Glenn Hoddle believes Chelsea will bounce back from their defensive apocalypse against Brentford – and could still win back-to-back Champions League crowns.
The Blues’ sensational meltdown in the ‘Worst London’ derby at the weekend was far from ideal preparation for their quarter-final first leg showdown with Real Madrid at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night. But former Chelsea and England manager Hoddle insists they will be able to park their freak defeat – and that head coach Thomas Tuchel could end the season celebrated as the club’s greatest manager of all time.
BT Sport pundit Hoddle said: “Strangely enough, I don’t think that Brentford result is going to hurt them too much. If they had been right in the title race, or only a point ahead of Tottenham and Arsenal chasing fourth place, it would have been more damaging. When you suffer a result like that, it’s obviously a shock to the system – but it can work in your favour if you use it as motivation to put things right.
“Credit to Brentford, who played really well and underlined the strength of the Premier League, but it does give the manager an opportunity to knuckle down, assert his authority in a positive way and make sure the players deliver a response. They are not going to be complacent against Real Madrid, for sure, and the experienced players will all be thinking, ‘We’ve had our blip – let’s show what we’re about.’
“If Chelsea had won 5-0 at the weekend, everything’s hunky-dory. But sometimes in life, you get a shock, you get a jolt and it makes you focus again. As a defensive unit, to concede four goals at Stamford Bridge will have wounded their pride and I expect them to respond positively. Earlier this season, especially before they lost both wing-backs to injury, they were a tough nut to crack. If they get back to those standards I think it will be a tight quarter-final, but for me they will just get over the line.”
If Ivan Toney, Bryan Mbeumo, Christian Eriksen and Vitaly Janelt running riot was not part of Tuchel’s template for success, he will expect more resistance when Karim Benzema, Vinicius Junior and Luka Modric land in SW6. At 34, Benzema is enjoying an astonishing season (39 goals for club and country) – and 303 goals in 472 appearances for Real puts him in world-class company.
Yet Hoddle argued: “Benzema is a strange player in a sense – his record is second to none, he’s come alive for Real Madrid since (Cristiano) Ronaldo left and he’s taken on the responsibility of being their main striker. He’s had his ups and downs with the French national team and maybe he’s never one you would put in your top 10 players in the world, but at the moment Madrid are relying on him a lot for his goals and he’s coming up trumps for them.
“When I say he’s a strange player, I mean he’s not been an Mbappe or a Messi over the years – but you don’t write him off. You think you are keeping him quiet, but he can still be the difference. I’m still scratching my head now about how Paris Saint-Germain lost that game in the Bernabeu in the last round, and in ruth they threw the game away, but Benzema took his chances. A lot of players wouldn’t have had the same calmness and coolness, and that’s why he’s such a dangerous customer.”
Hoddle is more sure of Tuchel’s place in European football’s pantheon – and the affections of Chelsea supporters. He said: “Winning back-to-back Champions League trophies is incredibly hard – only Real Madrid have done it in the tournament’s current format, but Chelsea have the capabilities to do it, especially when they have their strongest 12 or 13 players available. But if he can do it again, for me Tuchel goes straight in at No.1 as Chelsea’s greatest manager of all time – if he isn’t up there already.
“They are still in the FA Cup, there are reasons why they have fallen a bit short in the title race this year and he’s done a fabulous job on an off the pitch. Sometimes you can set your standards so high that there’s no room for them to go higher, and Tuchel has won the Champions League and World Club Championship in his first year. If he delivers another European Cup, his place in the club’s history would be secure. They would have to be mad to consider getting rid of him if he achieved that.”
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