Thomas Tuchel struggled to put his finger on what exactly went wrong for Chelsea during their shock 4-1 defeat at home to Brentford but insisted his side were not distracted by the prospect of Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final tie with Real Madrid.
Antonio Rudiger had put Chelsea ahead at the start of the second half with a stunning long-range strike but a Vitaly Janelt double either side of Christian Eriksen’s first Premier League goal since his comeback from a cardiac arrest last summer swung the game in 10 minutes. Yoane Wissa then made it four in the final stages.
It was a scoreline similar to the surprise 5-2 win West Brom pulled off at Stamford Bridge almost exactly a year ago. That match, like this one, was the first after the international break and Tuchel accepted his side may have been mentally drained from playing around the world.
However, he said that did not entirely explain the outcome of the contest.
“It was strange because we were working hard for the first goal and we know how hard it is to create chances against Brentford,” he said.
“They defend either very high and man mark or defend very deep in a block of 10 men around the box. You need to be patient, have a fluid rhythm and intelligent and clinical to take little chances to have that first goal and break that block down.
“Once we had [the opener] we stopped defending and gave three goals away in 10 minutes. It was very untypical and killed the game for us.
“I don’t know why we gave away a big chance straight after the goal and then the next one and from there we did not defend mature enough. We were not aware of the danger in these moments which is also very strange for us.
“We got punished. They made the most of these 10 minutes, which is maybe also not normal. It’s a summary of strange events. It’s on us. It’s our fault.”
Tuchel believes that as well as the international efforts – which included the mental strain of a penalty shoot-out win to get to the World Cup for Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy – his team were also hindered by less time to prepare, fired-up opponents and even a shift in the weather.
“It was a tough start for us, we felt a bit leggy which is normal after international break. But after 20-25 minutes we controlled the match, we controlled the rhythm, we were getting more and more fluid, created half chances,” he said.
“Second half, I was very happy with the start, finally we had the goal, which is normally exactly what we want to open up new spaces. But the opposite happened and I don’t know why.
“My expectations were not too high. It’s difficult to play after international break. It’s a challenge to play as a favourite on top of it. To dictate the match and break down a well organised and physical team. But we were in the lead and in charge.
“I felt us getting better and better. We got a beautiful goal. I don’t know exactly why we lost control for the next 10 minutes.
“Were we distracted by the Real Madrid game? Absolutely not. We selected the team that we thought was the best team. Not 1 per cent on Real Madrid.
“Maybe if we’d lost it 1-0, 2-0, 3-0 going down and starting too late but it wasn’t the case. We started slow in the beginning but that was more tired, not physically tired but mentally tired, not fresh enough.
“Yesterday we were wearing gloves and it was snowing during training and today it was very warm.
“It’s more difficult for us than for them to play as an underdog and be well prepared for this match. We were also well prepared but we were prepared in one and a half training sessions. I didn’t see the distraction there.”
While the exact cause of Saturday’s performance isn’t entirely clear, Tuchel is convinced it will just be a blip for his team who had won their last five in the league.
“After so many wins and so many good results I refuse to make a drama out of it because why should we,” he said.
“Brentford made a lot of the 10 minutes we gave them. After the third goal we had a disallowed goal, we had a pressing situation against the goalkeeper, a big, big chance for Havertz, we missed three of them and a feeling ‘this is not our day’. There are some reasons we can put on us and we will analyse.”
Frank on Eriksen’s comeback
Meanwhile, Brentford boss Thomas Frank was understandably delighted with his team’s display and praised the influence of Eriksen.
“Christian is a top player, an unbelievable character and he brings quality and calmness to the team. You can give it to Christian and he’ll always find a solution,” he said, before discussing how the player has returned to the top level.
“From the beginning I thought ‘everything has been checked in his entire body’. He didn’t have an injury like an ACL and when he took that decision that he wanted to play in the World Cup, that determination, ‘I want to come back into football’ [was there] and his foundation physically was quite good.
“We never knew how quick it would take to get to this level but it’s impressive how quick.”
Chelsea are in Champions League action on Tuesday as they host Real Madrid in the first leg of their quarter-final; 8pm kick-off. Then on Saturday, April 9 the Blues go to Southampton in the Premier League; kick-off 3pm.
Meanwhile, Brentford host West Ham on Sunday, April 10; kick-off 2pm.