Will you have the FA Cup final in mind when it comes to your team selection?
“No, we’ll just have an eye on the players’ workload, on the stats that we have: who is overloaded and maybe overloaded in high speed.
“From that, we will decide who is at a risk of injury. Everybody who is not at risk of injury will be available for the game, it’s not to manage the game on Saturday, now is the time to manage the game on Wednesday. We’re in the middle of a race for the top four, so we cannot pre-judge games.”
There’s debate as to where the Champions League final will be played. Do you have a preference?
“No, absolutely not, the preference is to play it and to arrive wherever necessary. The good thing for me is we have top guys on the subject involved in talks with UEFA and with everybody who is involved in that decision, which is the best thing for me, because the people know what they are doing, and they will inform us when there is a decision to be informed about. We’ll adapt to whatever it is.”
How much credit does Frank Lampard deserve for what you could achieve this season?
“You can only arrive in a final of the FA Cup or Champions League if you make it through the group stage. And Frank had an amazing record in the group stage of the Champions and won all the FA Cup games that were there to win too.
“So this laid the foundation to arrive in the finals, and I will never forget it. We don’t feel ashamed or any fear to say this out loud and it felt like this the first day I came in here.
“I’m well aware Frank created his own legacy here at Chelsea as a player and then tried to make it even bigger as a coach. And still, it [his sacking] had nothing to do with me, but we are well aware we’ve stepped in for the second half of the season and have tried to fulfil the job he has begun.
Have you had any communication with Lampard?
“No, just the message I talked about very early, in the first week, where he wished me all the best. It was a very nice, very polite message that I was absolutely very happy about. It showed me that Frank is like what you see from the outside.
“He has one of the biggest legacies, is one of the biggest players and key figures of this club. And he represents everything, when you think about Chelsea, you think about Frank Lampard: the way he is and how he played football, that showed his character.
The message was exactly like this, and it was a pleasure to receive. So we had this quick chat after one, two days when I arrived, but since then, no more.”
Are you surprised by Arsenal’s position in the league, do you allow yourself to feel for Arteta?
“I know what I’m going through when I don’t win and when we don’t win, it’s the most horrible situation for any coach in the world, you can be sure about this. No matter if you train in the park or in professional football, that will never change. It’s the worst feeling on the weekend or during the week, and so this pretty much the same for everybody.
“We are fully focused on ourselves, so it’s not on me to comment on any situation. Arsenal, if I’m surprised when I experience this league; nothing surprises me anymore, because anything can happen here.
“You can catch a streak or you can get caught in any match if you’re not fully aware on the top level. So this is what we signed up for, this is where we are in the toughest competition in Europe, the Premier League.
“This is a big match because Arsenal is one of the biggest clubs in Europe still and we will prepare for our best level which we will absolutely need to succeed.”
Can we just get a little clarification on Mateo Kovacic and Andreas Christensen’s injuries?
“He [Kovacic] isn’t ready for tomorrow. We have to postpone his personal race, it’s on to try to make it into the squad for Wembley.
“It [Christensen’s injury] was better than we feared, the images yesterday were much better. We hope he’ll be back for one of the two Leicester games.
“It will be a tough one but the season isn’t finished for him hopefully. We have realistic hopes the latest he can come back is Aston Villa.”
Chelsea were ninth when you joined. Did you expect such a quick turnaround?
“I’m not sure if you believe me but I did not expect too much in any direction. I expected a tough challenge and I felt the expectations of the club and I was a bit concerned about the high expectations. But we did not limit ourselves with maybe too low expectations.
“Normally, I am careful to not lead my expectations in any direction. I let things come to us and then dive into things and concentrate on the process. I try not to think too much where it will all end as sometimes you wish for maybe too much or not enough.
“Maybe you set the bar too low so that’s why normally I don’t have too many expectations when I start working with a team. I try to put the bar higher and higher every day, to take care of the process and the results normally take care of themselves. This is what we try.”
Are these the biggest three weeks of your managerial career?
“They are pretty exciting ones for sure. The biggest? I don’t know as I’m not so good at comparing situations at different clubs in my career as I’ve had ups and downs and exciting situations. It’s a pretty tight schedule and a fantastic experience to arrive now in the last three weeks and having so much to fight for. So it’s on us to bring it to the end, to take the next step and not just participate the final.
“This is the challenge and in the middle of it we’re in the race for the top four and it’s a super important step we have to take there to qualify us for Champions League next season. So there are a lot of targets to reach. It’s exciting, demanding, and sometimes tiring. But it’s the best way to finish a season.”
Surely the club didn’t expect you to be in the position you are in after just five months?
“Maybe they did not expect but they did not say we wouldn’t make it. They made a change because they felt they needed a change but they were convinced by the quality and mentality of the team. This was the target: to put everything out, let the players shine, and push them to their limits. We know very well that you need a little bit of luck and momentum and we have caught all that.
“We are in the middle of the race for the top four and reached two finals. It wasn’t the demand of the club from the first day and the expectation wasn’t to fulfill all categories. But nobody told me they didn’t care about these competitions. We agreed pretty soon that if you play with Chelsea in any competition, you play the competition to win it.
“This club is now built to win games and win competitions consistently. This is what we agreed on in pretty much the first minute of our talks. From there we tried everything. We haven’t won anything yet and it doesn’t help if we talk about it. We have to play to play two finals and finish in the top four. This is the challenge and it’s not finished.”
Clean sheets record. How have you coached that?
“We train a lot in the video room and in video sessions. Sometimes five minutes is enough on the field to have an understanding of some details and situations where we can maybe do better or improve. As I said, we do a lot in the video room because we can also do training if the players are open to it, if they understand it, have a general understanding of how we want to defend.
“It was an easy one from the first minute of the first game, we defended very bravely with huge solidarity from the whole team. So everybody was fully involved from the first minute of the Wolverhampton game. That never stopped. It is a big team effort how we defend. There is huge solidarity between everybody and they are allowed to do mistakes because they always have cover.
“From there, we do work in the video room and spend some minutes on the field. Football is a very complex game so we try to learn everything on the pitch. Defensively and offensively in complex situations. From there we go and try to help everybody individually and push the team as a whole. The praise is for the team, including the goalkeepers, for our defending.”
How impressed have you been with Edouard Mendy?
“I think we cannot praise him enough because he is doing fantastically because he comes not only from Ligue 1 to the Premier League but from a club that is not used to playing every three days. Now he is at a club where there’s a match every three or four days. His concentration has remained incredibly high and that’s what you have to deliver as a goalkeeper.
“With the three goalkeepers, in general, there is a fantastic atmosphere. They are all great guys with Willy Caballero and Kepa. All three guys are fantastic guys and they are really examples of sportsmanship and the commitment to team sports.
“We are very happy to have Edou who is a very calm and humble person. This calmness helps him during matches to influence the defenders. It is nice and he is part of an outstanding goalkeeper group. Everybody wishes the best of all three goalkeepers. Without strong guys in the goal, you cannot win games.”
What do Kovacic and Christensen add to the side and how much do you want them back for the finals?
“Billy Gilmour had to step up now because we miss Kova so much. We play normally with a double six and were rotating a lot between N’Golo, Jorgi and Kova. Once we missed Kova for so many games and weeks, it was on Billy to step up and I was very happy he could deliver when needed.
“Kova is a big, big loss with his ability to drive with the ball, his speed on and off the ball. He is such a positive character, a unique player and a genuine fighter. You can always rely on him in training and in the games. He has a big experience despite being still young.
“We really miss him and he is a good match with both Jorgi and N’Golo in all combinations. So yes, it was a big miss. I can’t wait until he is back in full team training. He is making some good steps and I hope he is back after our game with Arsenal.
“It’s the same with Andreas. He has been crucial in our matches and we missed him for some matches around the Porto game because of a hamstring problem and now it is a tendon problem. He was crucial in a back three because he can play all three positions and he is very calm.
“Don’t misjudge that he is calm, because he is a very tough player to play against. He uses his body well, he is very strong in individual duels and he is good on the ball. The back three suits him well and i was impressed with his performances. We were relieved when the images were given and weren’t the worst case. The season isn’t finished for him and this is very important.”
How difficulty will it be to maintain performance levels over the next three weeks?
“It’s the challenge for the coach not to disturb them. That’s pretty much it. We are very happy that we can rely on our fitness at this stage of the season. After the Madrid game, with only two days in between to recover for the Man City game, that was very impressive. It is a good feeling to rely on our fitness, to rely on our squad in terms of quality but also in terms of spirit, of fighting spirit and of mentality.
“We showed a lot of personality in the last games and I stick with what I said, sometimes if the pressure mounts and mounts and increases all the time it can be a huge next step to keep the level up and this is what we do in the moment and this is what the surrounding forces us to do because all three challenges are big.
“We are in the middle of the race for top four, we have two finals to come and you can only achieve it if you are on a consistently high level mentally and physically, with a good atmosphere and this is what we try to keep now. We do very well and I think the team feels it.
“Nobody is allowed now to drop one percent because that’s what makes it special right now, but now is not finished. It is not the time for praise, not the time for reflection, it is the time to continue and finish the job.”
A lot was made of Timo Werner often being offside against Man City. Are you frustrated with that?
“No frustrations so far. We can improve on that and we will improve on that. he will learn from it. Maybe do not take too many risks, maybe take a bit more care about his starting position and there is room for improvement.
“But still, it is one of his strengths to play on the edge, to give our opponent defenders always something to think about: how high the line is, how deep you have to drop because of his speed.
“Don’t forget he was the guy who gave the assist in the last minute of extra time. He was again directly involved with a short run, one on one and a good cut back. So this is for me the most important. He is involved in our chances and still room for improvement that’s the way you want it.”
Source by Football London