Kepa Arrizabalaga (C) made two excellent saves to preserve Chelsea’s victory against Al Hilal (AFP/Giuseppe CACACE)Giuseppe CACACE
Chelsea aim to put a turbulent past couple of months behind them by winning the Club World Cup final against Palmeiras on Saturday, the start of a season-defining period for the European champions.
The Blues have fallen off the pace in the Premier League after winning just three of 10 games but are still competing for multiple honours at home and on the continent.
Chelsea are through to the League Cup final against Liverpool on February 27, four days after the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against French club Lille and just before the fifth round of the FA Cup.
A star-studded Chelsea side was beaten 1-0 by Corinthians in the 2012 final in Japan, and midfielder Mateo Kovacic is eager for the current group to make amends.
“We are desperate to win this trophy. We could be the first team in Chelsea history to bring this trophy to London so we are happy that we are in such a big final,” said Kovacic.
“We will do everything to win it on Saturday.”
Standing in the way of their second title this season, after a penalty shootout win over Villarreal in the UEFA Super Cup, is a Palmeiras team aching to end the jibes from rival supporters about their failure to win the Club World Cup.
The Brazilians will be backed this weekend by an expected 15,000 fans in Abu Dhabi, prompting Chelsea assistant Zsolt Low to say it would be like playing another away game — after Saudi outfit Al Hilal enjoyed the majority of the support Wednesday.
The Hungarian has been deputising for Thomas Tuchel this week, with the German coach stuck at home after testing positive for Covid-19.
“Everybody hopes that Thomas can travel as soon as possible,” said Low.
“He’s following the government rules and is in self-isolation right now. Once he has a negative test, it opens the possibility for him to travel.”
– Portuguese influence –
Abel Ferreira has steered Palmeiras to successive Copa Libertadores titles since taking charge in October 2020, following on from Portuguese countryman Jorge Jesus’ triumph at Flamengo the year prior.
Ferreira, the former Sporting defender and Braga coach, said he owed his success to “hard work, persistence and dedication” in the wake of Tuesday’s 2-0 victory over Egypt’s Al Ahly.
“I started really low down the ranks, wasn’t at teams like Barcelona or Real Madrid,” said the 43-year-old Ferreira.
“Every final we play the butterflies in the stomach are always the same. It’s a natural thing. I believe all great coaches feel that as well.”
European clubs have won the last eight editions of the Club World Cup, a competition that traditionally has meant more to teams from South America.
But Kovacic, twice a winner with Real Madrid, insists that is not the case, particularly for a squad with three players of Brazilian origin — Thiago Silva, Jorginho and Kenedy.
“We know what it takes to come to such a big tournament because you need to win the Champions League, so we need to appreciate this moment and to not take it for granted,” said Kovacic.
Whether he makes it out for the final or not, Tuchel faces a big decision as to who plays in goal after Kepa Arrizabalaga produced another accomplished display in midweek.
The Spaniard, who kept out a late penalty against Plymouth in the FA Cup, made two crucial saves in the second half against Al Hilal, but could lose his place with Edouard Mendy available again after the Africa Cup of Nations.AFP