What are your thoughts on Chelsea director Eugene Tenenbaum being sanctioned by UK Government?
“We read it yesterday. I saw it yesterday in the news. Was not much more about it also for us. I don’t know the implications and what it means for the club right now. I was just with the team and staff here yesterday, and we heard it.
“Right now, it is not a further distraction, it’s just one more, just one more of the same kind. We still hope that things will calm down and be sorted out in the process with the government.”
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The deadline for takeover bids passed yesterday, have you had an update?
“To be honest, no. It is still a process. I heard talks are still ongoing with the government. I am still not involved, which I am glad about, I have to say, because we have a lot to focus on here.
“That is where our focus goes. Like I said with the first answer, I hope things will be sorted out as soon as possible to have clarity, but I understand it is not that easy.”
How are you and the players feeling after what was a win at the Bernabeu against Real Madrid on Tuesday night but elimination from the Champions League?
“I think we all are in between. Confidence-wise, I think it is a huge boost, but still, it is a disappointment to go out of the Champions League at the quarter-final. It’s not like a big drama in this kind of way, but of course, it is still a disappointment because we felt we could be one of the four teams in the semi-final.
“It is a weird feeling. We had a huge task to go to Madrid – to win by a minimum of two goals to make it to extra time or three goals to win in a knockout game at Bernabeu. This was a fantastic performance and stayed like this, but it still tastes bitter because we are out of the Champions League. In both legs, we made too many individual mistakes, and too many got punished by individual quality.
“It is still a little bit in between for me, but we bounce back from the two results and two performances against Brentford and Madrid at home, we won both games after that. This is a big knockout game coming at Wembley, which is, in my opinion, a good thing because is a huge reward coming with it. So it is not a normal game in Premier League to collect points but straight away another knockout match.
“As you know, I think the players are also a bit in between. We haven’t talked too much about it with them. We have had training, some training time now, before a Sunday match. We will use it to sweat it out, digest it fully and be ready for Sunday.”
You face a run of seven games in 22 days, how difficult is that?
“It’s very difficult, very demanding. We had a look right after the game at the minutes played this season – we are by far the team that played the most minutes. We added some unnecessary minutes in extra time. This adds up to another one and a half or two games. It is pretty demanding, but that is what you sign up for.
“I think Jurgen [Klopp] mentioned the 12.30pm kick-off for his team on a Saturday; we had or will have sometimes the feeling if you play on a Sunday, it could absolutely make sense to play on a Wednesday. We had sometimes the situation we needed to play on a Tuesday to make things tight to one game and a bigger gap to the other game.
“Between the schedule, that we don’t complain about because it means we are in other competitions and want to have this schedule because it tells you you play for a lot, in between, there can be adjustments to make it easier to recover and take care about the players.
“It is about the players this game and taking care they don’t get injured, and we prevent them. We need simply hours to recover and not sit on the bus and plane again. In these details, I agree with him (Klopp). In general, it is a stressful schedule, but we love it at the same time. The five changes will help a lot.”
Was it frustrating Tenenbaum being sanctioned on the eve of a big game at Wembley?
“No, this is the situation. The same situation about the sale of the club, the board, all that process. It is within that subject, no new subject. For me, from my point of view, what I can tell you from the training ground, it is less of a distraction than you maybe think from the number of headlines than if you see it on TV as breaking news. In here, it doesn’t change a thing because it is within the same subject, and we trust everybody in the process to find the solution.”
Have you spoken to Conor Gallagher about Chelsea’s decision to not let him play in the semi-final?
“I had the chance to speak to Conor, and I could also see his frustration. We met some weeks ago – after the international break by coincidence – we ran into each other in a restaurant, and we had a chat. The subject came up, and I apologised because I know how competitive he is and I like him a lot.
“I know his character very well, and was a pleasure to have him here in pre-season. This is the way it is. We play to win the game, and the rules were clear when we made the loan. I can totally understand Patrick Vieira and the disappointment of Conor, but these are the rules when we did the loan, and we don’t want to suffer from our rules.”
What are you expecting from the level of Crystal Palace?
“The constant level on which they are playing, high level of energy, commitment. They are playing throughout the season in the same way. It is a big belief, a real team effort, very close to the coach. They are calming the club down, calming the situation down, which was not easy with so many players leaving before the season. He’s (Vieira) done a fantastic job, created a very energetic team full of individual quality and very, very dangerous counter-attacking team. A committed group, very tough to play against in the league and will be a tough one.
“For us and for them, it is a huge opportunity to play at Wembley. We need to be very well prepared to control the counter-attacks, the individual quality, the dribbles and play with the same level of intensity. They can create a certain atmosphere, especially at Selhurst Park but also at Wembley.”
Decisions to let Marc Guehi and Tino Livramento leave, what are your thoughts on these now?
“They are decisions we took together and are happy about these decisions. You cannot go back and reflect at this point. When we took the decisions, it was the right thing to do, given the circumstances. For example, all the time, individual decisions. For Tino Livramento, we had a plan, and we preferred a loan. He felt his future was to go, and the situation was then better to agree to the sale.
“For Marc, his is a fantastic development. It’s very hard or maybe even is impossible now to say if we kept him he would have been better, worse, or been the same. Maybe he needed to leave. Maybe he needed the change of environment, a different club, a different or bigger role, more minutes to develop his full potential.
“It just tells you over and over again that if you trust younger players and have a role for them, they can on a very regular level match expectations and even over-perform. It’s nice to see so many Chelsea players out there in every league. We are well aware for it. It is nice to play against them and see them develop.”
Is using academy players something you want to focus on going forward?
“We will always use as many academy players where possible. I said before, I think it makes the club very special and makes every team in the world very special if you have a mix between world-class players, big personalities from abroad and outside the club, and mixed with academy boys.
“It is very important also for academy boys to match the level, to realise the level of commitment, of professionalism, of players that come from other clubs, bring the best of their cultures. It is very, very important for our youngsters and academy players to accept that mix and accept that challenge. Then it can be very special because this is what makes teams special, that there are plates from the academy.”
What’s the latest team news, has everyone trained?
“Yeah, except for Ben Chilwell and Callum Hudson-Odoi. Everyone seems to be okay. Still have two more training sessions to go, so fingers crossed. Romelu was back in training yesterday. Let’s see if he has any reaction or not. Everyone should be okay.”
Do players need more protection from referees?
“Of course, we should always protect the players because it is, for them the game is famous, for them the supporters want to see the players in the stadium. There is no doubt. We should protect them, not overprotect them. There is always a line between a fair and hard tackle. This is the culture of English football and Premier League, to let the game go and to accept a certain amount of physicality that is maybe not accepted in other leagues. Fair enough is part of the challenge.
“Of course, we all fight for the same thing, for reckless and ruthless challenges and don’t see and cannot protect yourself, of course, we need to protect the players. I think that every referee does his best to do so in every single match.
“I am not aware of the discussion at the moment, and maybe I was too focused on our stuff. It is like this, it is a very individual judgement you have to take for more or less every tackle. For sure, from pure frustration or hurting people, we should absolutely protect the players.”