Homas Tuchel had, by his own admission, a “pretty ****” Christmas last year, having been sacked by Paris Saint-Germain on the eve of the big day and, until last night, his mood was low. Directed towards this you couldn’t have been much nicer.
Faced with a Covid outbreak that decimated his Chelsea side and played a role in the botched run that saw them lose ground to both Manchester City and Liverpool in the title race, the German recently made a frustrated balance sheet.
Add the lack of external sympathy for his predicament, due to Chelsea’s vast resources, and the criticism he has faced for not following Jurgen Klopp’s lead in engaging on the subject of vaccination among the players and it’s been a troublesome few days.
Last night’s 2-0 victory at Brentford in the Carabao Cup will therefore have brought welcome relief, especially since it was obtained without the overwork of most of the regulars of the first team without Covid on whom he will rely on it to take things in hand. track in the league at Aston Villa on Boxing Day.
Edouard Mendy, Thiago Silva and Antonio Rudiger will all be fresh after a night off, while Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic, Jorginho, Reece James and N’Golo Kante were only listed as second-half substitutes and Mateo Kovacic was pulled out at halftime.
The three rookie teens – Xavier Simons, Harvey Vale and Jude Soonsup-Bell – also didn’t do much to suggest they were ready to make their emergency first-team call permanent, though he did. There are extenuating circumstances, particularly in the case of Simons, who had a difficult night playing out of position at the back.
“All three boys did well,” Tuchel said. “They didn’t train for a week because the academy was closed, then we invited them to train with us for two days.
“They listened carefully and did their job. And the seven guys who played with them supported them. They did well and were involved in a good performance.
There were real reasons to be optimistic for the New Year, however, in the performance of goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, who once again used a competition with which he has a special relationship to show he will be able to fill Mendy’s boots. when he travels to the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal next month, shoes that may not look as chunky as they did at the start of the season, given the recent downturn in the player’s form. 29 years.
“I’m very happy, I’m super impressed with Kepa,” said Tuchel, after seeing his goalkeeper make three crucial first-half saves before his own goal at Pontus Jansson and Jorginho’s penalty sent Chelsea to semi final.
“It’s no longer a surprise because he’s in that frame of mind as a person, character and athlete that he delivers just because he does what he does best. That’s what he does. he shows up every day in training and that’s why he gets the awards.I’m absolutely sure that’s the reason he has that kind of performance.
If, as Tuchel surely fears, their recent streak of just three wins in eight league games proves to be fatal to Chelsea’s title hopes – as it might well if either Liverpool or City continue their winning form relentless – then the importance of this competition grows.
The Carabao Cup alone won’t be enough to satisfy Roman Abramovich’s insatiable desire for success, which Tuchel faced from his very first press conference, but the roster of the semi-finals tells you it’s a trophy that will require some gain.
An intriguing encounter with former boss Antonio Conte and Tottenham comes next for Chelsea, with the prospect of a final against Liverpool or an improving Arsenal – who like Spurs don’t have Europe to juggle with the news year – to follow.
Until then, Tuchel can expect a more merry Christmas than the last.