Chelsea have the chance to qualify for the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2014 tomorrow evening when they take on Atletico Madrid at Stamford Bridge.
The Blues hold a narrow lead in their Round of 16 tie against the Spanish side, which was secured thanks to a wonderful Olivier Giroud goal in the first leg.
“They are a team which is hard to play against, hard to find spaces behind the lines, and behind the last lines, and for sure super hard to create chances,” Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel said ahead of the game.
“It’s a big challenge for us like in the first leg, but we played an amazing match there and we want to repeat the same performance to be able to go through. We know how hard it is to beat Atletico but this is our plan.”
Chelsea will be without four players for the game. Mason Mount and Jorginho are suspended having collected three yellow cards in this season’s Champions League.
Thiago Silva, meanwhile, is still ruled out due to a thigh injury while a persistent ankle problem means Tammy Abraham is unavailable.
The latter duo did not train with the first-team squad this afternoon ahead of the game, but Mount and Jorginho did take part in the session, the first 15 minutes of which were open for the media.
And here are the five things we spotted from the Blues’ final training session before the clash with Atletico.
Costa del Cobham
Tomorrow’s game is undoubtedly the biggest of Tuchel’s admittedly short reign at Stamford Bridge. He doesn’t appear to be feeling the pressure, however.
The German coach was in a somewhat playful mood during his pre-match press conference, urging one journalist to “read a book” rather than speculation over Timo Werner’s long-term future at Stamford Bridge.
And as he walked out to the training pitches in Cobham, which were bathed in sunshine, he turned to media personnel inside the Chelsea first-team bubble and asked: “Are we playing in Spain? Wow. Last training session in Marbella.”
Of course, the Blues are very much in England. The second leg of the Round of 16 tie will be played at Stamford Bridge tomorrow evening, which is in stark contrast to the first that took place in Bucharest due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.
Mount rarely misses a game for Chelsea. In fact, he has only failed to feature in five since the start of last season. But due to suspension, the England midfielder will not be involved tomorrow evening.
A yellow card received in the opening minute of the first leg was Mount’s third since the start of this season’s Champions League.
As a result, he will have to watch on from the sidelines alongside the also suspended Jorginho as the Blues look to reach the quarter-finals.
Mount did take part in today’s training session, though, and appeared in good spirits as he walked out onto the pitches alongside Billy Gilmour, Reece James, and Christian Pulisic.
Chilwell chucks the deuces
Ben Chilwell received plenty of unfair criticism after Chelsea’s draw with Leeds United on Saturday, not that it seemingly has bothered him.
The England international was all smiles as he walked out onto the training pitches alongside Kurt Zouma and was the only Blues player to pose for the watching cameras.
Chilwell was also engaged in a rather strange conversation with the French defender. As the duo walked out of shot, the left-back asked his team-mate: “That’s early, man. What time did you go to bed?”
Anthony Barry makes his mark
As the first-team squad congregated on the training pitch, waiting for further instruction, the distinctive scouse accent of Anthony Barry can be heard. “Can we get some water? It’s [the pitch] is bone dry.”
The first-team players quickly move off – undertaking a short warm-up jog – and moments later Barry’s instruction is acted upon by the Blues’ ground staff.
Barry, who was brought to Chelsea by Frank Lampard last summer, has proved himself an important member of Tuchel’s coaching staff since the German took charge in January.
“From the first moment, Anthony has been a big part of our coaching team,” Tuchel said last week. “He is a fantastic guy, a fantastic character, very open, very friendly, he has top quality when analysing games and giving his opinion.
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“He is very experienced. I feel him very comfortable on the pitch when he is in charge of exercises. He’s very comfortable in front of the group.
“He is in charge, the specialist, for all set-pieces so he’s doing video sessions, training for set pieces and he is the assistant for any other exercises which is a pleasure to have him around.”
N’Golo Kante surprises Hakim Ziyech
Few players are able to cover as much ground as N’Golo Kante and when given licence to search and destroy across the pitch, he is undoubtedly one of the most effective players in world football.
What’s often overlooked is the skill of Kante’s game. The Frenchman may not have the same guile as others but he is often able to wriggle out of tight situations with the ball and has a wide passing range, something that was evident in Chelsea’s win over Liverpool a fortnight ago.
During the Blues’ training session today, Kante and Antonio Rudiger were knocking the ball back and forth to each other, chopping down on it to make it bounce up.
It was something that seemed to impress Ziyech, who stood transfixed for a few seconds before asking Kante to send the ball to him in the same fashion.