Thomas Tuchel’s previous two trips to Wembley as Chelsea head coach have ended in disappointment. He will be hoping it’s a case of third-time luck when his Blues side face Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool in the FA Cup final this afternoon.
Chelsea reached the showpiece game of the world’s oldest club competition last term under Tuchel. Yet a poor and lacklustre display was produced and that enabled Leicester City to get their hands on the famous trophy. Tuchel is focused on making sure the disappointment felt after that defeat is not experienced again.
“We will do everything to be happy with ourselves and that we leave everything out there on the pitch,” Tuchel said during his pre-match press conference. “In these finals, there is a special energy, a special atmosphere. There is a special momentum you have to catch, and for sure, you need a piece of luck to go away with a trophy.
READ MORE: Every word Thomas Tuchel said on Chelsea vs Liverpool, FA Cup final, Kovacic, Kante, Lukaku
“We are aware of that. We feel again well prepared. The atmosphere is right. The momentum is okay after the reaction in Leeds. Everybody knows what we are up to. We want to arrive to give Liverpool a hard fight.”
Tuchel has two big fitness concerns ahead of the game in Mateo Kovacic and N’Golo Kante. The former suffered an ankle injury in the victory over Leeds United in midweek while Kante has been struggling with an unspecified knock for the past fortnight. Ben Chilwell (knee) and Callum Hudson-Odoi (Achilles) are ruled out.
Across the pitch, there are big decisions for Tuchel to make. But not in goal: Edouard Mendy will start. Whether he finishes the match – if it goes to a penalty shootout – is another issue. When Liverpool and Chelsea faced off in the Carabao Cup final in February, the Senegal international was brought off in the dying moments of the game and replaced by Kepa Arrizabalaga for the shootout.
It was a call that ultimately did not pay off; the Spaniard failed to save any of Liverpool’s spot-kicks and missed the decisive one for Chelsea. But when Tuchel was asked ahead of tomorrow’s game at Wembley whether he would be willing to repeat the process, he remained coy.
“In the approach to the match, we always say let’s wait and see how the game goes, let’s see if we still have a change available. Let’s see how the match goes for Edou. It [the decision] is never made before and it will not be made now. We have a plan for what we can do.”
There is a big call for Tuchel to make as to who lines up on the right of his back three. Cesar Azpilicueta has made two high-profile mistakes in recent weeks while Andreas Christensen has been unable to produce his best form for much of the second half of the campaign.
Then there is Trevoh Chalobah, who was in the starting XI against Leeds and helped the Blues keep a clean sheet. However, the academy graduate has strangely fallen out of favour over the last two months. The sense is Tuchel will go with his captain and that would leave the Blues with a defensive trio of Azpilicueta, Thiago Silva, and Antonio Rudiger.
Reece James, who spoke to football.london alongside his sister Lauren in the build-up to tomorrow’s final and the Women’s FA Cup final on Sunday is expected to be deployed at right wing-back while Marcos Alonso should keep his place on the opposite flank.
Jorginho is a certainty to start and will likely be partnered in midfield by Kante if the Frenchman came through yesterday’s training session at Cobham unscathed. Kovacic could well be on the bench and introduced if required.
After his goal and assist in midweek against Leeds United, Mason Mount is set to keep his place in the Chelsea attack. Christian Pulisic will be hopeful of doing so too after he got on the scoresheet at Elland Road.
The big call Tuchel faces is who leads his attack. Romelu Lukaku has started the last two games and struck three times. But Kai Havertz is fresh and does the off-the-ball work demanded by Tuchel. “We can play both, although they lacked a bit of the feeling of being a perfect fit together,” the Chelsea head coach said during his pre-match press conference.
“It’s very likely that it is one of the two, but we will not give away the line-up. Listen, Romelu has played lately and scored lately. He did everything to stay on the pitch. Will be our final call in the morning.”
Given what Tuchel wants from his attacking players – and given what broadly worked in the Carabao Cup final – it may well be Havertz who gets the nod ahead of Lukaku. But the Belgian could prove a hugely effective threat off the substitutes’ bench against a tiring Liverpool backline.
Predicted Chelsea side: Mendy; Azpilicueta, Silva, Rudiger; James, Kante, Jorginho, Alonso; Mount, Havertz, Pulisic
Source by Football London