Dubai: Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel expects Tuesday’s Champions League last-16 first leg meeting with La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid to be a massive test of his team’s mental strength.
Chelsea are unbeaten in seven matches in all competitions since Tuchel was named as manager to replace club great Frank Lampard, but he said the Londoners will have to be at their best against Diego Simeone’s battling side.
“It’s a big test. They’re an experienced club at this level, (have) an experienced coach. Hopefully it brings out the best in us,” Tuchel told a news conference.
“We’ll do things our way, they’ll do things their way. It’s clear what you get when you play Atletico — fighting, experience, a team with a good mentality.”
Tuchel will be without experienced defender Thiago Silva with the Brazilian recovering from a knock but midfielder Kai Havertz and forward Christian Pulisic are in contention.
Atletico were due to host the match in Madrid before it was moved to Romania’s National Arena as Spain banned arrivals from Britain, with the exception of passengers who are residents or citizens of Spain or Andorra, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Yeah, it’s a disadvantage for Atletico to lose their home ground,” Tuchel added.
Tuchel hauled off Callum Hudson-Odoi after bringing on the England international as a substitute in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Southampton but the manager said the winger would travel to Bucharest for the game.
“We decided to speak to him in front of the group. Was it the right decision? I don’t know. We did it in front of a group because it’s not a big thing,” Tuchel said of his decision in the Southampton game.
Meanwhile, Bayern Munich coach Hansi Flick insists there can be no excuses when the Champions League holders face Lazio away in Tuesday’s last 16, first leg after a recent dip in form.
“I want my team to be switched on from the start and I have total confidence they will do that at Lazio,” Flick said.
Bayern suffered a 2-1 defeat at Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday following a 3-3 draw against strugglers Arminia Bielefeld upon their return from winning the Club World Cup in Qatar 11 days ago.
The strength in depth of Bayern’s squad has been tested since Benjamin Pavard and Thomas Mueller both tested positive for COVID-19. Midfielder Corentin Tolisso is also sidelined by a long-term thigh injury. Nevertheless, Flick is demanding the Bundesliga leaders respond at Rome’s Olympic Stadium.
“We all know what has happened in the last few days,” Flick added. “I’m not looking for excuses. We weren’t good against Bielefeld and Frankfurt. We have to see that we’re fit again for the Champions League. These are special games which should motivate the players.”
Defender Niklas Suele is carrying a knock, so Joshua Kimmich is expected to switch from midfield to right back.
Flick said Germany midfielder Leon Goretzka will make his first start since contracting COVID-19 in January.
Bayern have reportedly tightened their hygiene rules since Pavard became the fourth player this year to test positive for the coronavirus.
According to daily Bild, the entire squad is tested almost daily and the players have been told to stay at home, unless at training or matches.
“We have many tests, it’s part of life,” said winger Kingsley Coman, who scored the winning goal in last season’s Champions League final.
“There are many rules and regulations, but we have to meet all these precautions to be able to play.”