Defending a 1-0 lead from the first leg of this round-of-16 tie, Chelsea are 90 minutes away from a quarter-final draw that will not feature Barcelona or Juventus. If successful in eliminating Diego Simeone’s La Liga leaders, Chelsea will establish themselves as ‘one to avoid’ for the other seven in the pot.
Whether Tuchel would appreciate the comparison is not clear, but his team may already be developing a reputation as the new Atletico.
He walked into Stamford Bridge and declared an intention to make Chelsea a team no one wants to face. That has been Simeone’s modus operandi as Atletico have revelled in upsetting the odds, particularly in Europe, with Liverpool seeing their reign as Champions League holders ended by the Spanish side last year.
Simeone is hoping to pull off another memorable win against English opposition tonight, but in being forced to chase a 1-0 deficit, the dynamic of the game is already working against him.
Still, this represents the biggest test of Tuchel’s early Stamford Bridge reign and completing the job will be vital to underlining his credentials as a manager capable of meeting expectations. Defeat would raise doubts over his ability to return Chelsea to the summit of the game. Rightly or wrongly, that is the environment in which all Chelsea managers are forced to perform.
“Every team can win the competition,” said Tuchel. “This has been proven in the last years and this is how we respect the competition, it is what we are in for, to win. Am I aware of [the importance of] bringing silverware? Of course. I am here to win games, push the team and to ride the momentum the players are in. You are never totally safe as a coach.”
Simeone kicked off the mind games, claiming Tuchel’s side may not know how to react if things turn sour on the night. The Argentine said: “We are facing a team that has done quite well since their coach has come, they have never lost. I believe today Chelsea don’t have a weakness. The only thing is they don’t know what can happen from a negative point of view. They have not had a negative result yet and that will be a question until it happens.”
It is a legitimate question, but the truth is Chelsea simply do not look like losing at the moment. If they were as effective from an attacking point as they are defensively, they would be the complete package — and yesterday Tuchel showed signs that he is losing patience with a forward line that has scored just 13 goals under his watch.
He said: “In elite level football, there is no time to get four or five matches in a row to score regularly.”
Even so, Chelsea will be a team the rest of Europe will want to avoid if they secure safe passage tonight.