A Tuch of real class
WHEN it comes to football’s top heavyweights, it is safe to say Chelsea are genuine contenders rather than mere pretenders.
That question has been answered emphatically over the last four days, with back-to-back wins wiping away fears they possess a glass jaw.
Make no mistake, those that witnessed all-but-doomed West Brom batter the Blues a week earlier left Stamford Bridge pondering how long – if at all – the west Londoners would take to recover their scrambled senses. Well, wonder no more.
Thomas Tuchel (above) has his troops cruising towards the Champions League last four - and are firmly back in the hunt for a top-four Prem finish.
A 2-0 ‘away’ first-leg win over Porto means they already have one foot in the semi-finals of Europe’s most prestigious club competition.
And they followed that up yesterday by blitzing an outclassed Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
Had it been a boxing bout, the Eagles corner would have thrown in the towel after barely half an hour to prevent any more savage punishment.
By then the visitors had delivered three clubbing, crushing punches – from Kai Havertz, Christian Pulisic and Kurt Zouma.
The rout, sealed by Pulisic’s second after Christian Benteke reduced the deficit, was also enough for Chelsea to leapfrog West Ham into fourth place.
Tuchel’s record since assuming the reins from sacked Frank Lampard now stands at 12 wins, four draws and one loss from 17 contests.
One note of caution, though. Yes, clambering off the canvas in such swift fashion is impressive. You can only beat what is in front of you, after all.
Yet the real test for those with eyes on becoming undisputed champions of Europe is bouncing back mid-match.
That has yet to happen under Tuchel, albeit Chelsea have been on the ropes only once on the German’s watch – in that 5-2 pummelling by the Baggies.
The likelihood, however, is they will have to do this at some stage between now and late May if they are to lift the Champions League trophy.
Overcoming a fellow top opponent, with your backs against the wall, is a true sign of the greatest sporting teams and stars.
Indeed, it is exactly the trait which separates the very best from the merely very good.