Thankfully for Chelsea, the past counts for very little in Spain this evening. Because if it did, they would be better off staying at home.
Thomas Tuchel’s side are dining at European football’s top table on Tuesday. Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final — occasions don’t come much bigger.
Zinedine Zidane’s side won’t bat an eyelid, of course. This is their house, their competition. Thirteen titles, four of those since 2014. Luka Modric, Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Karim Benzema, Dani Carvajal and Raphael Varane played in their most recent final win in 2018 and are set to start tonight.
As the adage goes — they’ve got the T-shirt. Chelsea, by contrast, are still to add to their solitary Champions League triumph in Munich nine years ago.
Their last semi-final was seven years ago, losing 3-1 to Atletico Madrid, and Cesar Azpilicueta is the only player from that team who will be involved on Tuesday.
If history counts for anything, Chelsea don’t have a cat in hell’s chance. Tuchel admitted: ‘Maybe there is a lack of experience in semi-finals, but we can compensate with hunger and enthusiasm.’
The German coach reached the final with Paris Saint-Germain last year, of course, and Thiago Silva was part of the team who fell at the final hurdle to Bayern Munich.
The pair’s experience will be invaluable in Madrid, as will the know-how of captain Azpilicueta.
But if Chelsea are to cause an upset, those who are unaccustomed to these heart-stopping nights will be required to create their own legacies.
‘I strongly believe our squad can do this,’ said Tuchel.
‘Sometimes circumstances and playing against a big, experienced team and a huge club in Europe like Real Madrid, maybe the next step is to keep the level and not to over-expect us to take the next step.
‘We showed against Tottenham, against Liverpool, in the knockouts against Porto and Atletico, that we are capable of consistently producing high-level football in all questions that are asked on the pitch.
‘The challenge is for me to produce it again and to keep the level. This is more the question than adding another step.’
Away from questions about the prospect of Eden Hazard facing his former employers — and conspiracy theories over referee Danny Makkelie favouring Chelsea due to Real Madrid’s lead role in the foiled European Super League — Tuchel was in chipper mood on Monday.
He had every reason to be. His impact at Stamford Bridge has been sensational but you wonder if Tuesday may prove a step too far for his impressive Chelsea outfit.
‘The level is so high in the semi-final of the Champions League but the good thing is we have had tough, tight matches and very important matches together in the Premier League and FA Cup,’ he said.
‘We have it almost every three days but in these competitions there are crucial matches and we performed and we showed our skills and mentality in these matches at Tottenham, Liverpool, Atletico, Porto. It makes the bond very strong, very close. Against Real, we need a top-level team performance. I don’t have to talk them into being confident. I don’t have to convince them. It is so much easier if you have the experience together.
‘We have a strong bond, I feel it in the squad. I feel we are ready to work together and to suffer together.’
Meanwhile, Tuchel became the latest Premier League manager to blast UEFA’s plans for an extended Champions League.
Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp have criticised the European governing body’s plan to rejig the competition, a move that will see clubs play more matches from 2024.
‘I’m not sure if I like it because I can only see more games at the start of it, more games in the (busy) schedule we have. It’s very hard for me to be excited at all,’ said Tuchel.
‘Did they ask any coach about this? I don’t think so. They didn’t ask me. Did they ask any player about it? I don’t think so.
‘We have so many new formats with the Nations League, the world championship for clubs coming soon. There’s so much new stuff, so many more games and more teams in the European Championship in the summer.
‘More, more, more games, not more quality. I’m not happy about these competitions.’
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