Thomas Tuchel was critical of the decision not to send Sadio Mane off during the draw between Chelsea and Liverpool despite his admiration of the opponent.
Chelsea came from two goals down to earn a draw against Liverpool in a game full of incidents. Mateo Kovacic scored a spectacular volley and Christian Pulisic finished on the half-volley to cancel out goals from Mane and Mohamed Salah.
But Mane might not have been on the pitch after being the subject of a VAR investigation within the first minute of the match. His elbow connected with the face of Cesar Azpilicueta during the opening 10 seconds.
The referee gave him a yellow card for the incident. But Chelsea felt it should have been red despite the lack of time on the clock.
Tuchel was certainly of that opinion, even if he claimed to be reluctant about it.
He told Sky Sports (via the BBC): “If you remember the first game with the same referee and how quick it was to give a red card to us, I am not a friend of early red cards.
“I hate to say it because I love Mane and he is a nice guy and top player, but it is a red card. The elbow is in the face; it doesn’t matter if you do this after 20 seconds or 20 minutes.
“We come from a game against Brighton where we miss VAR calls in the box and suddenly VAR is checking a goal against Kovacic.
“It would be nice to also check from outside to have substitutes and bring more energy, but at the moment it’s like putting [Azpilicueta] in a new position, and Christian Pulisic at wing-back because of an injury to Trevoh Chalobah. I get the feeling we start with a back three and never end with the same back three.”
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Despite such adversity, Tuchel was impressed with the intensity on show. He also liked his side’s reaction to going behind and how Kovacic’s goal inspired their comeback.
He said: “Brilliant match of football. Everybody not in the stadium missed something – energy, some mistakes.
“We started excellent and were 1-0 down out of nothing because we did two or three big mistakes. Then we concede a second one which makes the task very hard.
“The team did not give in and Mateo Kovacic’s goal brought the belief back into the stadium. There was almost the perfect comeback in the first half with a third goal on the transition.”
Tuchel added: “Nice goals, no? The first one was absolutely brilliant but also the second was difficult. To coach was high level and it was on the edge; it could have gone either way. A good Sunday afternoon and new year.”
Tuchel provides Lukaku update
Chelsea did not call up Romelu Lukaku for the match after he gave a controversial interview through the week.
The club-record signing confessed he has not been happy in Tuchel’s tactics. What’s more, he is longing for a return to Inter Milan already.
Tuchel used Kai Havertz at centre-forward instead of the Belgian. Naturally, he was asked for an update on Lukaku’s future afterwards. He refused to rule out his reintegration.
The coach said: “He is our player; there is always a way back.
“We will clear this behind closed doors and once we have made a decision and Romelu knows, you will maybe know also. It is not to be discussed now.”