Chelsea face Real Madrid on Wednesday reeling from their heaviest defeat of the season, but Thomas Tuchel’s battle-hardened ability to keep his players focused should ensure the Champions League holders are ready for the latest test of their resilience.
While Saturday’s shock 4-1 home defeat against Brentford was hardly ideal preparation for the quarter-final first leg against Real, Chelsea boss Tuchel has dealt with worse setbacks during a turbulent period for his club.
When Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was sanctioned by the British government for his alleged links with Russian President Vladimir Putin following the invasion of Ukraine, the Blues were plunged into a financial meltdown that threatened to engulf Tuchel’s team.
Unable to negotiate new contracts with players due to the sanctions, Chelsea have had to sit by while key defenders Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and Cesar Azpilicueta considered their futures.
As if that wasn’t potentially distracting enough, fears were mounting that Chelsea might be pushed into administration amid the mayhem triggered by the sanctions.
Restricted on the amount of money they could spend on travel to away games, Tuchel joked he was willing to drive the team bus himself before their Champions League last 16 win at Lille.
Yet, despite the chaos, Tuchel kept his players focused so well that they won six successive matches in all competitions immediately after Abramovich put the club up for sale.
It was a winning streak that underlined Tuchel’s best qualities as he deflected any pressure away from his players with intelligent, empathetic responses to questions about the war in Ukraine and the unintended consequences for Chelsea.
That made it all the more surprising when Chelsea returned from the international break with such a sloppy display last weekend, as Brentford recovered from Rudiger’s opener to beat their west London neighbours for the first time since 1939.
Aware his players cannot afford to feel sorry for themselves with Real’s visit to Stamford Bridge looming, Tuchel tried to downplay the extent of the Brentford defeat.
“After so many wins and so many good results, I will now refuse to make a drama out of it. Why should we?” he said.
Challenging Chelsea to respond against La Liga leaders Real, Tuchel said: “It’s hard to take because it’s very unusual for us what happened. It’s a summary of strange events but it’s on us and it’s our fault.
“We will dig in and try to find out why it was like this. There are some reasons which we can put on us and we will analyse and digest it. There is nothing else.”
Tuchel might take heart from the parallels to a similar result on the same weekend last season when Chelsea crashed to a 5-2 home defeat against soon to be relegated West Bromwich Albion.
That stunning setback served as a wake-up call for the Blues, who won at Porto in the Champions League quarter-final first leg just days later.
Tuchel’s revitalised team embarked on dominant run that carried them all the way to victory over Manchester City in the Champions League final.
Their hopes of an instant response this time may rest on Tuchel’s team selection.
Having left Jorginho, Reece James and Mateo Kovacic on the bench against Brentford, Tuchel is likely to make changes for the Real showdown.
“We selected the team because we thought it was the best team against Brentford,” Tuchel said.
“There was not half an eye or one per cent on Real Madrid. This was our fault and we have to analyse it quickly.”
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