What’s new with the team?
“No fresh information, which may be good.” Trevoh [Chalobah], Ben Chilwell, and Reece James will all be out. That concludes the injuries.
“And Andreas Christensen has one positive Covid test, so he’s out for the game.”
What is the status of players who have returned from loan, and could someone like Ruben Loftus-Cheek move this month in pursuit of regular playing time?
“We haven’t discussed it [loaning Loftus-Cheek out], but he has a lot of game time, especially when compared to the previous few years and this season.”
“He has a lot to fight for here if we talk about Ruben and my personal opinion. Anyway, this will happen behind closed doors and when we have something to announce, we will announce.
“In terms of bringing players back, it is not only about the need of having players back but the possibility. When we sent them on loan, we sent them to have a full year. They have a certain role at their clubs so it’s not only about bringing them back. We also don’t have the possibility to decide all alone if we bring them back.
”Kenedy is back and I’m very happy about it. This is huge, huge opportunity for him to make his mark at this club and in this team. We will try now from today on to push and support him as good as we can.”
Is it still necessary to bring in wingbacks, or does Kenedy provide adequate cover?
“We cannot say Kenedy is the solution. He can be the solution but the situation has not changed. We have long-term injuries at wing-back and we suffered a lot.
“We suffered in midfield from Covid and injuries and now our midfielders are more or less coming back, we suffer a lot with our central defenders.
“Nothing has changed but it needs to make sense, to be possible, make sense on a high level and also in the quality, personality. We have a look into the market, nothing has changed. We have all options, also the option to say no.”
Is a loss at the Etihad likely to end your Premier League title hopes?
“Maybe, who knows? So far the biggest difference in the season as far as I’m concerned is they dealt better with injuries and the Covid situation. Maybe it is lucky, maybe they do it better, but they have fewer injuries to key players, fewer days out and weeks where they miss them. They did not suffer from Covid like we did. This is a huge difference.
“We had some draws this season that were unnecessary. If you have your full squad you create a certain atmosphere for everybody that pushes everybody to the edge and you need to be on your edge and at the very highest level if you want to compete with Man City.
“They are the benchmark, the best team in England right now. This is something we have to admit realistically. We don’t think a lot in scenarios what happens if. Let’s play the game. I am always ready for a good fight but also very realistic.
“If you look back to the last games, when we have the full squad feel good and are in a good shape, we are always up for a good fight with Man City. We are always there to push them to the limit and ask some questions maybe they don’t like maybe to answer.
“But the situation is that they are very strong, very consistent, and perform on the absolute highest level so this is it. So this is it.”
Leicester had a game this week postponed due to players being injured or competing in the African Cup of Nations. Arsenal is rumored to be attempting to do the same with the North London derby for similar reasons. Do you believe the Covid guidelines are being broken?
“I strongly, strongly hope that is not the case. Otherwise I would be very, very angry. We are doing everything to make games happen and we were made to play when we thought we should maybe not. I can only strongly hope that the rules are the same rules for everybody.”
Is facing Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium the most difficult challenge in European football right now?
“Yeah, maybe. They are the strongest team in the UK and I think the Premier League is the toughest league in Europe, the toughest competition.
“They are on a level of consistency, quality and producing results even when it is getting close like the game against Arsenal, turning things around. They are very strong, it’s a tough one.”
Do you still consider Pep Guardiola to be the gold standard for coaches because of his achievements?
“Yes. Short answer to a simple question. Yes, for me. Everyone is entitled to their own ideas, but consider his track record at Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Manchester City. Look at his clubs, they’re top-notch.”
Do you still learn from him?
“I try to learn from everyone and analyze every opponent in every game.” Everyone knows I have a lot of regard for Pep, but I also have a lot of respect for a lot of other managers. I learn from him, from everyone, from the game, and from my teammates. This is the standard I set for myself.”
When you’re at full strength, do you think Chelsea has closed the gap on Man City?
“They opened the gap not over the last months but over the last years. I was never shy to say this, it is my opinion. We try to close it. We were self-confident enough to say we will try to close it from the first day this season. This is what we did. We did very good.
“Don’t get me wrong, I want to be clear about it. I am absolutely happy with the players who travel with us and will be on the pitch. We will inject the most confidence, come up with a plan and push, help, support with genuine belief.
“But the team is a different team with everyone available. It’s as simple as that. If you have your 19/20 players from 23, always and constantly available, this creates energy, atmosphere and extra edge you need if you want to be on level where Man City is.
“We don’t have it, it’s no excuse. It’s a description and explanation of the situation for us in the last weeks. It makes it even tougher. Does it make it impossible? No. It’s 90 minutes. In 90 minutes you can do anything. You need to be brave, to play with courage, need a bit of luck and momentum, and we need to be at the top level. No problem for tomorrow but in general it’s like this.”
What did you take away from Manchester City’s game earlier this season?
“That my approach was the wrong approach tactically. It made us too passive, we could have done better, but I think the approach was too passive, too defensive. It was not meant like this but it turned out this way. So lesson learned.
“They were too aggressive for our build-up play, we did not have the solution to escape from our own half. We defended very well in the last 20 metres of the field, but we did not see much of the other 70 meters.
“Second half was better, a bit wild, and maybe it’s not the worst thing to have a wild match against Manchester City and to break out of the structure and all the control situations. The second half was better, lesson learned.”
Do you think there’s a big difference between Chelsea and Man City?
“At the moment it is a significant one. If you look at the points in the table, the consistency, it is a significant one and we have to prove. We have to prove to ourselves that we can step up and close it day in day out. We have trust in what we do, in our players and trust in the mentality of our club that we can do it.
“We have a strong squad, belief in what we do. We will be there but the situation is very particular in which we are trying to do it. As you know, I talked many times about the reasons. Without using this as an excuse it describes the situation. It is an explanation. We can’t look away from it.”
Do you think you’re approaching your peak level again now that you’ve won three games in a row?
“Yeah, because with every player we get back, we get back experience and alternatives, belief, and self-confidence. We had good results, good performances in the last games.
“It does not feel like it [reaching our highest level] from the outside because we have N’Golo [Kante] on the last bench and Thiago Silva on the bench. And it is Thiago Silva, it is N’Golo but they joined the group [against Tottenham] after just one training session. This is a little bit the problem.
“We have a good squad with a fantastic mentality and once you are in training you are in the squad, but we need a bit more of a fight, a bit more of a fight to bring out the extra edges. This is what we are missing, not in a bad way at all. But it is not enough to find our 100%.
“We need to overperform to catch City, to be on top of the Premier League. To overperform you need simply everybody, that’s why we are hoping to get players back.
“If you have news like yesterday evening that Andreas is out after we wait so long after an injury for him to play so strong, one of the best players on the pitch, and again he is out. It’s a bit of a knockdown, a setback for everybody, us mentality. You finally have plates back and it’s just like catching a fish. ”