Chelsea asked for last weekend’s game at Wolves to be postponed after seven players were ruled out with Covid; Blues face Brentford on Wednesday in first of four games in 12 days; U23 and academy players could feature in Carabao Cup quarter-final after joining first-team training.
Thomas Tuchel says he may be forced to utilise players from the U23s and the academy for Chelsea’s Carabao Cup clash at Brentford, adding he is “sad” that his team are currently unable to compete at the “highest level”.
Chelsea have been hit hard by the recent spike in Covid cases across the Premier League and had seven first-team players ruled out for their 0-0 draw at Wolves on Sunday.
One of those players – Jorginho – is able to return for Wednesday’s quarter-final against Brentford after it was confirmed he had recorded a false positive, but the other six remain absent.
With Chelsea facing a run of four matches in 12 days and battling to keep pace with Manchester City in the Premier League title race, Tuchel says he may have no choice but to call on the club’s inexperienced young players at Brentford.
“They trained with us yesterday and today,” said the head coach. “We made them come for two training sessions because it’s necessary.
“We have to protect our players and that’s why we brought in the academy and we think about playing with them.
“It can happen tomorrow that we prioritise the health – not the game against Aston Villa (on Boxing Day, live on Sky Sports) – and do not take any risks with some of our players.
“This is totally against our nature but maybe we are forced to do it. It makes me sad because this is not what sport is about and this is not what we are about.
“We are so competitive – that’s why we work here and that’s why the players signed for Chelsea. We are fighting for every competition.
“I absolutely don’t like judging the importance of games because you can never tell. There is nothing more important than winning, performing together and fighting together.”
Tuchel was forced to recall N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic to his depleted squad for the game at Wolves, despite the duo having just a handful of training sessions between them following lengthy absences, and the German says Chelsea are now paying the price for their rushed return to action.
Tuchel added Andreas Christensen and Trevoh Chalobah – who was injured in a collision with team-mate Thiago Silva at Molineux – are also doubtful for the game at Brentford, while Lewis Baker has become the latest player to test positive for Covid.
“What we did with N’Golo Kante, 90 minutes, was close to being irresponsible,” explained Tuchel. “Will he be involved in the squad against Brentford? No.
“Would it be possible if it was the last game of the season? Yes, but we cannot do this and I will not do it. We will now give him time to recover and prepare him for the Aston Villa match.
“To have a team with 13 or 14 players for one match, this is a problem but not a big problem. But from the match we have Trevoh Chalobah injured, we have N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic involved, which was taking a huge risk, and now we are paying for this.
“They cannot just simply start five matches in two weeks – it’s impossible. We cannot let players suffer because other players are not there.”
Despite Tuchel’s frustration at Chelsea’s current predicament – he said he “couldn’t understand” why they were made to fulfil the Wolves fixture – the 48-year-old admits he is still relishing the challenge of navigating English football’s notoriously busy festive fixture schedule.
The former Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain boss joined Chelsea in January and is used to enjoying a winter break at this time of year, but said: “This is actually quite exciting.
“I watched it when I was not involved and now I am in the middle of it. I like it and it is nothing new to play three matches in a week – to play three matches in a week without nine or 10 players, that is challenging.
“We love to be involved in all these competitions. We struggle a little bit but we find solutions – that’s why we’re here. This will maybe be the situation for many weeks because it will not stop.”