Chelsea: Marker 'laid down' ahead of Champions League final
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Thomas Tuchel believes that Sunday’s last Premier League match of the season against Aston Villa could give his Chelsea side a significant mental boost ahead of the Champions League final against Manchester City. The Blues have been fighting to secure a top-four finish all season, and will achieve the feat with three points at Villa Park to confirm their participation in the next edition of Europe’s most prestigious club tournament.
A draw will also be enough to seal qualification if fifth-placed Leicester City fail to beat Tottenham at the King Power Stadium.
Chelsea have endured a difficult run-in with plenty of potential stumbling blocks along the way, but the west London club have risen to the challenge despite the intense pressure on their shoulders to put themselves in pole position with one game remaining.
Tuchel’s side recently picked up two hard-fought wins against former top-four hopefuls West Ham United and Pep Guardiola’s City, before sealing a crucial triumph over Leicester just three days after the Foxes were victorious in this season’s FA Cup final.
Another win against Villa would ease some of the pressure on Chelsea heading into the Champions League final as their place in next season’s tournament would already be secured.
However, Tuchel has suggested that the experience gained from facing tension in their last few outings will stand them in good stead to pull through in Porto, as long as they can end their Premier League campaign on a high with victory in the west Midlands.
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“You get absolutely focused, absolutely sharp when the kind of pressure that we have now is on,” the German boss told reporters on Saturday.
“These last two matches for us, against Leicester and now Aston Villa, even if the pressure was on before, they ARE different. The situation is so clear now.
“It brings you to the edge. It brings you out of bed early. You think twice and become sharp. That’s what I demand of myself, to deliver under pressure.”
Tuchel has made a remarkable start to life in English football, wasting no time in turning Chelsea’s form around to put the club within touching distance of a top-four berth.
If the season had started when the 47-year-old was appointed in January, the Blues would be second in the Premier League, with his success in shoring up their defensive credentials paying dividends both domestically and in Europe.
The former Paris Saint-Germain boss also seems to have instilled a big-game mentality in the dressing room, with Tuchel admitting that he has been pleased to see his players living up to expectations when the stakes have been at their highest.
“I like that our team delivers under pressure consistently, with top performances,” he added.
“This is what is needed now. We’ve got ourselves into this situation, which is a very positive thing. Everybody would have loved this situation in January.
“Everybody is calm and well aware of what is needed. We have full respect for Aston Villa and their quality, and for the Premier League and away games in general.
“So we need the best that we can be, and this clearly includes the manager.”
Tuchel also claimed that his Chelsea side will feel the added benefit of fighting until the last day of the season, as they will be able to maintain their positive momentum ahead of the all-important Champions League final at the end of the month.
When asked if he will be in a position to rotate his squad for the trip to Villa, the Blues boss replied: “Yes, in the sense that we want them [Chelsea’s best players] in the final and don’t want any injuries.
“We almost had that with Mason [Mount] and Ben Chilwell against Leicester. But also, no. If we were qualified for the Champions League already, you can lose energy by having a rest.
“You can also overthink this. Who to leave out? Who needs a rest? You don’t know if they can pick up that top momentum again. That can be a problem. So if you ask me, I prefer to keep going until the very end.
“I think doing that is an advantage going into the Champions League final. You have fought constantly and you don’t want to lose the rhythm.”
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