Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel said on Monday his side can approach this weekend’s Champions League final against Manchester City with confidence after recent victories against Pep Guardiola’s Premier League winners.
The Blues will face City in Porto on Saturday after securing a top-four finish in the English top-flight despite a 2-1 defeat at Aston Villa.
Tuchel outfoxed Guardiola in last month’s FA Cup semi-final before inflicting a rare home league defeat on City but his side have lost three of their past four games in all competitions.
The German, who replaced Frank Lampard in January, said reaching the top four, despite Sunday’s loss at Villa Park, was an “outstanding achievement” and his players were now having a short mental break.
“I want them to be here on Wednesday full of joy because this is maybe one of their most exciting weeks in their whole life as professional players,” he said.
Tuchel, whose Paris Saint-German side were beaten last year by Bayern Munich in the Champions League final, said the recent victories against City had proved they were beatable.
“I think it helped us to bond, to grow and to arrive with a lot of self-confidence,” he said.
“Manchester City are the benchmark, they are the champions. They are the benchmark in Europe and in this league and we are the guys who want to hunt them and want to close the gap.”
“The experience helped,” he added. “It gives you not an advantage but it helps us to arrive with confidence, to be well aware of what is needed to have a chance to beat them.”
Tuchel insisted his side had been playing well despite losing three of their past four matches, including the FA Cup final against Leicester.
“It concerns me because it always concerns me when we lose and this is not so easy to get a grip on these losses because the data we produce, the statistics we produce, the performances we produce, do not indicate that it’s necessary or even logical to lose,” he said.
“We simply have not been lucky enough in these games. We maybe didn’t push it too much or whatever and we’re looking for reasons but we cannot deny we had good performances,” he added.
Midfielder Mateo Kovacic, who won the Champions League three times with Real Madrid, said the game held no fears for Chelsea, despite the quality of the opposition.
“City are obviously a great team,” he said. “They won the Premier League this year, had a great season, Maybe we are the underdogs in the final but I think it’s one game.
“We need to show our best and we have equal chances so we will be confident to try to be at our highest level.”
The Croatia international praised Tuchel for instilling defensive discipline and confidence in the team since his arrival.
“He came in and from the first minute the players, with him we felt a great connection from the first meeting, from the first game like he was here for two years,” said the 27-year-old.
“It came quite naturally, everything, his way of playing, we approached it well, we understood each other and I think from the day he came we did a great season in the end.”
Tuchel said goalkeeper Edouard Mendy had shown “huge improvement” in his battle to be fit for the final after suffering a rib injury following a collision with the post in the Villa defeat.
“He’s made a huge improvement in the management of pain,” said the Chelsea boss. “So we need a further update on Wednesday but we hope to have him back in training.”
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