What would you like from the next Chelsea owner?
“A strong squad and confidence and support.”
How have you looked to try to bounce back from what happened at Brentford?
“We had a day off, which was maybe necessary to digest it. We talked about it, but no special talks, no special team talk. We talked openly about it in a debrief, which is very usual for us. We set new targets which is what you do in sport no matter whether you win or lose. It was a crucial loss and we absolutely didn’t like what happened. We consider this the exception to the rule. We allowed ourselves on Monday to focus on the match tomorrow because it’s what’s needed.”
Carlo Ancelotti may not be on the bench tomorrow, how big a blow is that
“Nowadays you are in charge with media, with help of virtual help, so I’m pretty sure he can do the team talks and be in touch with players. But it’s always much better and nicer to be there and have direct influence. It’s what we as coaches love the most, to be in the middle of the group, constantly communicate not only with words, but also with a smile, a hug.
“I hope he still makes it, I have the information he will try to arrive in the evening. I personally hope he makes it. He’s a big, big coach with a big personality. It would be nice to have him on the sideline in these kinds of games.”
Has Mateo Kovacic completed his journey from wonderkid, to Real Madrid squad player, to Chelsea star?
“Yes, but I think he’s still completing it. He looks totally like a wonder kid in training, in some exercises. He had an outstanding training session today. He’s a fantastic character, a lovely person, a humble guy, so interested in sport, so happy to train and deliver for the team. I was following his career, you could see there was a next step coming and I was sure he had what it takes to make it.
“I’m so happy to have him, he’s crucial to us both on and off the pitch. Brought up as a team player, knows what it takes, what culture is needed in a big club.”
The atmosphere was flat on Saturday, how much do you need the crowd to give you an advantage in this competition?
“We absolutely need it. We need to be better on the pitch – we’re the first to admit it – but we need the crowd to be better. We need everybody on the front foot. It’s a big match, quarter-finals, against a big opponent. It’s a big occasion. I think that normally we have these kinds of atmospheres in the evening games and big matches throughout this season.
“Spectators in the Champions League matches gave us a huge push in terms of atmosphere and energy. We need it. It’s crucial in these games. We feel it in every away game when we play to win: Malmo, Saint Petersburg, Lille. It’s super hard and it’s much harder to play against the spectators as well. We will face it next week in Madrid, so everybody needs to be on the top level. We have to set the spark but everybody needs to arrive tomorrow ready to support.”
How much can you take from last season’s games against Real Madrid?
“I think it has nothing to do with last season’s game. Honestly. I did not look at it in the preparation. I looked at the last matches of Real Madrid, we didn’t look at last year’s matches. So that maybe answers the question. For us, it is not revenge or a point to prove again.
“We are out there to prove a point anyway and to bounce back from Saturday’s performance and to play in the right way, the way we want to play. We want to by physical, intense, focused and to be at our very best because this is what we need. We overcame Real Madrid last season but as I said, it has nothing to do with our preparation. It’s a new coach, a new team. It’s with spectators and it’s again good to go.”
Who is the Real Madrid player you would like to have in your team?
“You love these questions, no? From your colleague, I got the question the other way around – he asked me who do I want not to play! It’s more or less the same question. So, instead of being boring and refusing to give one particular name, I gave all of the praise to Karim Benzema. Two years ago I think he was one of the most underrated players in world football, and maybe not any more.
“He absolutely deserves everything that has happened to him, he has been how many years as the number nine for Real Madrid, and that speaks for itself. And how he carries responsibility, in the last stage for them. What a key part he plays for them as a captain now, it’s very impressive. You can see what can happen to a team in his absence, from the Clasico.
“He’s for sure a standout player and personality. But right now that’s also very unfair to guys like Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Casemiro, and many more, this team is very successful because of huge, huge personalities.”
How do you assess the current Real Madrid team to the one you beat last season?
“It’s hard to keep their record. They won it three times [in a row] this competition and it’s an incredibly hard tournament to win and they did it three times. They trusted an almost similar squad over a long period of time which was impressive and outstanding. It’s normal that cycles like this change at some point.
“In terms of a winning streak, reaching the final, maybe this is what happened to them. But we should be very aware that teams with this kind of experience,, flair and quality can produce special performances on special occasions. For us, it’s also a special occasion – we play Real Madrid in a quarter-final. So that’s why we feel pretty excited. We don’t lose too much sleep thinking about where they are. We want to prove a point to ourselves tomorrow. That’s the target. The occasion is special and the opponent is special. That is why we are excited.”
Do you have any concerns over Andreas Christensen given the continued speculation that he has agreed to join Barcelona?
“No. No concerns. Maybe it is a bit more challenging for him than normal, in a moment where everything is clear or you’re fully committed to the club you play for, which is us and Chelsea. Maybe he cleared his future, I don’t know it yet, but for me it was very clear when I started, and the bottom line in conversations I had with him was that as long as you’re my player I expect you to be 100 per cent committed and I will not accept anything less.
“I will not start digging into how committed is he now, this only leads to distraction. This is what I demand from him. That he was out on Saturday was only a tactical choice to play with a back four. It was a matter of characteristics of the players. He is our player and we want to have the most of him. He needs to be focused, he needs to be determined, and this is what we expect from him. And I think it is what we can expect from him.”
If you win the Champions League this season, given everything that is going on, would it be a bigger achievement than last season?
“Can you ask me again hopefully at the end of May? Because before that I will not talk about the final. I will not talk about the final before the first leg of the quarter-final.”
Is it harder to win it again?
“I don’t know. It feels terribly hard all the time, but it’s what we love. It’s the competition. There is no other way than step by step. It’s challenging and demanding for us. But it’s what we love. We can deal with it because it’s what we choose, so it’s how we deal with it. And it’s nice to deal with it and have these experiences. Two legs against Real Madrid is a top experience for sure.”
Do you think the public nature of Christensen’s contract talks impacted the outcome?
“The situation of the club was pretty sure. I think I gave you an honest statement that he is in exactly the right place for his journey. That he could continue with this club and become the defender that he can be, the real personality and the playing minutes figure that he wants to be.
“In my opinion, he shouldn’t forget where he comes from, where his education comes from, where is home and that’s just my opinion. He needs that kind of environment to bring the best out of him. That’s just my opinion and I gave it some weeks ago but the talks in autumn and the summer were constant talks. We are in exchange with our players of course. I hope that my talks didn’t make him want to leave but I don’t think so.
“You cannot take these things personally. If he decides to take his career elsewhere, it is his decision. We understand it and we don’t need to agree. We will not take it personally. As long as he is our player, he is our player and I will not stop demanding from him. He needs to be fully, fully committed, this is what we expect and have experienced. You will have to ask him about his decision and what the reasons are for his decision.”