Thomas Tuchel will only make decisions over his Chelsea squad at the end of the season as the German believes he will learn much more about his players in the “crucial moments” that will come in the weeks ahead.
Since taking charge at Stamford Bridge at the end of January, Tuchel has guided the Blues back into the Premier League top-four battle, into the Champions League semi-finals, and into the last four of the FA Cup.
Tuchel’s side has only suffered two defeats along the way (against West Bromwich Albion and Porto) but the 47-year-old and his players will be given their toughest examination to date when they take on Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City tomorrow evening.
The winner of that fixture at Wembley will progress to the FA Cup final. There is an obvious gap between the two clubs in the Premier League – City are 20 points ahead of Chelsea in the table – but in a one-off game, anything can happen.
The Blues will be without Mateo Kovacic due to a hamstring injury. Andreas Christensen is also set to miss the match with an unspecified knock. But N’Golo Kante is fit enough to play 90 minutes having come through the midweek clash with Porto.
Chelsea will need to be at their best to overcome City. Tuchel knows that. He accepts there is a gap between the two sides, one that is not possible to instantly close. It’s why he will not make decisions on how to do so until after the current campaign has drawn to a close.
“It is important to accept where we are,” the Blues head coach said. “We are behind Manchester City. You just need to look at the fixture [in January], last year’s fixtures, and before that. How do we do this [close the gap]? Step-by-step. Recruitment? I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know.
“We have shown good performances on a consistent basis and in important matches. I will tell you maybe at the end of the season where we are, where we need to improve, and what our situation can be.
“The crucial moments come now. We are not that long together and we live the crucial moments which is nice because you get to know your players better in tight games, when the pressure is on. We can absolutely enjoy the situation.
“We play a semi-final and one in the Champions League. And we play every game in the league like a cup final to try to get in the top four. Then we will have a clear picture.
“From next season on, we will start like everyone expects from us and like I expect. We will try to win the first match and prepare for every match from then to win it. This is where we are.
“We are a young team and I think we will grow stronger from each game that we have. We will gain a big experience from the game tomorrow.”
In Guardiola, Tuchel will come up against one of his biggest coaching influences. He has hailed the Catalan’s current side as one of the “benchmarks” of European football and lauded the great Barcelona side that won two Champions Leagues in three years in his pre-match press conference.
However, the Chelsea head coach did stop short of stating that Guardiola was the “ultimate test” for any coach in the European game.
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“He isn’t the ultimate test but this is the highest level,” Tuchel said. “This is absolutely clear. Last year, it was Bayern Munich and this year they have had some injuries in important areas.
“But it doesn’t change a lot. Bayern Munich with Hansi Flick and Man City with Pep Guardiola are the benchmark in European football.
“But in the Premier League, you also have Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp. This is the level where people like to watch the games. Where people get excited, where I get excited. This is what I would watch on TV if I was not part of it.
“These are the experiences you want to grow. We arrive at tomorrow’s game absolutely confident that we have a chance to win this game. From there, we will see.”