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Thomas Tuchel: "Tomorrow is our most important game in the Champions League"

The Chelsea manager spoke to the English media ahead of the match with Zenit tomorrow night at Stamford Bridge. 
Thomas Tuchel: "Tomorrow is our most important game in the Champions League"

Was last season’s success in the Champions League the greatest success of your managerial career?

If I have to answer quickly, I would say yes, but I find it hard to rate your achievements, who wants to be the judge of that? Who wants to know? I try with my staff and my team to be the best that we can be. I did it when I was U14s coach at the academy and I do it now. To those outside and about trophies, then yes it’s the biggest title I’ve won, but it feels like a long time ago and it should feel like that, tomorrow is our most important game in the Champions League, it’s our first and only game so far in the group stage, and that’s what we’re after.

Any injury updates on Kante and Pulisic ahead of tomorrow’s game with Zenit? I saw an interview with Lukaku saying he’s dreamed of scoring at Stamford Bridge since he was 11 years old, how will you harness that?

Its better you ask him in person, but you can estimate it that he’s dreamed of it since he was a little boy and now he’s got the chance to be our number 9 upfront and be the guy to help the team with goals. This what he’s about and he’s not shy about speaking about it and we’re happy we can share this experience with him, he’s a nice guy and a tough competitor. We all know it’s important for a striker to have a good start  and to not wait too long for their goals, so we’re happy he’s scored so early and we hope he’ll continue tomorrow to score and be decisive for us.

Christensen did not train with us, he is out for 10 days after the international break and he’s having treatment and individual training. N’Golo had two training sessions but it is a bit too early for him, so we’ve decided to not take the risk and give him a day off after training and will rejoin full training on Thursday ahead of the match with Tottenham

How has winning the UCL changed your mentality?

For some days I felt different, I felt pretty good. Nothing is like winning, I reached the final the season before (with PSG), I felt like it was a big achievement, but nothing is like winning, but reaching the last step isn’t like winning it. The joy and confidence your team gets from winning it is very different. I had that feeling when I won the youth championship with Mainz, I felt like it was a big achievement reaching the semi-final and final, but nothing compares to winning. The most important thing is not to look back, but to keep the hunger for more and keep looking for more and to become addicted to winning. Winning changes the atmosphere and gives you natural confidence, but at the same time you have to forget it and keep the hunger and the mentality to win, this is what I feel and demand from myself and everyone around me, and I want us to keep this experience and keep the bond we’ve built and the confidence. We have to keep this up and tomorrow is the next step.

You have 12 men on the bench tomorrow, will you call up squad players like Ross Barclay and Ruben Loftus Cheek? Are they ready or will it be difficult for them to play tomorrow?

It’s very easy to play, if you’re registered it’s your duty to be ready to be, when you step on to the training pitch you have to be ready to train and to play. It’s the baseline for everything, you have to be ready everyday. Nobody gets a gift here. Loftus-Cheek and Barclay have been in the squads recently and we have a small tight group of high-quality players, some of which, for whatever reason didn’t move to other clubs, that doesn’t matter. So now they deserve to be part of this group and to be ready and to match our high expectations. I have the feeling they are ready or they wouldn’t be part of the squad, they have a good mentality and that they put their personal situations aside and everything can happen for them.

At the beginning of last season’s UCL you were not the favourites, but now you’re the current champions, are you a favourite for this year’s completion?

You can put us as what you want, last season no one thought we would win it and we came out of the shadows to win it. But this season there are many teams that can win it, you need a bit of luck, momentum and a good group, you also need a good squad of players and coaches, and many teams have that, so it’s a very open competition and everything is possible, with a strong bond, luck and momentum. It was not like we didn’t deserve to win it and it can happen to anyone

Everyone comes here with zero points, including Zenit. The target is to reach our own top-level every game, if we do it, everything is possible and if we don’t do it we won’t carry on in the UCL

Ben Chilwell last played in the UCL final for you and hasn’t played since, have you spoken to him since then and about being dropped by England at the Euros?

Yes it’s been difficult for him, he came from a Champions League win and played well at the end of the season, playing a lot of minutes and playing some crucial high-level games for us. The euros were tough for him, he could have played, but didn’t and if you’re in a squad, but you don’t wear the shirt or get on the pitch or never really involved, it’s a strange feeling. It was hard for him to relax and get over the personal disappointment of not playing for England. When he arrived here I felt he was mentally tired and worried about the situation, yes he was very unlucky but he has to accept it. Marcus has been here all preseason and has taken the opportunity and has been crucial for us, and has taken Chilwell’s position and has delivered. We’ve spoken about it and he knows that I would do the same if it was the other way around, they are in competition and they know that. He has to get on with training and be patient with himself and not to force things. Unfortunately we only had three subs in the last premier league games or he would have played. He’s in good shape and he’s in the race now and can play at any time.

You spoke about not doing the final step with PSG and then doing it with Chelsea, but you didn’t do the early steps with Chelsea, do you need to go all the way to really win the UCL?

I never felt it a problem taking over from Frank after the group stage and accepting his work. It doesn’t feel like it’s not my title, or half-a Champions League that I won, but I know Frank played his part. I was responsible for the final and the knockout stages and it felt like my team, not that we are denying the work that Frank did. I don’t think I have to prove that I can bring a team through the group stage? No. this has nothing to do with it, your question implies we want to win it again, but we have to accept how tough this is. We’re not shy to admit we’re fighting for every competition and tomorrow we’re going for the 3 points, it might sound boring, but it’s like this, and we want to have a good start tomorrow, we want to see how far this journey takes us. I hope I can prove to you I can take the club all the way and we go with a positive feeling.