Chelsea dropped to fifth place in the Premier League after a disappointing draw against Southampton over the weekend, but there's little time to dwell on that as the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 against Atlético Madrid is coming up tomorrow night.
With the team getting on the road shortly, Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic have been deemed fit enough to make the squad, but Thiago Silva has been ruled out as he’s still not quite fit enough to play. Given the relentless fixture list upon us over the next couple of weeks, it makes sense to not rush the defender who isn't getting any younger at 36 (even if his playing quality has hardly diminished).
"This is a game that is certainly made for someone of Thiago’s quality but unfortunately he is not available. He is training right now, while we are leaving shortly.
"I’m very happy that both Kai and Christian are in the group. They trained with us earlier and had no complaints. They will travel with us and they are in the squad for tomorrow.
"We have the possibility to take 23 players, we can make five changes and it gives us lots of possibilities tomorrow."
Due to stringent COVID restrictions in Spain (and various other countries), Chelsea (and several other teams in the knockout rounds) have been prevented from entering the country, forcing Atlético to find a neutral venue. Hence, this first leg will take place at the Arena Naţională in Bucharest, Romania.
While it is an obvious disadvantage for Atlético to lost home ground advantage (even without fans), Tuchel expects that to have little actual effect given Atlético’s quality, experiences, and coaching excellence. Chelsea will have to be at the very top of our game in order to bring home a positive result.
"Of course it's a big test. They are an experienced club at his level with an experienced coach. Hopefully it brings out the best in us. We will do things our way, they will do things their way. It's clear what you get when you play Atletico: fighting, experience, a team with a good mentality.
"Clearly it’s a disadvantage for Atletico Madrid to lose their home ground for the first leg. We don’t have to talk around that, it’s obvious.
"I think we are well equipped [to compete in the Champions League], I love what I see on a daily basis at Cobham. I love what I feel, I love what I see with the intensity, the quality and the hunger in training.
"Here at Chelsea, I feel a strong club. I have a strong bond with the players and I have complete trust in this group and the quality of each individual. When you get to this stage, you have to perform to your absolute maximum."
- Thomas Tuchel; source: Chelsea FC
Back in 2017, Chelsea under Antonio Conte handed Atlético Madrid a first defeat at their new stadium in the Champions League group stages. Chelsea, who coincidentally will most likely be fielding the same back-three as in that fixture, will be hoping for a repeat in Romania on Tuesday!