Thomas Tuchel heaped pressure on Chelsea’s Champions League rivals by insisting it was “anyone’s competition” after the unburdened Blues reached the semi-finals on Tuesday night.
Tuchel will sit down to watch the second leg of Liverpool’s quarter-final against Real Madrid on Wednesday night, with the winner taking on his side in the last four.
Chelsea lost 1-0 to Porto in Seville on Tuesday night but progressed 2-1 on aggregate, with Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell’s first-leg goals proving decisive.
Tuchel insisted an unshackled Chelsea can now enjoy their “big adventure” in Europe, having reached a first Champions League semi-final since 2014.
His assertions both take a load off his young Blues, while also hinting that their big-gun rivals should feel the weight of expectation, experience and history.
“We’re in the competition and in the semi-final it is anyone’s competition,” the German said.
“In the semi-final, you need players fit, you need momentum and you need luck in the games.
“When you look on the scoresheet last week, you saw two players who scored their first goals in the competition (Mount and Chilwell).
“When you look at Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Karim Benzema or Mo Salah score, it is their 50th or 100th goal or something.
“We have arrived with a very young team. We want a young team to turn it around.
“What a young team can do is run, fight and hang in there. It is a big adventure for them. It is a big step to be here.
“It is a very big achievement. You see when Chelsea was last in the semi-final.
“We are not used to being there. Once you are there, you play for the final; this is clear.
“We take every minute to learn and grow. You cannot improve without these experiences so we are doing it now during the process, while we are playing it.
“Yes, it is nice being on the sideline because you see all the effort.”
Mehdi Taremi’s acrobatic bicycle kick in stoppage time proved too little, too late for the aggressive, harassing but ultimately limited Porto in Spain.
Chelsea were frustrated to surrender a clean sheet and also not to cap a number of good chances with a goal of their own.
But the Blues did produce the kind of measured performance required to advance, especially with one eye on Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City.
Tuchel pledged ahead of the Porto clash that Chelsea’s “emotional” leaders would rise to the occasion, and captain Cesar Azpilicueta was afterwards able to reflect on a mission accomplished.
“The team showed a great spirit, we fought really hard, the attacking players ran a lot,” Azpilicueta told Chelsea’s website.
“The team defended brilliantly, everybody. The attacking players, they did an amazing job, when we recovered the ball they kept the ball.
“Porto made a lot of fouls so we couldn’t get them in the transition, because they stopped us a lot when we were accelerating to get into the counter-attack.
“So I think the team worked very well and I’m very happy with the fighting spirit from everybody.”