Thomas Tuchel has promised Chelsea will “hunt” Manchester City from the opening day of next season in a push to close the 20-point gap that currently separates the sides in the Premier League.
Chelsea have a chance to show that chasm is not a true reflection of their relative quality when they face City in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final. Tuchel believes they can be the league leaders’ equals at Wembley but wants that to apply in the longer term too.
“We have to accept there is a gap between us and Manchester City,” he said. “If you look at the fixture in the Premier League [when City won 3-1 at Stamford Bridge in January] and the fixtures in the last years, we have to accept this. And it’s important we accept this without making ourselves too small.
“So from next year on, from day one of next season we will hunt them, we will try to close the gap between us. And this is the benchmark. For me in Europe there are two teams who are the benchmark: Bayern Munich and Manchester City.”
Tuchel is yet to record a win over Pep Guardiola, whom he encountered in Germany when managing Mainz and Borussia Dortmund during his colleague’s time at Bayern Munich, and said “yes and no” when asked whether this was the first time they met as equals. But he thinks Chelsea, who could face as many as 12 games on European and domestic fronts over the next six weeks and could face City in the Champions League final, can repeat their recent form on Saturday.
“I don’t believe in how big clubs are, how tough or are we equal or not,” he said. “We have to admit there is a gap but for 90 minutes we are very self-aware and very self-confident that we believe we can close the gap tomorrow for one game.”
Describing Saturday as “the right moment for us to face a challenge like this”, Tuchel outlined how Chelsea could go toe to toe with Guardiola’s team. “I expect a very high-intensity, demanding match,” he said. “City define themselves with a clear DNA and style. They want the ball, high possession, high ball recoveries. We want that too so we have to fight for these moments and make them suffer. We need to be very brave, play with courage, be adventurous and do what’s needed.”
N’Golo Kanté has been passed fit to play, but Mateo Kovacic is still absent with a hamstring injury. Andreas Christensen also remains on the sidelines.