Thomas Tuchel believes every remaining game of the season is “crucial” for Chelsea as they hunt down a top-four place.
Chelsea will contest one of the most important games of the battle for a Champions League place on Saturday. They visit London rivals West Ham looking to stay above them in fourth place. As things stand, only goal difference separates the two clubs.
West Ham have surpassed all expectations to be in European contention this season. Chelsea would have been aiming higher than fourth after the amount they spent in the summer but the target is now to confirm Champions League football for next season.
Saturday’s match will be pivotal to seeing if they will be able to. But Tuchel denied that it is the most important game of his time in the Premier League so far.
“I understand the question but we’ve had it many times,” he said. “Before Tottenham, Man United, Liverpool, Everton, Atletico, Porto.
“For me, every game is the biggest game. It’s in direct competition but if you look at who we play in the coming weeks, there are only super tough teams and direct opponents [in the top-four race].
“So it will keep on going and it feels like cup round after cup round. We only have crucial fixtures that can change the momentum.
“We need to be very focused tomorrow. It’s clearly a big game. We arrive fourth and above West Ham so we should be confident. But I know my team and they know they need a top performance.”
Tuchel has no new injury concerns for the match against a side who have punched above their weight this season.
“I expect from them that they fight in a sporting way to be in the top four,” he said. “They have had an extraordinary season.
“The team news is there is no news. Mateo [Kovacic] is still out, everyone else is ok.”
Kovacic has not played since he went off against Crystal Palace on April 10th. Chelsea are being cautious with his return but Tuchel remains optimistic he could be back for the next league game after West Ham.
“Me, personally, I think we can hope for Fulham,” he said. “But don’t take that for granted. Maybe the physios and doctors will kill me for that.
“So maybe Fulham, which is between the Madrid games.
“Tomorrow is a game, then we have two days to prepare for Real Madrid in the semi-final of the Champions League. Without training, that won’t happy. So Fulham is the target.”
Tuchel confirms Mendy to start
In Chelsea’s last league game, against Brighton, there was a rare start for Kepa Arrizabalaga in goal. The Spaniard kept his place after keeping a clean sheet against Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final.
But Tuchel confirmed that Edouard Mendy will return between the posts for the West Ham match.
“Mendy will be in goal,” he said. “The change was made for Kepa in the cup game and before then me and the goalkeeper coach decided Kepa should stay one more game to have it as a reward, to get a bit of rhythm.
“What he’s doing in training and the dressing room is simple outstanding in terms of personality. I’m happy he showed it on the pitch.
“He had two clean sheets in two matches so it’s a good feeling we have two goalkeepers. Edou will be in goal tomorrow.”