It was the sort of admission that Thomas Tuchel could only make with the comfort of a win, and a smile. The German said that every Chelsea opportunity was starting to play on his mind, and creating that seed of doubt.
“Don’t get me wrong but with any chance you miss, you don’t ache or play on the edge because Real Madrid can hurt you at any time out of nothing by pure individual quality,” Tuchel began. “I think maybe I was even more negative than my players.”
That could be seen in the primal roar Tuchel let out on the pitch after the win was confirmed, but also in the persistence of the Chelsea players in securing it.
This was what was so striking about the game, precisely because the striking was so off. All of those misses didn’t create any doubt or hesitation in the Chelsea players. They just kept going. There was the same vigour and belief to every single run – to the point that they all eventually paid, and they scored.
All runs kept leading to goal, and all roads now lead to Istanbul.
A number of other threads and themes come together in the Turkish capital, as two Premier League sides meet on this exalted stage yet again. There are more than a few ironies to that given they were two of the Super League clubs, albeit the first two to drop out.
The more relevant reality is that this is precisely why so many English clubs were corralled into the breakaway competition. The Premier League is where the wealth is. That is why we may well see a fourth all-English final in three seasons across the two competitions. These two clubs have more of that wealth than most, too, having seen so much come from external sources. This is a duopoly that has long been predicted, and didn’t come as quickly as some expected.
It is the kind of inevitability that comes from almost unlimited investment from a state and an oligarch. It hasn’t really been recent history, but it is the present, and may be the future.
Such wealth naturally attracts the top coaches, which is what Tuchel and Pep Guardiola undeniably are. Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane just looked so far behind in that regard. The build-up had seen the French coach’s pre-game talk caught on camera by Spanish TV, and basic talk about “enjoying the ball” marked such a contrast against the minute tactical detail of two coaches who get obsessed with players being a yard out of position.
That is another strand of the modern game. Guardiola and Tuchel are high priests of the dominant tactical approach, with the German having been a disciple of the Catalan.
Tuchel is also one of those that has helped Guardiola’s ‘juego de posicion’ evolve over the years, ensuring it has adapted sharper edges, more transition.
That could be seen in both semi-final second legs. They didn’t so much clinch their places in the final, but lock them down.
It was no coincidence that both City and Chelsea put in very strong defensive displays – characterised by rock-hard blocks – with those the platforms for repeated surges. It wasn’t so much vintage possession that both of these managers would prioritise, but repeated penetration.
That adds another dynamic to this game, that is only further layered by their series of meetings this month. Tuchel would readily admit that his Chelsea naturally aren’t as evolved as Guardiola’s side, but Chelsea’s win in the FA Cup semi-final proved they can come up with the kind of calculated individual-game approach that defeats the English champions-elect.
The only flaw right now is the finishing. It doesn’t appear to affect confidence, though.
“We didn’t step back, I never saw a change in our mentality, I never saw a change in body language so we stayed very positive and very brave. We didn’t regret things. We really wanted it, wanted it badly.”