Thomas Tuchel has warned his players that Atlético Madrid will test their mental strength when Chelsea face the Spanish club in the Champions League on Tuesday night.
Chelsea have a tough challenge to progress beyond the last 16 for the first time since 2014 after drawing Atlético, who are one of the most streetwise sides in Europe. Although Diego Simeone’s side have lost home advantage after the first leg was moved from Madrid to Bucharest due to Covid-19 restrictions, they knocked Liverpool out at this stage last season, and Tuchel is not underestimating the La Liga leaders.
“It’s a big test physically and mentally,” Tuchel said. “They are a very experienced group, a very experienced club at this level, and an experienced and tough coach to play against. It’s a big test and that’s what we want because hopefully it brings out the best in us.
“We will do it our way, they will do things their way. It’s clear what you get when you play Atlético: fighting, experience and a team with a strong mentality. There are many teams that have experienced that. They are the leader in Spain but we have our qualities and the focus is on us.”
Tuchel regretted the absence of the experienced central defender Thiago Silva and said Chelsea must contain Luis Suárez, who has scored 16 times since joining Atlético. The German tried to bring Suárez to Paris Saint-Germain when the striker left Barcelona last year, only to miss out to Simeone.
“Who can not be interested in signing one of the best strikers in world football history and present?” Tuchel said. “He is a natural striker and has the certain mentality that only strikers have. This mentality is to show his will, intensity and anger to score, score and score.”
Tuchel, who has Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic available again, led PSG to the final last season and has impressed since replacing Frank Lampard at Chelsea last month. However, Chelsea stumbled on the weekend, drawing with Southampton, and there was a flashpoint when Tuchel substituted Callum Hudson-Odoi after introducing the winger at half time.
“Was it the right decision?” Tuchel said. “I don’t know but it was my decision in this moment. We spoke as a whole group to not make it bigger than it is. We had the only reaction that we wanted. He went back to a good mood, to a smile, the next day very good training and today. Then it is forgotten.”