Tuchel positive over Kante and Mendy fitness ahead of Champions League final

By Sports Desk May 24, 2021

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel is positive over the fitness of N'Golo Kante and Edouard Mendy ahead of the Champions League final.

Midfielder Kante sat out the 2-1 loss to Aston Villa on Sunday as the Blues scraped a top-four finish in the Premier League on the final day thanks to Tottenham's win over Leicester City.

Goalkeeper Mendy was substituted at Villa Park with a rib injury, making him a doubt for the showdown with Manchester City in Porto on Saturday.

However, Tuchel does not appear overly concerned by either injury and is prepared to give them time to recover before he makes a decision on their involvement.

"The situation has not changed with N'Golo in the sense we are still waiting, but it is looking good that he will return to training on Wednesday," he said on Monday.

"I think about changing my tactics now and stop asking about N'Golo. I'll just put him on the pitch in Wednesday training and don't ask anymore. If there are any problems we will just put him in training and put him on the pitch when the game starts on Saturday.

"Maybe I won't talk to the doctors and physios so I don't hear doubts or complaints or nothing. Maybe I have to think about the tactics. It looks good and I hope it stays like this.

"[Mendy] made a huge improvement with the management of pain from when the injury happened, which is good but of course we will need a further update on Wednesday. We hope to have him back.

"Edou will play if he's fit. And if he's not fit on Wednesday, we will try Thursday, and if not then we will try Friday. We will be reasonable and take responsibility for the decision. At the same time, we have trust if he can't make it. We have a strong guy with Kepa [Arrizabalaga] on the bench who would take his place.

"So the race is on. We are happy the images didn't show the injury was too serious. So we are positive. But every hour and every day counts. Hopefully, the team around Edou and he himself can do enough that he is on the pitch. It would be a good boost for us."

Tuchel's primary focus is to allow his squad the chance to rest and recover after a hectic schedule in which Chelsea battled for a top-four league finish and reached the FA Cup final as well as the showpiece clash with City.

"It's mental relaxation now because it was a tight schedule for us being in the race for top four from the first moment we arrived, and making it to the FA Cup and Champions League final meant a huge task to fulfill," he said. "That's why it was a constant up and down, constant pressure, focusing on different competitions, that was not easy.

"So we are absolutely happy and it's an outstanding achievement we made it. Now is the moment for a mental break for the players. I will use it personally to think about how we will approach the game on Saturday. What are the headlines? The key points? How do we approach it mentally, emotionally, tactically?

"This is my day tomorrow to be prepared on Wednesday when the players come back. The players need a bit of distraction and mental rest to breathe. And then I want them to be here on Wednesday full of joy because this is maybe their most exciting week in their life as professional players."

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    Ronald Koeman called for caution over Ansu Fati's return to action after the youngster was included in Barcelona's squad for the first time in 10 months.

    Fati has not played for Barca in 322 days, after he suffered a serious knee injury in November 2020.

    The 18-year-old, who has taken the number 10 shirt vacated by Lionel Messi, has undergone three operations and only returned to training last month.

    However, Fati has been called into Barca's 20-man squad for Sunday's home game against Levante, a team he has scored two goals against in two matches. He has only netted more times against Villarreal (three) in LaLiga.

    Fati became the youngest goalscorer in Barcelona's history when he netted against Osasuna in August 2019 aged 16 years and 304 days and has since added a further 12 goals to his tally, but Koeman says the Spain international will need more time to recover full fitness.

    "It's really important to have Fati back, for himself because he has been out injured for many months," Koeman told a news conference.

    "We have a plan to recover him, to get him in his best shape, so he will have to get minutes little by little and the plan is that he will play around 15 minutes maximum [on Sunday].

    "There is a long way to go before he is as sharp as he has been. He does not recover in two games or in two weeks. We have to help him. The most important thing is that he recovers.

    "It depends on his state. We are talking about a young man who will give us a lot of quality, but little by little."

    Koeman's future at Barcelona is far from certain. His position seems a precarious one, given president Joan Laporta is reportedly searching out replacements, with Belgium coach Roberto Martinez a rumoured target.

    Barca have been held to draws by Granada and Cadiz in the last two games, with Koeman seeing red in the latter match.

    "I have to learn from this. Be calmer. Think about the team and the game," Koeman said. "I am also human and there are moments in games where it is difficult to accept decisions."

    As for his future, Koeman said: "I can't say much about this issue because I haven't been reading the press for a long time.

    "I know the rumours out there, but all we have to do is win games. There are rumours, names. I'm not going to waste energy on things I can't control.

    "The president can speak, he is the most important man at the club. I have no problem. I am involved in my job, I have to win games. The rest does not interest me."

    Koeman also explained he believes he has the backing of the dressing room.

    "Every player and every coach wants to win titles and games," he said.

    "There are no differences on this issue because I have spoken with them. In general, the players agree. That is the important thing. In that sense, there are no differences of opinions between them and me."

  • Ansu Fati back in Barcelona squad after 10 months out with knee injury Ansu Fati back in Barcelona squad after 10 months out with knee injury

    Ansu Fati is back in the Barcelona squad after spending 10 months out of action due to a knee injury.

    The 18-year-old has been included in Ronald Koeman's 20-man group for the LaLiga game at home to Levante on Sunday.

    Fati has not played for the Catalans in 322 days, having torn the meniscus in his left knee during a 5-2 win over Real Betis last November.

    The winger, who underwent three operations, only returned to training in August.

    Sunday's game at Camp Nou will offer Fati the chance to make his first competitive appearance since inheriting the number 10 shirt from Lionel Messi, who left the club at the end of his contract before signing for Paris Saint-Germain ahead of this season.

    Fati has scored two goals in his two matches against Levante in LaLiga, only netting more against Villarreal (three) in the competition.

    He became the youngest goalscorer in Barca's history when he scored against Osasuna in August 2019 aged 16 years and 304 days.

    Fati has since added a further 12 goals in 42 appearances across all competitions for the Blaugrana, whom he joined at the age of 10.

    The Guinea-Bissau-born youngster has been capped four times by Spain and scored his first international goal against Ukraine in September 2020.

    Barca's 0-0 draw with Cadiz on Thursday piled further pressure on head coach Ronald Koeman, with president Joan Laporta reportedly keen to appoint Belgium boss Roberto Martinez in his place.

    The Catalans have won two and drawn three of their opening five league matches of 2021-22 and are already seven points behind leaders Real Madrid, albeit with a game in hand.

  • Werner starts alongside Lukaku for first time as De Bruyne and Foden make City XI Werner starts alongside Lukaku for first time as De Bruyne and Foden make City XI

    Thomas Tuchel has partnered Timo Werner and Romelu Lukaku in the Chelsea attack from the start for the first time for the visit of Manchester City, who have a number of stars back fit.

    Chelsea head into Saturday's Premier League clash at Stamford Bridge top of the table, three points ahead of champions City.

    The Blues have beaten City in all three meetings since Tuchel took charge – including the Champions League final – and are looking to become the first side to defeat Pep Guardiola in four consecutive matches.

    But Tuchel has mixed things up for this game, shifting from his usual 3-4-3 to a 3-5-2 formation, including N'Golo Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic in central midfield after the trio excelled in the second half of last week's 3-0 win at Tottenham.

    Most notably, that switch has created space for Werner in the front line next to record signing Lukaku.

    Werner assisted Antonio Rudiger's strike at Spurs and then scored in the midweek EFL Cup tie against Aston Villa, as he aims to build on a disappointing 2020-21 campaign in which his 12 goals hugely underperformed his 21.1 expected goals.

    The Germany forward and Lukaku have only previously played 61 minutes together so far in all competitions, although Chelsea have netted two goals and conceded none in that time.

    Thiago Silva – outstanding at Tottenham – only made Tuchel's bench, but Edouard Mendy was passed fit to start in goal, facing an attack-minded City line-up.

    Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden each came in for their first league starts of the season, yet it was Gabriel Jesus – playing from the right in the early stages of the campaign – who looked set to lead the line.

    Guardiola had named a different midfield for all three prior meetings with Tuchel's Chelsea in 2021 but has reverted back to Rodri, who started the league defeat.

    In a familiar 4-3-3, Aymeric Laporte was also cleared to line up alongside Ruben Dias.

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