Chelsea FC can be Manchester City’s closest rivals as Thomas Tuchel rises to another big occasion at Anfield

James Robson
·3-min read
<p>Thomas Tuchel remains unbeaten after 10 matches as Chelsea coach</p> (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Thomas Tuchel remains unbeaten after 10 matches as Chelsea coach

(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Victory at the home of the champions moved Chelsea up to fourth. But the nature of the win at Anfield and this enthralling race for Champions League qualification means Thomas Tuchel’s side can set their sights even higher.

It is a matter of when, not if, Manchester City are crowned champions, with Pep Guardiola’s side a class apart from the rest of the Premier League.

But who can say with any confidence who their closest rivals will be, come the end of the season?

Chelsea might have ended Thursday night as low as seventh. But Mason Mount’s brilliant first-half strike crowned a comprehensive win over Liverpool to outline their case to be considered the best of the rest.

Had good chances for Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech been converted, the scoreline would have more closely reflected their superiority over Jurgen Klopp’s falling champions.

Above them, Manchester United have won two of their last eight in the Premier League, while Leicester have dropped five points in their last two games.

The opportunity is there for the team that wants to take it – and with United facing City this weekend, Chelsea could head into Monday’s clash with Everton with the chance to close the gap to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side to just one point.

Conversely, defeat would see them leapfrogged by Carlo Ancelotti’s upwardly mobile Everton and dragged back into a congested pack of top-four rivals that includes West Ham, Tottenham, Liverpool and even Aston Villa.

That is why the battle for the Champions League football has taken over from the title race as the most engrossing story of the season.

For so long it looked like we were in for the most open battle at the top in recent memory. That was before City put together a Covid-defying run that has blown away the opposition.

But the unpredictability that defined the first half of the campaign has continued directly below them.

Chelsea’s 10-game unbeaten run under Tuchel – including eight in the league – has enabled them to eat up the ground. More encouraging is his record in the big games.

He has now masterminded away wins against Jose Mourinho and Klopp in the League and Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid in Europe. With no goals conceded in any of those games.

He is proving himself the man for the big occasion, which is precisely what Roman Abramovich demanded when washing his hands of the Frank Lampard project.

Chelsea already had a squad with enviable depth, comparable to any rivals in England’s top-flight. Now he has a coach to capitalise on the wildly fluctuating form of all but City.

It was notable that Tuchel spoke this week of no one taking advantage of Guardiola’s struggles earlier in the campaign. Would he have been better placed to seize the opportunity?

Next season will provide a clearer answer to that. Before that, he is in a race for second that looks well within his improving Chelsea’s grasp.

“We are in the race and we closed the gap very, very quickly,” said Tuchel. “Now we are in the middle of the race and we need to keep on going.

“This league, the competition in the Champions League and the FA Cup is what drives us. It gives us no time to lay back and become too relaxed. I have a hungry group. I myself am hungry and we are not finished.

“I know how hard it is in any league to keep on winning and keep on keeping clean sheets. So I am very happy because I know what it takes and what the team has put into this moment. We're on a high, high level and for that I'm very happy."

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