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Is Tuchel right to rule out a Chelsea comeback against Real Madrid?

10:00 EAT 11/04/2022
Thomas Tuchel Chelsea Champions League 2021-22
The Blues boss was enraged by his side's performance in the first leg at Stamford Bridge, but they responded with a 6-0 demolition of Southampton

Thomas Tuchel was still upset and angry when he was asked whether his Chelsea side had a chance of overturning a 3-1 deficit in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie with Real Madrid in Spain.

The visibly emotional German manager simply replied, "No."

This was just 45 minutes after the final whistle in Wednesday's first-leg at Stamford Bridge and he had already told BT Sport that Chelsea would be "hammered" if they played that badly again at Santiago Bernabeu.

The Blues boss has never taken such a severe tone with his squad since arriving at the club in January 2021.

Usually, when defeated, Tuchel moves quickly to defend his players but, after back-to-back losses with seven goals conceded, he threw them under the bus.

It was a calculated message from Tuchel and he followed it up with a team meeting in which he highlighted all of the players' tactical and defensive failings against Karim Benzema & Co.

He subsequently revealed that he had even been driven to comfort eating while reviewing their first-leg showing, saying that he needed an "immense" amount of chocolate to take the edge off re-watching a game that he said featured "one of the worst halves" of football he had seen his players produce on home soil.

"At some point, you press the button to watch [the video] at double-speed, just so it passes quickly," he told reporters at Cobham on Friday. "When you do that, you know you're not in a good place!

"At some point, you have to stop and take a walk into the kitchen or the lounge, and come back and calm down. It was not nice to watch."

Despite the paucity of the performance, his defeatist post-match tone still came as a surprise to many observers, but he insisted that he was merely being "realistic".

"At least there’s no more away goals rule [in the Champions League], which is a very good thing for us in this tie now," Tuchel added.

Tuchel's pessimism was clearly an attempt to provoke a reaction out of his players, and he got one at St Mary's on Saturday, as Chelsea romped to a 6-0 win over Southampton.

Mason Mount and Timo Werner bagged braces, with Marcos Alonso and Kai Havertz scoring one goal apiece.

Given the one-sided nature of the contest, Havertz, Thiago Silva and Mount were all subbed in the second half to rest them ahead of next week's trip to Spain.

That is key, as far as Tuchel is concerned, as he believes Chelsea are not capable of winning games unless they are firing on all cylinders.

"I think [the last few games] tell us that we are not the team that can escape with good results if our input is only at 80 or per cent in terms of energy, commitment and investment," he added.

"That's nothing to be ashamed of but we are a special group only when we have the priorities right, when we are committed, defend with courage, have the right attitude and the right hunger.

"It is not always easy for us to have this kind of energy because we have had a ruthless schedule. We are the team that has played the most in 2022.

"So, it's not about blaming players either. I can understand why it was hard for them after the international break. But today just proves that if we have the right commitment, then we will show our quality."

There is, then, hope for Chelsea at the Bernabeu, not least because many of their best performances this season have come on the road, as their haul of 36 Premier League points from 16 away games underlines.

They have also matched their club-record number of seven successive away wins in all competitions – first set in the 1988-89 season and then matched in 2019-20.

Of course, taking on Madrid in their own backyard is a whole other proposition for this Chelsea side, particularly with Benzema in the best form of his career.

It's also worth noting that no English side has ever won a Champions League game at the Bernabeu by more than one goal, while Real have progressed in nine of their last 10 ties in the competition after winning away in the first.

"The question was if it (the Madrid tie) is still alive. I said probably not. The task does not change," Tuchel said post-Southampton. "It is still a big task and like I said after Madrid, let’s have the response now and not only in Madrid.

"Now, we have the result and performance and this is good because I am sure that lifts everyone’s spirits, but the task is huge. Let’s be honest.

"Everything is possible in football, but let’s be realistic – it is still Bernabeu and there is still a crowd there and an opponent very different today. But it is the best way to prepare."

Chelsea, then, will have to upset the odds in the Spanish capital if they are to set up a semi-final showdown with either Manchester City or Atletico Madrid.

However, Tuchel's pointed comments out of the first leg brought the best out of his players at Southampton on Saturday.

He will now be delighted if they can prove him wrong when they attempt to turn things around against Madrid on Tuesday night.