Thomas Tuchel believes that Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham have spurned opportunities to capitalise on their early exits from the domestic cups and European competitions by making a stronger push for Champions League qualification.
Arsenal, United and Spurs have had long spells to prepare for league games this season but their inconsistency has left them scrapping over fourth place. They have been unable to challenge Chelsea, who have a tight grip on third before hosting Arsenal on Wednesday, and Tuchel was amused to hear some of his side’s rivals have been complaining about fatigue.
Chelsea have had little time to rest this season and have already played 54 games after winning the Club World Cup and the European Super Cup, making it to the last eight of the Champions League and reaching the FA Cup and Carabao Cup finals.
Tuchel has had to manage his squad carefully and he is surprised that Mikel Arteta feels Arsenal are at a disadvantage due to their trip to Stamford Bridge being rescheduled three days before they host United.
“Because they have one more day off?” Tuchel said when the topic was raised, sarcastically pointing out that Arsenal’s defeat by Southampton in the league last Saturday came 24 hours before his side won their FA Cup semi-final against Crystal Palace.
There was another shrug of the shoulders when the German heard that United are unhappy about the scheduling of their fixture against Chelsea next month. Arsenal have played 38 games after missing out on European qualification and losing in the third round of the FA Cup, United lost in the Champions League last 16 and Spurs failed to qualify from their Europa Conference League group.
“They have been given a huge advantage,” Tuchel said. “It depends what you make about your situation. That’s why we can use it as an excuse. We can use it to feel very tired and we feel the challenge at the moment mentally and physically. We can use it to have an excuse if things go wrong. Or we can just accept the challenge and go from there.
“I was not happy when Tottenham were out of the Conference League because I thought ‘Wow, I know what Antonio Conte can do with teams when they are focused and he can train them physically’. I thought this will be a huge uplift for them in the domestic competition, and the same for Arsenal when they went out of the Cup. I thought it would be a huge boost for them, because they have a very young and talented team. To train them and to focus on one competition can be an advantage.”
Tuchel had a dig at United by pointing that a disappointing season can be more draining than a busy one. “It can be also a disadvantage if, maybe, you are Manchester United and you underperform and you are out of cups and you are out of European competitions too early for what you demand of yourself,” he said. “It can limit your spirit.
“It’s very difficult and if you build a team which is built for 60 or 65 games and suddenly you have only 40 and you have whole weeks to prepare for games it can be heavy on your shoulders. It can be more heavy than your heavy legs from playing all the time.”
Tuchel, who said that Mateo Kovacic is out for two weeks with damaged ankle ligaments, hinted that Romelu Lukaku could start against Arsenal. He added that Chelsea will hold talks with Kepa Arrizabalaga over the goalkeeper’s future after he was left out against Palace at Wembley.