Thomas Tuchel continues to insist Chelsea do not have the same depth as title rivals Manchester City ahead of their meeting on Saturday.
The Premier League’s top two go head to head at Saturday lunchtime. With Chelsea 10 points behind City, it is a crucial test of their remaining title ambitions. There will still be 16 games to go after this one, but City have been pulling away recently.
Chelsea were leading the way for a stretch this season, but have had to deal with a number of injury issues and Covid-19 cases.
It has regularly prompted Tuchel to suggest he has been hampered by a lack of depth, even though the European champions have a strong squad.
But when down to the bones, Chelsea have not produced the same kind of consistency. Now, they need to prove they can compete with City still.
They go into the game without a couple of long-term absentees, while Andreas Christensen is unavailable again due to Covid.
Tuchel confirmed at a press conference: “No news which is good news. Trevoh [Chalobah] will be out, Reece James out, Ben Chilwell out.
“We have one new positive Covid test with Andreas Christensen so he will be out of the game.”
Chelsea want three French stars this summer for big money
Chelsea want Tchouameni, Kimpembe and Kounde this summer as they prepare for future without key ageing players
If Tuchel has greater concerns about depth, Chelsea must do what they can this month to rectify it. They have already brought Kenedy back from a loan spell and have been trying to do the same for Emerson Palmieri.
But exit links continue to linger for some of their existing squad men, such as Juventus target Ruben Loftus-Cheek. He spent last season on loan with Fulham but has featured fairly frequently since his return.
Tuchel refused to comment on Loftus-Cheek’s future, but suggested he has shown an example to follow for anyone who returns to the fold.
The manager said: “Ruben has a lot of game time compared to the last years. He has a lot to fight for here in my personal opinion. This will happen behind closed doors.
“About bringing players back, it’s not only about the need but the possibility. We sent them out for a year and they have a certain role at their clubs.
“Kenedy is back and I am very happy about it. It’s a huge opportunity for him to make his mark at this club and this team. We will try now, from today on, to push and support him.”
Tuchel compares Chelsea to Man City
Chelsea must work with what they have for the City clash. Asked if a defeat would end their own title hopes, Tuchel replied: “Maybe, who knows.
“They have dealt better with injuries and the Covid situation. Maybe it’s luck or they do it better.
“They have had less injuries and less weeks they missed them. They did not suffer from Covid as we did over many weeks. This is the huge difference.”
Elaborating, Tuchel suggested Chelsea have been trying to push City from the start, but they need a full complement of players to do so.
He added: “We were self-confident enough to say we will try to close the gap to Man City from the first day of the season. Don’t get me wrong, I will be completely happy with the players we have on the pitch tomorrow. We will push them in the same way with genuine belief.
“But the team is different with everyone available. Always you have injuries or minor injuries, but having a full squad gives you the extra edge you need to be on the level Man City is. But we haven’t had that. It’s just an explanation of the situation.”
And asked what else they need to catch City, he emphasised: “With every player we get back, we get back belief, experience and alternatives. We have N’Golo [Kante] on the bench in the last match, Thiago Silva on the bench, but they joined the group with one training session.
“We have a good squad with a fantastic mentality and once you have one training session you’re in the squad. But we are not at our 100%. We need to overperform to catch Man City and be at the top of the Premier League and to do that you need everybody. So we are hoping to get players back.
“But when you get the news that Andreas has Covid after he comes back from injury and play so strong, it’s a setback for everyone mentally because you get a player back and then it’s no. It’s like catching a fish.”
Whoever he can call upon, Tuchel will be hoping for a better outcome than their last meeting with City. They lost 1-0 at Stamford Bridge in September, failing to muster a single shot on target.
Tuchel said he has learned his lessons from that game and won’t be mimicking their approach from it.
“My approach was the wrong approach. It made us too passive and defensive. It wasn’t meant like this but it turned out like this. So lesson learned.”