Thomas Tuchel heightened the stakes before Chelsea’s crucial home game against Leicester, putting aside his disappointment about losing the FA Cup final to Brendan Rodgers’s side and insisting that qualifying for the Champions League has always been his biggest priority.
Chelsea are a point above Liverpool in fifth place with two games left and another stumble could see them drop out of the top four. That would leave their hopes of making the Champions League reliant on winning the competition by defeating Manchester City in the final on 29 May and Tuchel is desperate to avoid that scenario, even though he was reluctant to agree that the financial significance of finishing fourth makes Tuesday night’s league game against third-placed Leicester bigger than their Wembley showdown.
“It would look like I am a bad loser if I say yes,” Tuchel said. “I am not a good loser but I want to be a respectful loser and I am not here to play the match down because of financial reasons. We lost a big match, it was a huge match for us, we put out the best team possible. We did not rest anybody because we had the feeling that this game tomorrow is more important.
“But there is a but. Do we want to play Champions League next season? Yes, this is the target when I stepped into this club. I want to be very clear – the task was: ‘Let’s try everything to be in the top four.’ The task was not: ‘Let’s try everything to win the FA Cup’ because the FA Cup, as big as it is, does not bring you to Champions League football next season. It’s top four that brings us that.
“Tomorrow is another huge game but, like I said, this game was big for us. It was a final. Once you can collect silverware you try everything because simply out of respect. And me and the players – be very sure about this – think zero about how much money we earn. This is not in our heads.”
Tuchel questioned why Chelsea and Leicester have been given little time to recover from the final, pointing out that both sides would have benefited from another day’s rest. Chelsea’s final league game of the season sees them visit Aston Villa on Sunday.
“We never understood this and we said before that we could not understand because both teams are involved and it would have been easier for both teams to have had a Wednesday game because the next game is Sunday,” he said. “There is absolutely no reason to play Saturday, Tuesday, Sunday. It is absolutely logical to play the game on Wednesday. From a sporting side nobody can disagree. But, OK, we cannot wish for another date to play so we will be ready tomorrow.”
Tuchel added that he would like Chelsea to recognise Antonio Rüdiger’s fine form by extending the defender’s contract before it expires next year. “Nothing is better than what he is doing for a new contract,” he said. “If he wants to have a new contract he has our full support to stay at the club. He is speaking with his performances; he has been amazing since day one. We chose him in the first match after just one day of training.
“He is an aggressive leader, has this natural aggressivity in him. He hates to lose, is hard to beat in duels, is very brave, and full of energy in his defending. He is leading by example. This is what we like. When he can channel all this into top performances, as he does now, we are very happy to have him.”