Press conference by Chelsea head coach ahead of the 2021/22 UEFA Champions League first round match against the blues, whites and blues.
Was your Champions League success last season your biggest coaching achievement?
– If I had to give a quick answer, I would say yes, but it seems to me that it is difficult to evaluate my achievements, who wants to be the judge in this? Who is interested in this? Together with my headquarters and team, we try to be the best we can be. I did it when I was the coach of the U-14 team at the academy, and I do it now. If we talk about trophies, then yes, this is the biggest title that I have won, but it seems to me that it was a long time ago – and it should be so. Tomorrow is our most important Champions League match, our first and only game in the group stage to date, and this is exactly what we need.
– Is there any news about the injuries of Kante and Pulisic on the eve of tomorrow’s game with Zenit? And what can you say about the interview with Lukaku, in which he said that from the age of 11 he dreamed of scoring at Stamford Bridge?
– It is better to ask him personally, but we can assume that he dreamed about it since childhood. Now he has a chance to become our “nine” at the forefront of the attack and be the one who will help the team with goals. This is what he needs, he does not hesitate to talk about it, and we are glad that we can share this experience with him – he is a good person and a tough opponent. We all know that a good start is important for a striker and that he does not wait too long for his goals, so we are glad that Lukaku scored so quickly and we hope that tomorrow he will continue to score and play a decisive role for us.
Christensen did not train with us, he dropped out for 10 days after a pause for the national teams, now he is undergoing treatment and is studying individually. Kante did two workouts, but he hasn’t fully recovered yet, so we decided not to risk it and give him a day of rest after class. He will return to full-time work on Thursday before the match against Tottenham.
– How did winning the Champions League change your mentality?
– For several days I felt like a different person, it was pretty good. Nothing beats winning. I reached the final in the previous draw, with PSG, and felt it was a great achievement, but still getting to the last stage is not the same as winning. The joy and self-confidence that the team receives after success are completely different. I had this feeling when I won the youth championship with Mainz. The most important thing is not to look back, but to keep hungry for rewards and continue to strive for more, get hooked on the high that brings success. Triumph changes the atmosphere, confidence arises in you on its own, but at the same time, you must forget about it and not lose the victorious mentality. This is what I feel and demand from myself and everyone around me. I want us to keep this experience and the connections that we have created. We must continue in the same spirit – and tomorrow will be the next step.
– Tomorrow you will have 12 people on the bench. Will you challenge players like Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Chick? Are they ready or will it be difficult for them to play tomorrow?
– It is very easy to play, and if you are in the lineup, then it is your duty to be ready; when you go out to practice, you have to be ready to practice and play every day. This is the foundation of everything. Nobody gets gifts here. Loftus-Chick and Barkley were recently in the squad and we have a small group of high quality players, some of them haven’t moved to other clubs for some reason, but that doesn’t matter. So now they deserve to be part of the group, be ready and meet our high expectations. I feel that they are ready, otherwise they would not be part of the team – they have the right mentality, they put their personal affairs aside, and now everything can happen for them.
– At the beginning of the last Euroseason, you were not favorites, but now you have the status of reigning champions. Are Chelsea a contender for this year’s win?
– You can consider us whoever you want – last season no one thought that we would win the tournament, but we came out of the shadows and did it. But this time there are many teams that are capable of winning the trophy, it takes a little luck, the right moment and a good group. And also a good selection of players and coaching staff, and many teams have it all, so this is an extremely open competition in which anything is possible. There was no such thing that we did not deserve to win, and this can happen to anyone.
Everyone comes to the tournament with zero points, including Zenit. The goal is to reach our best level in each match, and if we do this, then everything is possible, and if not, then we will not go far in the Champions League.
– Ben Chilwell last played for the club in the Champions League final. Have you spoken to him since then, including that he dropped out of the England squad for Euros?
– Yes, it was not easy for him – after all, he won the Champions League and had a good ending of the season, playing several decisive matches for us at a high level. The European Championship was difficult for him – he could play, but did not play, and if you are in the squad, but do not enter the field and do not participate in the game at all, this is a strange feeling. It was difficult for him to relax and experience the personal disappointment that he did not play for the England national team. When Ben came here, I felt that he was mentally tired and worried about the situation. Yes, he was very unlucky, but he had to accept it. Marcus was here all preseason, took the opportunity, helped us a lot, took Chilwell’s place and coped with his task. We talked about it, and he knows that I would do the same if it were the other way around – they compete and understand it. Ben has to keep training, be patient with himself and not force things. Unfortunately, in the last Premier League games we had only three substitutions, otherwise he would have appeared on the field. Now he is in good shape and can play at any moment.
– You said that you did not take the decisive step with PSG, and then did it with Chelsea, but you did not play with Londoners in the early stages of the Champions League. Do you have to go all the way from start to finish to really win the tournament?
– I never felt it was a problem to replace Lampard after the group stage and accept his job. It doesn’t feel like it’s not my title, or that I’ve only won half of the Champions League, but I know that Frank played a part. I was in charge of the final and the playoffs, and that was my team. We’re not denying the work that Frank has done, but I don’t think I need to prove that I can get the team out of the group. This has nothing to do with the case, your question implies that we want to win it again, but we have to admit how difficult it is. We are not ashamed to say that we are fighting for victory in every tournament, and tomorrow we will fight for 3 points. It may sound boring, but it is, and tomorrow we want to have a good start, we want to see how far this journey will take us. I hope that I can prove to you that I can lead the club to the end, and we will start the journey with a positive attitude.