Thomas Tuchel knows his players must be ready to suffer again. Although Chelsea’s manager has shown it does not take a miracle to outwit Pep Guardiola, he is not arrogant enough to think he has cracked the code when it comes to dealing with Manchester City.
There is no chance of Tuchel underestimating these opponents. The German does not believe that he has gained an edge over Guardiola despite three straight victories over him last season.
Tuchel has done his analysis, closely studying the tape of Chelsea’s clever victory in the Champions League final, and the notion that his side will start as favourites when they host the Premier League champions at Stamford Bridge on Saturday does not sit easily with him.
City remain the team to beat as far as Tuchel is concerned. He predicted a tough test for his outstanding defence, warning that repelling Guardiola’s side would require huge tactical focus and courage. “We can never lose intensity or focus against Pep’s teams,” Tuchel said. “It’s simply impossible. I expect another 50-50 match.”
Despite Tuchel’s humble demeanour, another Chelsea victory would not be a surprise. The European champions unsettled City last season, absorbing pressure before hitting them with incisive counterattacks. It was smart from Tuchel, whose tactics helped Chelsea knock City out of the FA Cup, fight back from a goal down to beat them in the league and stop Guardiola from winning the Champions League for the first time since 2011.
There is a sense of a power shift before these sides meet for the first time since the Champions League final. Chelsea will rise six points above City if they win and it will be intriguing to see whether Guardiola corrects the mistake he made in Porto, where he gave his defence no protection by fielding Ilkay Gündogan in defensive midfield instead of Rodri or Fernandinho.
Chelsea capitalised ruthlessly on that tactical misstep, with N’Golo Kanté dominating midfield, Timo Werner’s pace causing problems and Mason Mount given too much room to create Kai Havertz’s winner.
Ever stubborn, though, Guardiola argued on Friday that City played “a great final”. He suggested Chelsea were simply superior in the long balls and second balls; Tuchel took it as a compliment. “If you play against Manchester City you need a very complex performance,” he said. “It’s not only about long balls and second balls, but it’s also about long balls and second balls. It is about escaping the pressure in your passing ability, but it’s also about escaping pressure by dribbling, by courage, by intensity and by winning second balls.
“It is about suffering, it is about defending, it is about never becoming too passive. It’s about everything because it’s a huge, huge challenge. They put you under so much pressure and they have so much belief in what they do. Pep’s teams bring out the very best in you.”
They certainly bring out the best in Tuchel. He has come a long way since the days when he would visit Munich’s restaurants to have dinner with Guardiola and gain an insight into his thinking. There was a time when people thought Tuchel would never beat the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager, who won four and drew one of their first five meetings.
Tuchel smiled when he remembered falling short with Mainz and Borussia Dortmund when he faced Guardiola’s Bayern. The dynamic is different now. “I’m happy that I arrived at a club with confidence that, OK, if we play at our very best level we can compete with Pep’s team,” Tuchel said. “It means you are in a good place as a coach.”
Chelsea, even more dangerous since adding Romelu Lukaku to their attack, would agree with that assessment. So would Guardiola. He may not be quite so open the next time he meets Tuchel for dinner.