The assistant head coach spoke Thomas Tuchel at Mohammed Bin Zayed stadium ahead of tomorrow’s Club World Cup semi-final in Abu Dhabi
Tell us about the practicalities of Thomas being in London?
We are constantly in contact with Thomas. We’ve had a lot of meetings together using video calling all the time. We think about meetings and change our ideas a lot of times in the day. We have good conversations to try to make it like he is here with us together.
What do you think of Al Hilal?
We know Al Hilal, we watched the game live on Sunday with the coaching staff. We saw two very good teams with a lot of quality. Al Jazira led 1-0 but Al Hilal came better into the game and in the end it was a big win for them. We know they won the Asia Cup a lot of times, most of the time. It’s a very good team, we know a lot of players. They have players from different situations. Marega from Porto we know from the Champions League. We know Ighalo from Watford in England. They have very good quality up front, they can score a lot of goals. It’s a very good team. We expected a difficult game tomorrow.
Do you have Mendy and James updates?
Reece James, no chance he’ll play in the cup. He’s in a very good way but will miss still some days, some training session. He’s here to enjoy the group again. Mendy will arrive probably later today or tomorrow and we’ll see how tired he is. He has to arrive first, we have to check him and talk to him. We’ll see if it’s possible he plays, maybe.
Will that be harsh on Kepa then?
It’s a good situation for coaches. We have two amazing goalkeepers, we have to decide all the time between two very good goalkeepers. Mendy made a fantastic performance to win the Africa Cup and be the best goalkeeper and Kepa does an amazing job with us here. In the last game he saved an important penalty and is in very good shape. We’ll have talks with the goalkeeping coaches before making a decision.
Hakim Ziyech has been good of late?
We’re very happy with him right. He’s getting better and better in every training session and game. He’s a very important player for us, he’s in good shape, in good form. That’s why he will possibly start tomorrow.
Does technology mean you won’t miss Thomas as much? And has Edou not been celebrating?
It’s a big challenge with Thomas not here but we have a very good structure with Chelsea. We get a lot of support. First of gall Petr Cech is amazing, he supports us well in recent days when Thomas is not here. We have a good medical staff, team management. We have a lot of support to work in this situation. And a lot of video calls with Thomas. He’ll support us as best he can and give us every day preparation in meetings. In the next days there’s the possibility to talk to the team. We have to figure that out. For Mendy it was very important for him and all African players to win the Africa Cup. He’s very happy to do an amazing performance and also very important for him to celebrate with his team-mates and his country.
Do you feel comfortable being favourites?
We have to take the role after winning the Champions League. We know we’re a good team and play a very good game but Al Hilal are very good, with an experienced coach from some big clubs like Monaco. We know him very well. He’s a very good coach, a very good team. We take the role as favourite but for sure it can be a difficult game tomorrow.
Is Thomas on Abu Dhabi time? Can he give a cyber-team talk?
Not necessary to change the time zone. He’ll stay on English. We have meetings with an alarm call. If we need him at 6am, he’ll wake at 6am and we are training in the afternoon, which is very comfortable, so Thomas is already awake. Maybe he can connect with the team. In the hotel it is a bit easier with the connection. Maybe here in the dressing room can be more difficult. We all the time have phone contact with Thomas, also during the game so he can analyse and we can try to translate to the team.
Have your South American players stressed the importance of the tournament?
It is important for everybody. We’re here to win trophies. It’s important for us as Europeans as well as South American players. Thiago Silva especially knows how important it is. We’ve seen pictures and videos from how Palmeiras travelled, how the fans tried to energise their team before travelling. We absolutely know how important this tournament is to win.
Is Mason Mount fit? And Jardim said you have an advantage because better rested than Al Hilal?
Mason is getting better and better every day. We’ll see how he moves and feels today and take the last decision tomorrow with Mason. We had a hard cup game with 120 minutes and a long trip here. We have to use the first two days to recover and slowly today we are prepared for a good session and game. The long travel, the four-hour time difference, players couldn’t sleep very well in the last nights, they need this time to play the game. I don’t know if we have an advantage. We have the same possibility as Al Hilal tomorrow.
Can Thomas travel Friday?
He’ll follow the government rules, get tested every day and we hope the next will be negative so he can travel as fast as possible and enjoy the group and enjoy the team. We hope very well but we have texts, phone calls, video calls and we want to give him the feeling he’s with us. We need his absolute support. Twenty four hours he is there if we have some questions.
But Thomas says he can’t use his phone… and will the approach be different without him?
You cannot copy him. He’s one of the best coaches in the whole world. That’s why we have to share with the whole training and coaching staff. We have to share different things on the sideline, as in the cup game we changed with Arno. We try to push the team forward, change all the time. Phone calls and messages aren’t Thomas’s strongest part but he needs to be prepared and ready and be with us on the phone. He’s been absolutely perfect in the last days.
What will Thomas be like at home? And what’s Petr been doing?
I don’t watch our games together at home so I don’t know. It can be very difficult for him to sit in front of the TV with all the emotions. Thomas is the coach who likes to be with the team with energy. This is for him a new challenge also. He has to deal with it. Petr is all the time with us. He was an amazing player, now an amazing sports director. He has a very good feel and when we need him he steps up. He doesn’t want to disturb and be part of every meeting but he is giving us some support. We’re happy to have him alongside us.