Although the focus was supposed to be on the FA Cup final, Thomas Tuchel was still dwelling on the past. “I am not in the mode to enjoy it yet,” Chelsea’s manager said, admitting he was yet to get over his side’s sloppy performance against Arsenal on Wednesday. “I still have a bit of a hangover from the last defeat. I am a bit angry.”
The pressure is intense. When Chelsea meet Leicester City at Wembley on Saturday, it will be the first of four huge games for Tuchel’s side. There will be no time for celebrations if they win their ninth FA Cup. It will be straight back to work for Chelsea, whose place in the top four will be under even greater threat if they follow their aberration against Arsenal by dropping more points when they host Leicester in the Premier League on Tuesday.
Given those demands, the FA Cup could be seen as an unwanted distraction. Chelsea close their league campaign at Aston Villa next Sunday and the ultimate test will come when they travel to Porto to face Manchester City in the Champions League final on 29 May.
By the time Tuchel arrives at Wembley, though, he will have forgotten about Arsenal. It helps that the former Paris Saint-Germain manager’s wife, Sissi, and two young daughters are visiting him in London at the moment. Sissi will attend her first Chelsea game on Saturday and her husband knows how important victory could be for his side’s development. “It could be absolutely crucial,” Tuchel said. “It can be a huge boost in the race for the top four and ahead of the Champions League final.”
At that point Tuchel, who has impressed since joining Chelsea in January, considered the importance of keeping a clear mind. “Tonight we are in a hotel, so we have a meal together and maybe we will talk about some situations or watch some video footage of Leicester,” he said. “The next morning I try to wake up early and do some sports and meditation and then be ready to prepare the first meeting. Sometimes I try to run after matches when they are late to get energy for a better sleep.”
Tuchel started meditating after joining Borussia Dortmund in 2015. “Usually I fly 20 or 30 centimetres off the floor,” he said. “I glide around the room. No, it is nothing special. It is breathing and trying hard to do nothing.”
The mood felt lighter. Tuchel knows what is required in these situations. He reached two German Cup finals with Dortmund, losing to Bayern Munich in 2016 and beating Eintracht Frankfurt a year later. His record in finals at PSG was similarly mixed: two wins, two defeats.
“It’s very hard to learn from one final to the next as you never know how many years are in between,” Tuchel said. “A general rule is that the more tension is on, the less new information we give. It’s not a moment to implement new tactical tricks.
“At Dortmund I was in goal in the last session before a final. I took the gloves from the goalkeeper and tried to save some shots from my players. It was a big laugh and we made fun of myself but you can’t do it artificially. If you try hard to make the group smile it doesn’t happen.”
Was Tuchel a good goalkeeper? “No. I gave my players a lot of confidence.”
Belief is key. “The tension will grow once we arrive at Wembley,” Tuchel said. “There will be a certain energy in the air that you cannot be prepared for. You will feel it and embrace it.”