Tuchel apologised to absent Gallagher for FA Cup semi-final disappointment

By Sports Desk April 15, 2022

Thomas Tuchel has revealed he explained to Conor Gallagher in person why Chelsea could not allow the on-loan Crystal Palace midfielder to play in their FA Cup semi-final.

Chelsea meet Palace in the last four of the competition at Wembley on Sunday, but breakout star Gallagher will be merely a spectator.

The England international belongs to Chelsea but is yet to make a senior appearance for the club, instead establishing himself as a top Premier League midfielder for Palace this season.

Gallagher has scored eight goals and provided five assists in all competitions in 2021-22, including two assists in four FA Cup matches prior to the semis.

That sort of form shows why Chelsea could not accommodate Palace's request to allow him to play this weekend. The Blues have won both matches against Palace in his absence this season, extending a winning run in the fixture to nine games.

"I had the chance to speak to Conor and I could also see his frustration," Tuchel said ahead of the match. "We met some weeks ago, after the international break, by coincidence in a restaurant.

"We had a chat, and the subject came up. I apologised, because I know how competitive he is, and I like him a lot. I know his character very well, and it was a pleasure to have him here in pre-season.

"This is the way it is. We play to win the game. The rules were clear when we made the loan.

"I can totally understand Patrick Vieira and the disappointment of Conor, but these were the rules when we made the loan, and we don't want to suffer from our rules."

 

Chelsea must still take on an England international brought through their academy, however, with Marc Guehi a permanent Palace signing last year.

Guehi, like Gallagher, has impressed at Palace, while Tino Livramento has been one of Southampton's star performers this season, but Tuchel explained their sales could not be reassessed with hindsight.

"It's a decision we took together. We are happy about these decisions," he said. "We cannot go back and reflect, because at the point where we took the decision it was the right thing to do, given the circumstances.

"It's very individual decisions. For Tino Livramento, for example, we had a plan and we preferred a loan, but he saw his future to go, and the situation was then better to agree to the sale.

"For Marc, it is a fantastic development. It's very hard or maybe even impossible to say if we had kept him he would be better or worse or the same. Maybe he needed exactly that, maybe he needed a change of environment, maybe he needed a different club, maybe he needed a bigger role, more minutes to develop your full potential.

"It just tells you over and over again that if you trust younger players and if you have a role for them, they can on a very regular level match your expectations or even over-perform.

"It's nice to see there are so many Chelsea players out there in every league. We are very well aware of it, and it's also nice to play against them and see them develop."

Chelsea still have academy graduates in their first team, with Mason Mount leading the way in terms of goal involvements (25 – 11 goals, 14 assists) this term.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek (31), Reece James (30), Callum Hudson-Odoi (28) and Trevoh Chalobah (26) have each made more than 25 appearances for the Blues in 2021-22.

"We will always use as many academy players as possible," Tuchel said.

"Like I said many times before, it makes the club very special and makes every team in the world very special if you have the mix between world-class players, between big personalities from abroad, from outside the club, with the academy boys.

"I think it's very important also with the academy boys to match the level, to realise the level of commitment, of professionalism of players who come from other clubs, who bring the best of their cultures.

"It's very, very important for our youngsters to accept that mix and accept that challenge. Then it can be very special. This is what makes teams special, that there are players from the academy."

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    Manchester United certainly can't be accused of not supporting their new manager, Erik ten Hag, given the players they're going for in the transfer market.

    Granted, that's more about how United are primarily being linked with players Ten Hag knows or has previously coached rather than them targeting a host of renowned superstars.

    Whether that suggests a certain trust in Ten Hag or if it comes down to a lack of belief in the club's own scouting department is a discussion for another time, but clearly Ten Hag is being allowed to build a team in his image, and that's what many fans will have hoped for.

    The first one in through the door is Tyrell Malacia, who joins from Eredivisie side Feyenoord on a four-year   contract with an option for a further season.

    Netherlands international Malacia had apparently been close to joining Lyon until United came in at the last minute, but once the Red Devils' interest became apparent, there was only likely to be one destination: Old Trafford.

    But what sort of player are United getting? Stats Perform takes a look…

    Exit looming for Telles?

    When considering the areas United needed to strengthen ahead of the new season, left-back might not have been highlighted as a major cause for concern, therefore some are likely to feel Malacia's signing isn't necessary.

    But most would agree Luke Shaw endured a generally poor season, and his deputy – Alex Telles – seemingly wasn't good enough to fully dislodge the England international. Then you have Brandon Williams, who has returned from a loan spell at Norwich City but will in all likelihood be sold.

    One would assume Malacia's arrival will lead to another sale at left-back as well, and that'll presumably be Telles rather than Shaw, who will be expected to get back to the level he showed in the 2020-21 season.

    Shaw has responded well to competition before. In fact, his excellent 2020-21 campaign coincided with United's signing of Telles, but perhaps he took his foot off the pedal once he realised the Brazilian wasn't likely to be a long-term threat to his place.

    Malacia could be.

    At 22, Malacia is youthful and boasts a skillset that may make him a greater understudy – and challenger – to Shaw than Telles.

    Already a Netherlands international, Malacia is quick, comfortable on the ball and had an impressive output in attack last season. Telles, on the other hand, isn't especially fast and his final-third threat relies on crosses from deep.

    Full-backs performed an important function for Ten Hag's Ajax. Their underlapping runs make them potential threats in the box, while those at his disposal in Amsterdam possessed excellent technical abilities, helping the team to maintain control of possession even out wide, a little like at Manchester City.

    Such a role certainly shouldn't faze Malacia considering his pace and technique.
     

    A considered threat

    Malacia's technical ability and speed are probably his two most obvious attributes, though neither are especially easy to prove with numbers.

    Of course, it's difficult to accurately – and fairly – compare players across two hugely different competitions just using stats, but you can at least get an idea of what a player offers.

    Malacia's 1.1 open-play chances created every 90 minutes in the Eredivisie last season was the 10th highest among defenders (minimum of 1,000 minutes played). That was the same as Shaw's, though the latter was obviously playing in a league generally regarded to be a higher level.

    Despite that frequency not being especially remarkable, Malacia did lay on four assists, and his 6.0 expected assists (xA) was bettered by only four Eredivisie defenders.

    So although he wasn't necessarily creating a huge amount of opportunities, those he did craft had an average xA value of 0.16 – of the defenders with at least 18 key passes, only Daley Blind (0.27), Noussair Mazraoui (0.19) and Yukinari Sugawara (0.17) created better chances on average.

    Similarly, Malacia's xA output on a per-90-minute basis of 0.19 was higher than that of Shaw (0.14) and Telles (0.11).

    Both of the xA averages mentioned for Malacia highlight – and can be partly explained by – how he attacks. He recorded 2.7 touches in the opposition's box every 90 minutes last term (fifth among Eredivisie defenders), whereas Shaw (1.1) and Telles (1.0) were far less willing to get into that area.

    As such, of his 5.0 passes into the box each game, only 3.0 were crosses. Those respective figures for Shaw (5.9/5.7) and Telles (7.6/7.3) show a far greater reliance on hopeful crosses.

    Again, specific coaching instructions may explain the figures of Shaw and Telles, so the data isn't suggesting any one is better than the others, but it's still easy to see why Ten Hag might feel Malacia is a good fit as one of his underlapping full-backs.

    Malacia also tallied more tackle attempts (2.7), tackles won (1.8) and duels (11.0) compared to Shaw (1.1, 0.7 and 8.2) and Telles (2.4, 1.3 and 9.8).

    As before, these don't necessarily mean he's a better defender because the context of the two leagues and the respective teams' playing styles make it difficult to draw such conclusions, but Malacia's figures do at least point to a certain level of tenacity off the ball.

    Regardless of the numbers, it seems clear United are taking a bit of a gamble with Malacia. Although obviously talented, he is young, inexperienced and joining a team that cannot claim to have much stability.

    Nothing about United over the past decade has suggested it's a club that successfully nurtures young players anymore. Even when you look at the success stories such as Marcus Rashford, he's not appeared happy for a while.

    The fact Malacia has seemingly been signed upon the request of his manager – rather than a glorified accountant on the board – is undoubtedly a tick in the pros column, but only time will tell if that trust in Ten Hag is well-placed.

  • 'Teams won't be braver than us' – Stokes hails England courage after another remarkable chase 'Teams won't be braver than us' – Stokes hails England courage after another remarkable chase

    Ben Stokes believes no other Test side can match England's bravery after the hosts completed a record 378-run chase to beat India in a remarkable Test match at Edgbaston.

    Despite being reduced to 109-3 at one point on day four, England recovered to better their terrific exploits during the recent series whitewash of world Test champions New Zealand.

    The hosts surpassed their previous best chase (362-9) against Australia in 2019, sealing the victory on Tuesday.

    That means England have secured three of the 10 highest chases in their history in their last three Test matches, with the Ben Stokes-Brendon McCullum regime having reinvigorated the country's red-ball side.

    Speaking to BBC Sport after the win - which saw the delayed series drawn at 2-2 - skipper Stokes declared that while other sides may match England for talent, none could replicate their courage.

    "It is amazing," he said after a fourth straight Test match win. 

    "The change, you're talking about mindset and everything like that - when you've got real clarity in what you want to achieve as a team and how you want to play, it makes things a lot easier. 

    "We know what we were going to do - we knew we were always going to go out and try and chase that down from the get-go. 

    "A great way to explain is that teams are perhaps better than us, but teams won't be braver than us." 

    Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow both brought up centuries to get England over the line in speedy fashion on day five, with the latter becoming the first batsman to score six or more centuries in a single calendar year in Tests when batting at five or below.

    And Stokes heaped praise on the Yorkshire-born duo for their stunning performances, comparing Bairstow's recent displays to his limited overs showings.

    "As people from Yorkshire say, 'strong Yorkshire, strong England'. It couldn't be more true right now. These two are just phenomenal," Stokes added.

    "Rooty has been doing it for 10 years and Jonny has just honestly been ridiculous over the last five or six weeks. 

    "He has got runs but it is the way that he has done it - it's exactly what we talk about. He has embraced it and just gone out and there and done it. It is like watching him play white-ball cricket at the moment."

    Having also become just the third England player to hit a century in both innings of a Test against India (after Graham Gooch and Andrew Strauss), Bairstow explained the players were simply enjoying an exhilarating brand of cricket.

    "It is awesome, it is a great environment at the moment," Bairstow said. "It is fantastic, the way we're playing, and everyone is really enjoying the success and that is a huge part of it.

    "If Joe and I are out there doing it together, we're in a really good place. We've been doing it for a long time together now.

    "It is really special to knock off 378 with just three down. It is something that we'll never forget. After day two I got asked, 'what do you think is too many', and I said 'whatever they set we'll go for'.

    "That's exactly what we did. The opening partnership deserves a huge amount of credit, for the way they went about it and the brand of cricket that we're trying to play, it was epitomised by that opening stand. 

    "It isn't going to work every time, but the pressure and intensity which they put on world-class bowling takes a huge amount of guts, courage and skill."

  • 'Whatever they get, we'll chase it' – Root lauds England's 'incredible' record chase against India 'Whatever they get, we'll chase it' – Root lauds England's 'incredible' record chase against India

    Joe Root hailed England's "incredible" display with the bat after he and Jonny Bairstow starred in a historic 378-run chase against India, declaring: "Whatever they get, we'll chase it."

    Having resumed at 259-3 before a lively Edgbaston crowd on Tuesday, England raced to their most impressive victory yet under the Ben Stokes-Brendon McCullum regime, with Root and Bairstow hitting centuries to complete the highest run chase in the hosts' history and claim a 2-2 draw in the delayed series.

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    He and Bairstow registered the highest fourth-wicket partnership in the fourth innings of a men's Test (269), as well as England's fifth-highest fourth-wicket stand in any innings.

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    England also recorded three successive chases of over 250 runs in their series whitewash of world champions New Zealand last time out, and Root says the team's fearlessness with the bat left them feeling in control throughout day five.

    "It was pretty fun doing it. Throughout the whole summer, from that first game, we've said, 'whatever they get, we'll chase it'," Root told Sky Sports. "Ben said to us before the toss: 'We're not going to bat first, we're going to chase.'

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    "To smash that new ball around on a wicket that was doing a bit was just incredible batting. It really made the work that we had to do afterwards a lot easier. It really was a sublime partnership against a world-class attack.

    "The feeling in the dressing room at the moment is 'whatever you get, we're going for it, and we're going to take it down'."

    On a personal level, Root added he was enjoying his cricket again after stepping down as captain in April, saying successor Stokes has instilled a newfound ruthlessness in the side.

    "When you're enjoying things it makes it a lot easier, you turn up to practice excited, you get out in the middle, and you're up for the contest," Root added.

    "I feel in a really good place and I just need to make sure I maintain that. One thing that's worked for me is just accepting it's a game of failure, batting, and you're not going to get it right every time.

    "It was good fun, like I said, there was a little bit on offer, but when you're putting pressure on bowlers it's very difficult for them to keep coming hard at you.

    "We recognised crucial parts of pressure, I think we soaked it up well at times in the second innings, and then when we got our chances to put it back on them, we did it.

    "We were ruthless with it, something that we might have lacked a bit in recent times – especially under my leadership!"

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