Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel has revealed the list of players who will be starting up the first 45 minutes of the UEFA Champions League returning leg against Real Madrid on Tuesday. LLP
At 45 minutes played and 4-0 up with Chelsea fans in jubilance, it was almost job done for Thomas Tuchel in his dugout. It was an afternoon where the Blues were scintillating in attack against a passive Southampton side, but still, the qualities of Mason Mount, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner barely lifted the German coach from his seat.
It’s rare to not see Tuchel patrolling his technical area and venting his frustrations to his support staff. Still, the Blues boss offered little outside applause of small passages of play when his team drove forward or pressed well. The photographers at St Mary’s could only catch him acknowledging the supporters at the end of the game.
Already when the players returned to the changing rooms for half-time, Christian Pulisic was in his shining yellow kit and warming up along the halfway line. Tuchel had made his mind up already, Havertz, fresh from his goal, was to be replaced. It was another solid display from the German who Werner partnered, but one where he may not get the headlines his countryman and Mason Mount earned.
Nevertheless, Tuchel did not want to waste his energy as the Blues head into their Champions League quarter-final second leg, followed by an FA Cup semi-final against Crystal Palace. Havertz had completed 90 minutes in Chelsea’s previous five Premier League matches and two of the last three in Europe and, in the outlier, managed 83 minutes as the Blues overcame Lille.
Tuchel said following the win over the Saints: “It wasn’t necessary to change everything [after Real Madrid]. But it was the moment for us – or I had the feeling – that it was the moment to tell the group the truth, give my honest opinion, and tell them as a part of the group that this is how I feel. So the message was clear, and obviously, everybody took it in the right way. I included myself in the message, so it was necessary to step up today.
It is on the players to live up to what we play, and they did it in an impressive manner. So it’s now a time to move on because we’ve re-found what makes us strong, and it was another proof of that, and we keep on going
Havertz was one player who provided an impressive account of himself against Real, and if Chelsea hopes to be successful in the forthcoming match, he will be at the heart. The 22-year-old has firmly established himself as a key player, and with Romelu Lukaku’s race to be fit in time to travel to Spain, Havertz’s fitness is a precious thing.
It wasn’t until the 6-0 and the 63rd minute that Tuchel made his next alteration when Thiago Silva left the field. The Brazilian has only rarely had an easier afternoon. His coach decided to utilise Reece James in a back three, moving Andreas Christensen to the centre to ensure Silva received some rest. The 37-year-old had taken on more importance than many would have expected when he joined the club on a free transfer, and only Antonio Rudiger, Edouard Mendy and Jorginho have played more minutes than the former PSG and Milan star. His experience will be vital in Chelsea retaining their structure while in search of victory in Madrid.
It was only six minutes more before Mount, on a hat-trick, was replaced by Hakim Ziyech. The Cobham product put in a performance that made his qualities very transparent as he floated in the no.10 position on his way to a brace and an assist. Mount has played in fewer matches than only Rudiger and showed himself to be finished and provided in the same match for the fifth time this season, a tally only Mo Salah can match.
“We are not the team that can escape with results if our input is at 90% or 80% of our energy, commitment and investment,” Tuchel said. “We are a special group when we have the priorities right. If we are committed, if we defend with courage, if we have the attitude right and the hunger right and win challenges.
The decision to substitute Mount, Havertz and Silva with the match won will give them a greater chance of providing 100% of their input. The contributions this trio make will go a long way to deciding the game in the Spanish capital.