Tuchel believes absence of Ancelotti would boost Chelsea

LONDON (AP) — Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel believes the potential absence of rival manager Carlo Ancelotti for the Champions League match against Real Madrid on Wednesday would hand his team a slight edge going into the quarterfinals.

Ancelotti tested positive for the coronavirus last week and did not travel to London with the rest of the Madrid squad on Tuesday.

Tuchel has first-hand experience of missing a big match because of COVID-19, having contracted the virus before Chelsea’s semifinal in the Club World Cup in February. Chelsea still advanced and Tuchel was on the touchlines in Abu Dhabi in time to coach the Blues to their triumph over Palmeiras in the final.

Asked if Ancelotti’s potential absence could affect Madrid, Tuchel said: “Well, it does … I’m pretty sure he can do the team talks and be in touch with players. But it’s always much better and nicer to be there and have direct influence.

“It’s what we as coaches love the most, to be in the middle of the group, constantly communicate not only with words, but also with a smile, a hug.”

The 62-year-old Ancelotti, who spent two years as Chelsea manager, will fly to London for the game at Stamford Bridge if he returns a negative test early Wednesday.

And Tuchel hopes that’s the case, even if it wouldn’t benefit his team.

“He’s a big, big coach, big personality,” Tuchel said of Ancelotti. “It would be nice to have him on the sideline in these kinds of games.”

The teams meet nearly a year after they went head-to-head in the Champions League semifinals, with Chelsea earning a draw in Spain and then a win at Stamford Bridge to reach the final — where it beat Manchester City.

For Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovacic, it’s another double-header against the team where he captured three Champions League winners’ medals (2016-18) — even if he was never an established member of Real’s starting lineup.

Having also won the competition with Chelsea last year, his four titles equals the number of times Lionel Messi has been a European Cup winner.

And Tuchel is delighted to have the Croatia international at the heart of the team for another shot at Champions League glory.

“He looks totally like a wonderkid in training, in some exercises,” Tuchel said. “He’s a fantastic character, a lovely person, a humble guy, so interested in sport, so happy to train and deliver for the team. I was following his career, you could see there was a next step coming. I was sure he had what it takes to make it. And I’m so happy to have him, he’s crucial to us both on and off the pitch.

“You can see clearly that he was brought up as a team player; he knows what it takes and what culture is needed in a big club.”

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