Chelsea head coach has been speaking ahead of tomorrow’s Premier League game at Stamford Bridge against Sheffield United.
Almost eight hours since you conceded a goal. Why?
And we must never relax on that point, we must keep going, because it’s such an important part of the game, of course.
No it’s a big challenge, and I want to be clear going into the game that Sheffield United are an amazing team; an amazing team with an incredible manager.
If you look at the table, you’ll see them in a position that’s not I suppose false but nowhere near should we take that as our guideline for the game we’ve got in front of us. I watched them play Liverpool recently, I watched them play Manchester City, who most people would say are the best teams in the league, they ran them both very close.
And they are a still the same great team that had such a great season last year. So it’s a very, very tough match.
Pulisic fitness update?
No, he’s not fit to play, he’s still suffering with his hamstring.
No he’s not at the moment, no.
Yeah Kepa has recovered, he’s still getting a slight bit of pain but he’s in the squad for tomorrow.
Havertz – will he be involved in Germany matches?
I don’t know that, we have to wait until he’s symptom free first of all, and then when he takes his test, because we’ll have to try for him to return a negative test. So at the minute it’s not decided, it’s not clear.
Is Pulisic worse than you thought?
To be clear, he trained at a low level in midweek when I gave those quotes, and he wasn’t comfortable, so we have to keep looking for the right solution.
Do you get the sense the title race is a bit more open?
I think we always have to wait a bit of time on that one because there’s always such a long way to go and so many points to be won and lost.
Of course the start has been slightly more open, and we’ve all spoken about that every week with the results that were slightly unexpected, what are the reasons, the crowd, the pre-season, whatever it is may level itself out. So I wouldn’t jump ahead too much, and at the moment it’s very close.
Thiago influence becoming clear. How’s his English coming along?
His English is improving in particular the football side of his English. The important words on or around the pitch. His influence has been huge. Without the language, his professionalism has been very clear, it rubs off on the players, they respect him and his performances have been very, very good. He manages himself, he trains well, he prepares well. It’s very obvious with him, it’s understandable why he’s had the amazing career he’s had so far and it’s been great to have him as part of the squad.
I think players look up to him and how he goes about his daily business and how he performs. It’s great for younger players, every player in the squad – it’s certainly a pleasure to coach and manage a player with that much intensity and wanting to play at the highest level. Even at his age, the age doesn’t feel a big deal. We are managing him slightly. When you look at his performances and how he trains, it’s just been a real positive story so far and long may that continue, not just for him, but the team.
More important to beat teams down table with title race so open?
The question was whether the title race was more open – I didn’t quite answer that one. At the moment it is very close. It all remains to be seen, it will all be on what is ahead of us. You only focus on yourself. I’m pleased that we are one game unbeaten (??) we know maybe there could have been some points that we have lost to this point which are a frustration. But looking back that’s slightly understandable in terms of the fact the squad has been coming together and we’re getting players back now and we haven’t had much time to work. We just have to focus on ourselves. At the moment it’s close. We need to find a consistency in performances that we’ve found in recent games and take that forward. That’s just how I see it right now.
Lost at Sheff United last season – have the communication issues improved?
We’ve made some changes in personnel. We’ve changed the squad. A lot of people speaking about that. I’m just talking about Thiago Silva, he is a player that brings an attitude and professionalism that is infectious and players were growing. At times we were a pretty young team and definitely one of the games that sticks out in my mind was Sheffield United at Bramall Lane when they beat us in every department and that hardly happened last year. So we just have to improve with the work we do and the way the squad grows and that’s a bit of a process and a nice test tomorrow to see how we go.
International break frustrating?
I don’t find it infuriating. I am proud that players get called up for their countries and Reece James is a great example having just gotten in there. I would never take that opportunity away from them as I think it is part of being a top player. With Reece, it will look after himself as he will play the first one and come back to us. Some players are in need of a bit of rest when there are three games so with that one, I just try to have a relationship with the managers in teams and speak with the players as they go and try to manage it as well as we can.
Timo Werner has played a lot. Due a rest?
I am not going to give the team away but I think it is clear with the Burnley game that I was planning on giving him a rest. It was more because of the journey to Burnley and the journey to Russia and back. Timo has played a lot of games. It is always a balance in my head between players playing a lot of games and enjoying it with finding their way in the team and making relationships, finding their way in the league if they are new in the league. I think that has been a big deal for Timo as well. So I have been happy with that point, as we look forward, I will try to manage those minutes to keep him as fresh as I can. At the minute, he is going well so we will see.
4-4-3 is a formation for the best XI?
For the last few games, I think it is yes. We played it a lot last year but when we had the change in personnel in the summer and some of the players came in with a versatility in the way they play. Some of the things that we would normally work at in pre-season, we had to work at in real time so we had a slight change in formation with the 4-3-3 which has worked well recently. I think it does give a good balance to our team so there’s a system where you always want to pick the right one but the players have to adjust as well. So, you need intelligent players to take information on board. We have that so we need to just keep working on it and be flexible where we need to be at times.
Giroud lack of minutes. How has he reacted?
Yes, he has given a typically great response to train as well as possible and support the group. He is amazing around the group and that is just a fact with Oli and maybe not a fact with people all around the team. I can’t speak highly enough of him on that side. It is part of my job I don’t like with good players, top people who are around the group that don’t always play. But, I have those issues, Tammy Abraham started at least half of the games last season and he was one of the top scorers in the Premier League. When Oli came in, he performed very well in restart for us which was a huge factor in us getting into the top four. I have difficult questions to answer and selections in the team. I have great professionals and Oli is absolutely showing that.
Do you want the handball rule and VAR usage to be aligned across all the competitions?
The handball rule has been adjusted in the Premier League but not in the Champions League or by FIFA it seems. It’s a rule that universally is disliked by anyone who plays, watches or supports football. I can’t back it even in midweek when it gave us a penalty and a red card because it doesn’t feel right.
It needs to be looked at in Europe in terms of how we move forward. That ones goes in our favour and it’s important to be open and honest about that. I said it after the game and the one against Manchester United went against us. We enquired about the reasons for that decision. We were told it was a penalty but VAR didn’t take much time to look at it. That goes against us and possibly lost us two points on the day.
With VAR we have to make sure that it’s there for a reason, to get decisions right with retrospect and time. For everybody, on an even playing field. It went against us there but in midweek certainly we had one that helped us and had a big impact on the game.
James plus Ziyech on the right gives you something most teams don’t have in terms of crossing?
Well I hope so. That was part of my thinking when Hakim Ziyech came to the club, the balance of the side of the pitch which is very important for us. We saw Reece’s quality last year in terms of crossing the ball. I knew it when I came to the club.
Then you think you can have a winger in front for him that offers different angles and combinations on that side to put balls into the box, then it can be a big strength of ours. When I saw that we must not forget that Azpi has been here for years making big assists at the club from crosses and all different types of angles. When we look at the size of the pitch it’s something we want to exploit.
We can get better at it. At the moment we’re getting praise for that side of the pitch but as we move forward I think we can get better at it in terms of execution and finishing in the box as well. It’s something I’m happy with and we’ll keep working on.
Only Shearer scored more penalties than you in the Premier League. How did you stay so consistent? Does that inform how you coach players now?
I’m quite superstitious about penalties – I was as a taker. Maybe that is part of my process of taking them. I adapted my style over the course of my career depending on my form, whether I missed any, the opposition. At times I focused on it a lot and came away with it. Because I was like that as a player I tend not to go too much into the head of the penalty takers.
I trust them, their style, the way they take them. That’s why they are in the position. I let them get on with it, I don’t discuss anymore in terms of going forward.