Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel says Manchester City remain the benchmark for his side in their pursuit of the Premier League title ahead of Saturday’s meeting at Stamford Bridge.
The sides will face off for the first time since May’s Champions League final at Estadio do Dragao in Portugal, which Chelsea won 1-0 through a Kai Havertz goal.
The Blues have now won their last three meetings with City, doing so in three different competitions in the space of six weeks at the end of last season.
Chelsea have carried that form into the 2021-22 campaign with seven wins and a draw to their name in all competitions.
They are joint-top of the league and are three points better off than City, but Tuchel believes the reigning champions remain the side to beat if they are to finish top this term.
“It’s a six-pointer between two teams who are rivals for the top four or the best outcome possible,” Tuchel said at Friday’s pre-match news conference.
“Any team can, of course, steal three points from a direct competitor. Does it change anything? No, but there’s no need to play it down.
“We could play a draw, though. Things will be tough and I mean that. They are the benchmark for many years now and I am very happy we’re able to produce this kind of performance and result consistently.
“We need to prove we can deliver with the same consistency. City remain the benchmark. We have to stay hungry and close the gap. This is what we have to do for 90 minutes. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
None of the last 12 Premier League meetings between Chelsea and City have been drawn, with the Blues winning five to their opponents’ seven.
Another victory for Tuchel’s men this weekend would move them six points clear of City, but Tuchel acknowledged the title race still has a long way to go regardless of Saturday’s result.
“We are aware of the situation but I don’t think it will provide any extra motivation for us,” he said. “If it was three games before the end of the season, maybe.
“We need to be at our best, best level and that does not change. This is what I feel and it’s what is important.
“In the last three matches against them, we isolated the situation and if we wanted to compete with them in a 50/50 match, we needed out top level.
“It doesn’t matter how many points we have and they have. Tomorrow against Manchester City at Stamford Bridge, it’s on. And we need to be fully on.”
Tuchel added: “Let’s be honest, if we win tomorrow we will not be champions and if City win tomorrow we will not be champions and we won’t be in depression.
“It’s an important match, a big match that we like to be involved in, and the situation we face this match is a good one because we feel ready for this kind of competition.”
Tuchel confirmed he will be without Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount, the latter – who set up Havertz’s winner in the Champions League final – sustaining a minor injury in the midweek EFL Cup penalty shoot-out win over Aston Villa.
“He is very disappointed and I didn’t feel it during the last match because it was the second half and he played through the injury,” Tuchel said.
“He finished the game, was confident to take an important penalty. So it was a surprise.The steps he is taking are huge. Maybe it was possible if the game was one day later.
“So it’s a minor injury but there is disappointment for him and us because he is a player that we count on. But no matter the importance, no matter how we rely on him, the task is to find solutions without him and bring him back as soon as possible.”
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Tuchel still has a number of other players to call upon in midfield and attack, yet arguably more intriguing will be the team opposite number Pep Guardiola fields.
The Catalan coach, often accused of overthinking his team selection in big matches, has failed to win all three encounters with Tuchel in English football.
Chelsea could become the first team to win four successive games against Guardiola in all competitions, though Tuchel has the utmost respect for the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss.
Asked if he believes he is a better coach than Guardiola, Tuchel said: “This question does not even exist for me and I can’t answer it.
“It’s a question for you guys and you can endlessly debate. I am a huge admirer for the impact he had from his first day of his professional coaching.
“The impact at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City, he has my biggest respect.
“There is not reason to ask myself if I am a better coach. I do the best I can, I am in a place I am very happy, and I am a better coach today than yesterday.”
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