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Tuchel absence ‘big challenge’ for Chelsea at Club World Cup

Chelsea assistant Zsolt Low said Tuesday the absence of Covid-hit Thomas Tuchel presents a “big challenge” for the European champions at the Club World Cup.

Tuchel missed Saturday’s FA Cup win over Plymouth after testing positive for the virus and has been unable to fly to Abu Dhabi ahead of the semi-final against Asian champions Al Hilal.

“It’s a big challenge that Thomas is not here, but we try to do as well as possible,” said Low, who is overseeing the team alongside Arno Michels while Tuchel isolates.

“We’re in constant contact with Thomas, a lot of meetings together, we use voice calling all the time. We record the training and send it to him. We try to make it like he’s here with us.”

Tuchel could join the squad in time for the final on Saturday if Chelsea overcome Al Hilal, but for now the German is limited to interacting with his squad remotely.

“It can be very difficult for him to sit in front of the TV with all the emotions and impressions he has,” said Low, who also worked under Tuchel at Paris Saint-Germain.

“He’s absolutely a coach who likes to be with the team and give them a lot of energy.”

Low added: “We hope the next test is negative and he can travel as fast as possible.

“We have text messages, phone calls and video calls. We want to give him the feeling he’s with us, he’s there 24 hours a day.

“We cannot copy him, he’s one of the best coaches in the whole world. We have to share it among the coaching staff.”

Mendy in contention

Kepa Arrizabalaga is set to keep his place in goal on Wednesday, but Edouard Mendy could replace the Spaniard once he arrives after winning the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal.

“Mendy arrives later today or tomorrow. We will see how he is, how tired he is. He has to arrive first, we have to check him, we have to talk to him,” said Low. 

“We will see in a few days whether there is a possibility he plays.”

However, England defender Reece James, who is nursing a hamstring injury, will play no part in the UAE despite travelling with the team.

European clubs have won each of the past eight Club World Cups, a run that began after Chelsea lost the 2012 final 1-0 to Corinthians in Japan.

Cesar Azpilicueta, the Chelsea captain, is the only player in the squad who was part of the team that finished runners-up a decade ago.

“I’m really motivated. Losing that one in 2012, it hurt a lot and this is the only competition that the club hasn’t won. I think to win it for the first time for the club is huge,” said Azpilicueta.

“I think it has a great meaning for everybody. For the fans, we are representing Europe, and we have to evaluate how difficult it is and the journey we’ve had to have to make it here.”

Azpilicueta has won every trophy on offer bar the Club World Cup since joining Chelsea in 2012, and appreciates he may not get another chance to complete the set.

“This kind of tournament is not like a normal cup that you play every year. Every competition we enter we want to win. And this is a rare one that we didn’t play in the last 10 years,” he said.

“I think everybody’s very aware how difficult it is and that we cannot miss the chance.”

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