Thomas Tuchel plans to ruin Leicester City’s bid to make history, as the Chelsea manager eyes the first trophy of his reign in Saturday’s FA Cup final at Wembley.
Tuchel has enjoyed a superb run since replacing the sacked Frank Lampard in January.
The German has led Chelsea to the FA Cup and Champions League finals, while taking them back into the Premier League’s top four.
Winning his first silverware in English football would be further evidence of Tuchel’s impact.
But Leicester, two points above Chelsea in the Premier League, will pose a significant threat to Tuchel’s ambitions under the astute guidance of boss Brendan Rodgers.
The Foxes are aiming to win the FA Cup for the first time in their first final appearance since 1969.
No club has appeared in more FA Cup finals without lifting the trophy than Leicester, who have lost four times in the showpiece match.
In contrast, Chelsea have won the FA Cup eight times, with their last victory coming against Manchester United in 2018.
The Blues, beaten in last year’s final against Arsenal, will be making their fourth appearance in the competition’s denouement in the last five years.
Having already beaten managerial luminaries Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho, Diego Simeone, Zinedine Zidane and Carlo Ancelotti since arriving at Chelsea, Tuchel will pit his wits against Rodgers for the first time as Blues boss.
After a frustrating end to his spell at Paris Saint-Germain – where he won the French title and reached last season’s Champions League final before being forced out following a power struggle with sporting director Leonardo – Tuchel has quickly erased any doubts about his suitability for Chelsea.
Cleverly covering up for the lack of goals in his misfiring attack by focusing on defensive discipline and work ethic, Tuchel has revitalised a Chelsea side who were spiralling down the Premier League by the time Lampard left.
Tuchel has energised the likes of N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and Antonio Rudiger, with England midfielder Mason Mount growing more influential by the week.
But Chelsea’s limp 1-0 defeat against Arsenal on Tuesday – just the third loss under Tuchel – emphasised the importance of solving the issues with forwards Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech sooner rather than later.
Tuchel blamed himself for that defeat, claiming he made too many changes after last weekend’s emotional win at champions Manchester City.
Ahead of a crucial final week in the Premier League – featuring games against Leicester and Aston Villa – it will be intriguing to see if Tuchel fields his strongest team at Wembley.
He has already confirmed Kepa Arrizabalaga will start instead of first-choice keeper Edouard Mendy.
“He starts the FA Cup final.” Tuchel said. “We trust him and he deserves it, that is the basis of why we put him in the line-up.”
Rodgers also has Leicester’s top-four ambitions to consider as he plots his line-up against Chelsea, but the chance to create history will be his only focus at Wembley.
“We have earned the right to be in the final and we will arrive with an opportunity to make our own history. We feel we’re in with a chance and if we can play to our level we have a great chance,” Rodgers said.
After a successful spell at Celtic, former Liverpool and Swansea boss Rodgers has burnished his reputation with his impressive work at Leicester.
Winning his first major trophy in English football in front of a crowd of 21,000 at Wembley – as part of the UK government’s plan to test the return of big crowds amid the coronavirus pandemic – would be another feather in Rodgers’ cap.
“To be able to lead Leicester out for the first time in 50-odd years will be a real privilege for me,” he said.
“This is a game where you can create an incredible legacy, you write your own stories in these games.”
Leicester City’s task though will be cut out against a Chelsea side who have been in fine form in recent weeks. They’ve beaten Manchester City and Atletico Madrid twice, Real Madrid, Liverpool and Tottenham once since Tuchel arrived.
Even though they come into the game on the back of a 1-0 defeat to Arsenal, the Blues who should have at least drawn that game will feel confident about facing a Foxes side that have wobbled off late.
Leicester City who themselves use a three-man defensive set-up will be tested against Tuchel’s Blues who have mastered that system. Pep Guardiola and Zinedine Zidane have failed when they have tried matching up to that system and Rodgers will have to work out a plan that works.
Chelsea’s weakness has been scoring goals especially against teams that sit deep and that will perhaps be Leicester’s best chance of beating the Blues at Wembley on Saturday.
However, Chelsea have been excellent in dealing with counter-attacks and transitions and Leicester could find it hard to get to the other end if they go with a defensive mindset.
Rodgers will hope his forwards Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho have their scoring boots on and take whatever chances that come their way against the Blues who haven’t afforded their opponents with too many opportunities.
The Blues may have won a lot more trophies than Leicester in recent years, many members of their current squad don’t have a lot of experience of playing in finals. However, defeat in the FA Cup final against Arsenal last year could prompt Chelsea to leave no stone unturned this time out.
For Leicester though, this game will be as big as the Champions League final for Chelsea and hence you can expect them to put their best foot forward.
In a matchup that’s certain to be a tactical battle between two top coaches, the team that is decisive at the two ends of the pitch will walk away with the trophy.
(With AFP inputs)
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