Thomas Tuchel is hopeful Chelsea midfielders Mateo Kovacic and N’Golo Kante will be available for Saturday’s FA Cup final against Liverpool and admits he is prepared to gamble on the duo’s fitness.
Kovacic looked set to miss the encounter having been forced off with an ankle injury after Daniel James’ red-card tackle in Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Leeds on Wednesday.
But speaking at his pre-match press conference, Tuchel revealed Kovacic was expected to take part in Chelsea’s afternoon training session on Friday with a view to proving his fitness to face Liverpool.
“We will try it today, which is pretty surprising news,” he said on the Croatian international. “Mateo wants to try it and the medical department gave the green light to try it.
“The advantage is that the ligament is torn anyway from the last incident, so there is no new injury, but heavy pain. It was heavily swollen.
“We are hoping that maybe the time is enough that he makes it, but we will try it in training and then we will know more about it.”
Asked if Kovacic would require surgery at the end of the season to repair the damaged ligament, Tuchel added: “No. How I understood it as not an expert is that the high mobility [of his ligament] helped him to escape without a huge injury.”
Of Kante, who has missed Chelsea’s last three games with an unspecified injury, Tuchel said: “He is also trying. He tried yesterday in team training, hopefully now without a reaction.
“It was a reduced training session because of long travel and fatigue of the travelling, so it was not a high-intensity session. But he is keen to make it and hopefully he makes it to training 100 per cent so that we can plan with him tomorrow. That would be crucial for us.”
Asked if he would be willing to take a risk with either player given the importance of the game, Tuchel added: “It’s the moment to take risks.”
Tuchel insisted he was in the dark over claims that striker Romelu Lukaku’s agent is planning talks with the club’s new owners about his future at the end of the season.
“I think if he plans to talk with the owner maybe it is not his plan to talk with me,” said Tuchel. “It’s fair enough. Let’s see if he gets a meeting! It is his right.”
“We will talk to anybody. We will evaluate any situation of any player including Romelu. We will see what is going to happen and what the plans are.”
The Belgian has endured a difficult season in west London but followed up his double against Wolves at the weekend with another goal in the win over Leeds, giving Tuchel a dilemma over whether to start him or Kai Havertz up front.
“We can also play both, although they lacked a bit of the feeling of being a perfect fit together,” said Tuchel. “It’s very likely that it is one of the two but we will not give the line-up today.
“Listen, Romelu played lately and scored lately. He did everything to stay on the pitch. It will be our final call in the morning.”
Tuchel: I understand Pep’s Liverpool comments
Tuchel branded Jurgen Klopp “the master of being the underdog” as he praised his compatriot for fostering a countrywide “sympathy” for Liverpool.
Pep Guardiola lit a fuse between his Manchester City side and Klopp’s Liverpool by claiming “everyone in this country” wants the Reds to pull off an unprecedented quadruple this season. Liverpool could yet sweep the board of the Premier League, Carabao Cup, FA Cup and Champions League.
But Chelsea can thwart Liverpool’s bid to break new ground in English football by beating Klopp’s men on Saturday, ahead of which Tuchel said: “There are huge sympathies for Liverpool, I feel that as well, in the whole country and I can understand it, said Tuchel.
“Of course it is also because of Jurgen, but in general what this club stands for and how they run the business, and how the fans push their team.
“You have the feeling it’s purely about football and this is like a huge history in this club and there is a huge sympathy for it.
“If you fight against it, like Pep for many, many years, I can understand his comment that it sometimes feels like this.
“But at the same time, I don’t think it’s only here. It’s in Germany like this and in France too.”
Asked where those sympathies come from, Tuchel said: “You know Klopp is the master of being the underdog. He can talk you into being the underdog against Villareal and against Benfica, and it’s a miracle, miracle how they even draw against them.
“He can talk you into it and he does it all the time, he does it a lot of times. That’s part of it, that’s also like from where the sympathy comes.
“There’s nothing to be jealous of from my side. Klopp is a fantastic guy, funny guy, one of the very, very best coaches in the world and that’s what he does.
“When he trained Dortmund, the whole country loved Dortmund. So now he trains Liverpool and you have the feeling the whole country loves Liverpool.”
Klopp: FA Cup is massive for us
Jurgen Klopp is determined to win the FA Cup for the first time in his Liverpool tenure as the Reds aim to keep their quadruple bid alive but he is expecting another tightly-contested encounter.
Liverpool and Chelsea could only be separated by an epic penalty shootout in February’s Carabao Cup final, with Klopp’s side emerging 11-10 winners after an absorbing goalless draw, while their two Premier League meetings this season have also ended as draws.
“We didn’t ‘beat’ Chelsea, we won the penalty shootout, one of the craziest shootouts ever,” he said of the Carabao Cup final.
“We know in football without luck you have no chance and that night I think luck was more on our side during the shootout.
“It was a tough game. We know how good Chelsea are and we expect another tough one. Both teams will go with all they have, that’s what I expect from Chelsea and especially from us.
“What we realized from the Carabao Cup is how big an occasion Wembley is in this moment with all the people in. It felt outstanding and we want to have that again.”
He continued: “I’ve never won the FA Cup before and most of my players have never won it.
“We are really looking forward to this opportunity. The boys worked their socks off to arrive there with all the different challenges. It is a massive final for us and really happy to be a part of.
“It will never happen that we see the FA Cup final as a normal game. It’s a special game, for some of us the biggest in their career and we really want to enjoy that as well. We want to deliver it for our people. “