Was it important to beat Pep Guardiola to show that you can be successful at Chelsea?
“If you play against Pep you know you’re playing at the highest level in Europe because he’s been on the sideline at Barcelona, Bayern, and now Man City. He is the benchmark with his teams, you can see that with the Premier League. Our target was to close the gap for 90 minutes because it’s possible in football if you arrive with good momentum. I am very, very happy and proud with the performance of our team because we played with a lot of courage, we were very self-confident and were brave with and against the ball. We had a very good start to the match, the first 35 minutes of the first half, and the first half of the second half. We deserved the win which was most important. We were very active and did not passive. We deserved a win against maybe the best manager and clearly one of the best teams. We are very happy with the performance and it will be a huge boost to our self-confidence, progression, and development. We arrived with a young team and young players, so it’s important to have these experiences together. The most important thing now is to enjoy it today. The players feel it also because they are absolutely tired now. But tomorrow it’s in the past and we need need to perform in a crucial week in the Premier League.”
A lot of what you’ve achieved has been because of the collective. But do you feel that individuals like Hakim can now really kick on?
“Well, I think we had the same line-up – Hakim, Timo [Werner] and Mason [Mount] – against Liverpool which was very strong. Hakim was also very strong against Atletico Madrid. Against Porto in the first leg, we had a different approach in the half positions. We wanted to have more runners. Hakim is more of a dribbler, a passer, he turns in the pockets. So sometimes with these decisions, they are never personal. We just go for the different characteristics of the players. It was the momentum for Kai [Havertz], Mason and Christian [Pulisic]to keep going against Crystal Palace. But Hakim showed me that he is ready, he showed me that he is ready when he comes onto the pitch from the bench. He showed me that he is ready from what I saw in training. This is the most important. These are crucial weeks, nobody can rest on what they have, we need to keep going on the pitch. Whoever is on the pitch, needs to show they deserve to play their part, to play their role 100% and be reliable. This is what Hakim did, what Timo did and what Kepa did today. This is very important and I am very, very happy for them. But on the other hand, it is exactly what we need.”
Was that a defensive masterclass from your side and do you really spend only ten minutes working on the defence in training?
“I said maybe 10%, not ten minutes. To speak about training…it’s a very complex approach with what we believe. We do very, very few minutes in training isolated on offense or defence. We train for complex situations because the game is complex. We don’t try to divide the situations in an artificial way. That’s the first thing I want to express. I spend 90% of my time thinking about solutions offensively. If you have good ball possession against City, maybe it is the best way to defend. We are very strong in defensive numbers and statistics. That belongs to the courage of the players, the individual behaviours, and as a team. We defend very, very actively and aggressively with huge solidarity. This is the key. On this level, it is like this. Everyone needs to attack and defend. As I said, it was an outstanding performance in all matters and all subjects of the game. It was clear that we needed that to beat the benchmark of the Premier League which is City. I am very, very happy we could deliver that and it was a deserved win.”
When you were on the flight from Paris to London after accepting the job, could you have imagined reaching an FA Cup final and the Champions League semi-finals?
“I would have said ok, let’s start immediately! I would have said this is a huge target but there was no time to think about these things. On the flight from Paris to London, we thought about what to do in training, with whom to speak to first, what to talk about in the first meeting and what we maybe do against Wolves. Maybe this was good and it’s always like this in my career as a manager. Don’t start thinking too far ahead, don’t put your stakes up too high, don’t look at the goals which are in the future. All of these things in top-level football and sports, in general, you need to be ready to constantly go forward, to constantly progress. What as a manager, staff and every player in this club needs is to totally commit to this approach of sports in the highest level. this is what I demand of myself and everybody in my staff and what I feel from everybody in the staff and team. If you want to reach objectives, climb a mountain, you better start going. Just thinking about the top does not bring you anywhere. You need to actually walk and every journey starts with the first step. Don’t get confused by thinking too much. Don’t get irritated or maybe be too shy that you don’t wish for too much. Take it step by step. Today the target was to close the gap to Man City for 90 minutes. It was a huge target. We were very focused on that and delivered very well so now the next big target is to forget this performance and success and full awareness of a crucial week in the Premier League.”