Man City set daunting ‘benchmark’… but Chelsea know how to beat them


arcos Alonso’s dramatic late winner at the Etihad Stadium feels like an eternity ago.

After a turbulent end to the domestic season, the euphoria that greeted Chelsea’s 2-1 win against soon-to-be-crowned Premier League champions Manchester City two-and-a-half weeks ago has all but evaporated.

The task for Thomas Tuchel in the build-up to Saturday’s Champions League Final is to rediscover the wave of optimism that looked capable of sweeping Chelsea to a spectacular double.

A second straight victory against City felt like a notice of intent ahead of Porto and beyond. Instead, Chelsea suffered wounding defeats against Arsenal and Aston Villa to see them stumble to fourth in the League table, while Leicester denied Tuchel a first piece of silverware by triumphing in the FA Cup Final.

No surprise, then, that Chelsea’s manager was talking about rest for his squad after an exhausting campaign.

“The players need a little bit of distraction and mental rest, to breathe, and then I want them to be here on Wednesday full of joy, because this is one of their most exciting weeks in their whole lives as players,” he said. “This is a dream come true, and this is the atmosphere we want to build.

“So, we are absolutely delighted and it’s an outstanding achievement that we made it — and now is the moment for a mental break for the players.”

While Chelsea’s players were enjoying a break on Tuesday, Tuchel will be honing his tactics against the team he calls “the benchmark” in European football.

And for all City’s excellence, those jubilant scenes at the Etihad were evidence of Tuchel’s potential to outwit Pep Guardiola. It is a feeling he needs to tap into to restore confidence within the squad, which has been so fractured since then.

“Man City are clearly the benchmark of our League,” said the German. “It’s the toughest [opponent] to play and that’s how it should be.

“We don’t lose ourselves in thoughts like this. From the moment the semi- finals were drawn, it was clear this could happen. We focused totally on us and that we arrive [in the final] is an incredible achievement.

“It’s City, with Pep on the side, so maybe they are the best team in Europe at the moment — and maybe the world. It’s on us again to close the gap for 90 minutes. The good thing is we have done it already. We played this exact team in exactly the same circumstances in a short period of time. This is the point to continue and the point to believe.

Marcos Alonso celebrates his dramatic winner for Chelsea at the Etihad on May 8

/ Getty Images

“Everything is possible in a final. We want to push luck and destiny and this game on our side.”

Tuchel refuses to accept the psychological edge is with Chelsea after victories against City in the FA Cup semi-final and again in the League this month, but he is aware of the significance of those results.

“I don’t know if it’s an advantage, but we are aware of it that we closed the gap to Man City in two games,” he said. “We did it in a short period of time, not so long ago.

“We are the guys who want to hunt them and close the gap. We want to challenge them and it’s what we will do for a minimum of 90 minutes in Porto. The experience helps, but it doesn’t give us an advantage. It helps us arrive with self-confidence and be aware [of] what is needed to have the chance to beat them.”

Tuchel and Thiago Silva are hoping to lift the Champions League at the second time of asking after being beaten finalists in last year’s condensed competition with Paris Saint-Germain.

Tuchel added: “I learned, of course, because I learn from every match and experience is a crucial and very important thing in coaching. The more experience I have in coaching, the better I can be.

“I arrive smarter and more experienced in my personal second final. The same for Thiago. But the situation is quite different, because we arrived last year in a 12-day tournament where we played two knockout games and then the final.

“This feels very different because we came a long way: with Frank [Lampard] through the group stage and in the knockouts we played six matches to arrive in the final. This is a very different feeling.

“We didn’t have the experience together, but I’m pretty sure it’s a big advantage for Thiago to arrive in the final, have this experience again and learn from the year before.

“We didn’t have it as a team, so I am not sure it’s a subject to use. [If I was a] player, I’m not sure I would love to hear the story from my coach who was there last year with a different team.

“If we had it together, we would clearly use it. But we arrive for the first time together and we will prepare, find the headlines and topics to use this week.”

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