saturday.
Get key players fit
Unfortunately for Tuchel, two players who will almost certainly start if fully fit may miss the final, goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and the irrepressible N’Golo Kante.
Mendy was forced off at half-time against Villa after injuring his rib trying to keep out Bertrand Traore’s opener, with deputy Kepa Arrizabalaga between the sticks for the second half.
Tuchel said on Mendy: ‘The update is we still have hope. He has a chance of training on Wednesday. He has made huge improvement in the management of pain. (There will be) a further update on Wednesday but we hope to have him back in training.’
The Blues are sweating on the fitness of N’Golo Kante (left) and Edouard Mendy (second left)
The Senegalese international is undisputed No 1 and has impressed this season with his composure, aerial dominance and shot-stopping ability, with doubts over whether £71million signing Kepa has the temperament to step in for the final.
Moreover, tireless midfielder Kante limped off in the first half against Leicester on May 18 and missed the Villa defeat. However, that was understood to be a precaution and he is set to return to full training this week.
If the France international – named man-of-the-match in both semi-final legs against Real Madrid – misses out, Chelsea will have to ponder how a likely duo of the steady but slow Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho can neutralise City’s dynamic and dangerous midfield.
On Kante, Tuchel joked: ‘We will just put him in training when the game starts on Saturday and not speak to doctors and physios or changing tactics.’
Summer signing Timo Werner has attracted criticism this season for not being clinical enough
Find the right attacking formula
Despite spending a whopping £179million on attacking talent last summer, the Blues only scored 58 goals in the league this season, compared to City’s 83, with Jorginho their lowest leading league goalscorer ever with seven – all of which were penalties.
Their top three scorers in all competitions – Timo Werner and Tammy Abraham with 12, Olivier Giroud with 11 – have all had their issues, with Abraham often not making matchday squads, Giroud reduced to the ‘impact sub’ role and Werner frustrating by squandering presentable chances and constantly being flagged offside.
Tuchel will have to decide which two attackers will play alongside a likely third in Mason Mount
If Tuchel sticks to his tried-and-trusted system with just three attackers, one of which is Mason Mount, that only leaves two of Werner, the mercurial Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz and Callum Hudson-Odoi to breach City’s defensive wall.
Whoever plays centrally is likely to be emblematic of the Blues’ game plan; Havertz as a false nine would try to pull City’s centre-backs out of their shape, Werner and Pulisic’s pace would trouble them on the counter-attack, while Ziyech’s technical ability and touch could create chances with cute passes around the box.
Finding the right attacking triumvirate, and the chosen trio taking their chances clinically when they come, will be a huge factor in the match.
Chelsea have beaten City twice in the last five weeks but must not take victory for granted
Leave complacency behind
Chelsea will have been encouraged by their recent history against the Premier League champions, with two wins in the last five weeks, but Tuchel must be careful that confidence does not spill over into complacency.
They scraped past City 1-0 in a tight FA Cup semi-final which could have gone either way and were fortunate to beat them 2-1 on May 8 when a heavily-rotated City saw Sergio Aguero waste a penalty and only lose to Marcos Alonso’s late deflected goal.
Those results demonstrate Guardiola’s side are not invincible, but certainly do not foretell an easy win this time around – and Tuchel must make his players aware of that.
Prepare to cope with adversity
Chelsea graphic provided by sofascore.com
Chelsea lost their heads somewhat after conceding first against Aston Villa, and this month have lost every game in which they’ve conceded the first goal.
In fact, this season the Blues have lost 60 per cent of the games in which they’ve fallen behind, with nine defeats in 15 such games (shown in graphic, right).
City are too good not to have the upper hand at points during the game, and may very well score first – how the West London side respond to adversity and the inevitable spells of pressure and dominance will have a large bearing on the result.
Blues were embroiled in an ugly brawl against Leicester and must keep their heads in the final
Make sure players keep their heads
Chelsea’s ugly brawl towards the end of their match against Leicester, involving much of the team, goalkeeper Mendy and several substitutes, emphasised to some fans the side’s togetherness, courage and willingness to back each other up.
On the other hand, against a smart and savvy side like City that aggression could be a weakness if not channeled properly, as French side Paris Saint-Germain found out to their cost in the semi-finals.
Idrissa Gueye was sent off in the first leg as Mauricio Pochettino’s side lost their discipline, while Argentine Angel Di Maria received a red in the second leg for stamping on Fernandinho after being hussled and harried by the Brazilian all game.
Cesar Azpilicueta – the captain no less – petulantly lashing out at Jack Grealish in the last minute and receiving a straight red against Villa is exactly the kind of thing that will concern Tuchel.
Fellow defenders Thiago Silva and Andreas Christensen have also received their marching orders this season, with Antonio Rudiger is a combustible player who wears his heart on his sleeve, and that is likely something City will look to exploit.
With Spaniard Antonio Mateu Lahoz refereeing the match – an official criticised by Guardiola as ‘a referee who likes to feel different’ and someone who ‘sees the opposite to everybody’, the Blues will need to stay on the right side of the law.
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