BY PAUL LAGAN
Thomas Tuchel has the biggest challenge of his Chelsea career so far staring him in the face as he seeks to put right a horrible week on the pitch.
The Blues were easily carved open at the back as Real Madrid won 3-1 in the Champions League quarter-final first leg at the Bridge on Wednesday night.
It followed a 4-1 drubbing by Brentford at the weekend in the Premier League – both results have left Tuchel scratching his head in bemusement.
The Blues travel to Southampton tomorrow, completely shell-shocked and with little idea what sort of performance they will put out.
But they need to get back to their trademark defensive solidity.
Tuchel said: “If we have the same talk five days ago, we will still speak about the same [poor] defensive performance.
“In five days, seven goals conceded and we didn’t change anything: Not from the approach, line ups, or the system. I don’t think there’s a deeper reason for it. It is alarming. In two games, seven goals, but nothing has changed.”
The old chestnut of playing too many games is something Tuchel is hanging on to but publically dismisses as an excuse.
He said: “I was a bit shocked when I saw the number of games we played in 2022. I saw it in the last days, we were the team with Liverpool who have played by far the most matches in England and Europe.
“Don’t forget everybody else’s life changes. We had three extra-times on top of it. So yes, it is a bit worrying.
“The schedule is not our friend this season and we’ve struggled from it. But we can still play better because I think we found in the first half [against Madrid] we could exploit these positions better.
“We can play much better. We can hurt Real Madrid much more, but we were far off our level and that is very disappointing because it is a night when you need to be spot on.
“It is the moment now to find an end to this period of conceding goals and losing games very quickly because we are in an absolutely crucial time of the season.”
Chelsea go to the Bernabeu on April 16 for the second leg, but Tuchel’s focus is on the South Coast tomorrow.
He said: “I worry more about Southampton than I worry about Real Madrid. Is the Champions League tie alive? No.
“First of all, we need to play Southampton and if we don’t get our heads straight and mentality right we will not win in Southampton.
“If things change, maybe, but how many clubs in worldwide football won with three goals difference?
“How often did this happen? So maybe we should be realistic and should not get fatalistic, and think that I give the wrong message. Let’s be honest. We are competitive and need to find our competitive spirit and our quality and then we can hope.”
Tuchel has to decide if he wants to bring Romelu Lukaku back in from the cold.
The mis-firing Belgium striker had a glorious chance to score against Madrid, something Tuchel was happy to mention.
He said of the miss: “It was very important. There are no longer away goals so if we have only a one-goal deficit or a draw, then you see the momentum is back when we score.
“We could have even equalised. But the individual decisions on Wednesday were far from our level of standards.”
Chelsea women don’t have a game this weekend as it’s international duty.
But they sit top of the WSL, one point ahead of Arsenal, following their 5-0 thumping of Reading at Kingsmeadow on Sunday.
Left-back Jonna Andersson will leave the club at the end of the season.
The 29-year-old has won three league titles, the FA Cup and League Cup twice, and the Community Shield in her four-and-a-half years.
In preparation for her departure, head coach Emma Hayes signed Russian left-back Alsu Abdullina in December.
The 20-year-old has been slowly assimilated into the squad and has made four appearances for Chelsea.