Thomas Tuchel has praised Antonio Rüdiger and Kepa Arrizabalaga for making peace after confirming they were involved in a “serious” training-ground incident as Chelsea tried to recover from losing against West Brom before their Champions League quarter-final against Porto on Wednesday night.
Tuchel, who called Chelsea’s 5-2 defeat by West Brom “a big slap in the face”, was forced to intervene when two of his players clashed during training on Sunday. The manager ordered Rüdiger to return to the changing room five minutes before the end of the session after a pushing match with Arrizabalaga, who had reacted angrily to a late challenge from the German defender.
However Tuchel, who denied reports from Portugal that his side celebrated being drawn against Porto, was satisfied with how the players responded and does not intend to punish them. Rüdiger is expected to start when Chelsea play the first leg of their tie against the Portuguese side, which takes place in Seville because of Covid-19 restrictions.
“It got heated up between Toni and Kepa,” Tuchel said. “We calmed the situation down immediately. These are things we don’t want to accept, but they can happen. They are all competitors and want to win training matches.
“The [initial] reaction was not OK. But the reaction to it, how the guys handled the situation, was amazing and showed how much respect they have for each other. They sorted it out straight after training in a very honest, humble and very direct way.
“Don’t get me wrong, it was serious. Sometimes you have little situations when you look away and let them sort things out. This was not the case. We needed to interfere in this situation so it was serious. How the guys handled the situation was impressive and showed a lot of character.”
Emotions ran high after Chelsea, who dropped to fifth in the Premier League after West Ham’s win against Wolves, lost for the first time in 15 matches under Tuchel. But the midfielder Mateo Kovacic was keen to pour cold water on the incident before facing Porto. “It is just like a family where you argue with your brothers and sisters, which is normal,” the midfielder said. “It is not a big deal and these things happen. The most important thing is that we are good with each other.”
Chelsea will need a unified showing against Porto, who were impressive when they knocked out Juventus in the last 16. Kovacic admitted the West Brom result was a “wake-up call” and Tuchel, boosted by N’Golo Kanté’s recovery from a hamstring injury, highlighted the negatives during a lengthy analysis meeting with his squad on Sunday.
West Brom unsettled Chelsea by pressing high and capitalised on woeful defending after Thiago Silva’s early red card. But Tuchel sought to play down accusations of complacency, and denied that his players are happy to be facing Porto rather than a European heavyweight. Sérgio Conceição’s side are without the suspended Mehdi Taremi as well as Sérgio Oliveira, who scored both goals in the second leg against Juventus, but West Brom have shown Chelsea there are no guarantees.
“It was a big slap in the face,” Tuchel said. “If you take it from that result that we needed that reminder, OK let’s take it. But I could not see it coming. When I did the analysing video I was tempted to bet a lot of money in the 45th minute that we would win it. But we did not. I didn’t see from the first 40 minutes that we were overconfident. But we got a big slap in the face and if it was necessary to remind us how tough it is to have clean sheets, we take it.
“It’s normal that people create stories around it and it’s absolutely normal that Porto will play their role as an underdog. They are a very strong team. How should we celebrate it? We come from a competition where you can obviously lose – we are able to lose to the 19th in the league 5-2 so we are the ones who know how humble you approach every game.
“We play the quarter-final of the Champions League. Once you wish for an opponent, you will lose yourself in some crazy mind games. We have the feeling that we are strong enough to overcome Porto. I have the feeling it will be a tough match because I expect nothing else than the best Porto.”