Chelsea’s cup crusade saves Thomas Tuchel from scrutiny over faltering Premier League title bid
There is unlikely to be a Premier League title for Chelsea this season, but a third major cup final in 12 months will do for now.
Winning the Carabao Cup will never be enough to satisfy Roman Abramovich but, as far as Thomas Tuchel is concerned, it is significantly better than the alternative, particularly when a place at Wembley was secured at the expense of bitter rivals Tottenham and a jettisoned former Chelsea manager in Antonio Conte.
The Italian was ushered out the exit door despite winning the FA Cup in 2018 — just a year after clinching the club’s last League title — so he knows better than most that silverware alone is not enough to guarantee job security at Stamford Bridge. But, again, it sure beats the alternative.
Tuchel has been acutely aware of that from the moment he took charge at Chelsea just shy of a year ago. He immediately embraced the expectation of Abramovich and set himself the hardest act to follow by winning the Champions League within four months at the club.
A genuine title challenge has failed to materialise after a mid-season slump, but Tuchel’s own appetite for silverware may help to insulate him from the unforgiving scrutiny that comes the way of Chelsea managers who fail to be crowned domestic champions.
The European Super Cup has already been won. Now they are within 90 minutes of claiming the first domestic trophy of the season, while the promise of lifting the Club World Cup lies in wait in Abu Dhabi next month.
None of those would have been considered priorities at the start of the campaign, but nor are they insignificant. And the more showpiece occasions Tuchel can be part of, the better — particularly with the title race threatening to turn into a procession for Manchester City.
To Tuchel’s credit, his attitude has not altered throughout his time in England. The Carabao Cup could be seen as having taken on greater importance, given City’s lead in the League, but the German’s determination to seriously compete for every trophy has never changed, even amid injuries and Covid outbreaks in his squad.
Perhaps it is a result of his experience at Paris Saint-Germain that has shaped his outlook — where back-to-back league titles, two cups and a Champions League Final were not enough to avoid the sack.
Or perhaps it is memories of his time at Mainz, and even Borussia Dortmund, where he could only dream of the resources to compete on all fronts.
His refusal to sacrifice any potential route to silverware is refreshing in an era when the top four is still the primary target for even some of the richest clubs.
Would Manchester United take FA Cup triumph over Champions League qualification? Unlikely.
Nor would that be good enough for Chelsea, but it is not a case of either-or for Tuchel. It is a case of all — and no English club can win as many trophies as his side can this season.
“It is good that we are not shy to say we want to win it and we want to be in finals and want to win finals,” he said after Antonio Rudiger’s header secured a 1-0 win over Spurs and a 3-0 victory on aggregate.
“This is the ambition. I don’t think we can demand and simply expect to win any title that is available. We should not be arrogant and should respect any competition and any opponent.
“We do what we do and we enjoy that we play in an ambitious club, and this is a gift, because the club sharpens the mentality of the players and the club sharpens the attitude and this is nothing that you can invent from one day to the other.
“This is what the club demands from us and from there we go. Wembley is waiting, full house, cup final, this is where you want to be as footballers and coaches.”
A trip to Wembley is another step towards healing the pain of such a brutal end to 2021, which saw Chelsea win only four of 10 League games.
Tuchel is not giving up on the title yet, but even if it does prove beyond him, the cups can offer salvation.