Thomas Tuchel has insisted that Billy Gilmour has a role to play at Chelsea, ahead of Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final.
The 19-year-old has struggled to find minutes in the Blues’ first team this season, having made his breakthrough the year before under previous manager Frank Lampard. Although there are concerns that he was not loaned out for more gametime, Tuchel insisted that he kept him at the club for good reason.
Speaking in his pre-match press conference, Tuchel said, “There’s absolutely no mistake [in not loaning out Gilmour], and it was unfortunately not his choice, it was my choice made for Chelsea. He accepted it in a five-minute talk, he had no problem with it. I truly hope that he knows how much I appreciate him, as a person and a footballer.”
He added, “We take the decisions for Chelsea, and the squad is by far not too big, and I feel Billy is a strong part of the squad. I know that it’s hard for him, we’ve talked several times because sometimes he does not make it to the first team. I’m super happy that he’s here. We need four strong midfielders and we have that.”
Since Tuchel’s arrival in late January, Gilmour has featured just once for Chelsea in the FA Cup fifth round victory against Barnsley. It takes his tally for the season to just seven appearances, far from sufficient minutes for the young midfield maestro.
With two defensive midfielders deployed in Tuchel’s current system, Gilmour faces stern competition from three experienced midfielders. A World Cup winner in N’Golo Kanté, a Champions League winner in Mateo Kovačić and an Italy international in Jorginho, the Scotsman has struggled to stake his claim in the heart of midfield.
Speaking of Gilmour’s midfield competition, Tuchel explained, “He has one big problem – three big problems – N’Golo Kanté, Kovačić and Jorginho are his three big problems. They’re never injured, they perform on the level in central midfield. It’s not easy to compete with them, and this is the only thing. I have no trust issue with him, I have no problem in attitude.”
Gilmour is not the only Chelsea youngster who has seen reduced gametime, with top scorer Tammy Abraham missing the last six games in blue. Although his injury problems have contributed to keeping him out of the squad, he has also failed to make the squad on occasions where he is fit.
Tuchel said of Abraham, “It was hard for him because he never felt fully free [from injury]. So it was hard for him to really perform on the level you need in training to convince your coach to leave somebody else out. We had some talks to encourage him to never give in, to not overthink it and to just come back to the momentum needed for a striker.”
Abraham has 12 goals in 30 appearances this season, more than any other player in the Chelsea squad. Despite his recent absence, Tuchel has insisted that the door is far from closed for the 23-year-old.
He explained, “It’s just about the next steps here, how to increase his involvement here. I accept that it’s not easy but it’s also not too hard, and I hope that he’s not too harsh on himself and does not overthink it. He has to refocus on his situation, and this is what I feel, and from here, he has every day the chance to find his way back.”
When Tuchel returns to the Stamford Bridge dugout, he will be met by a new face on the opposing touchline. Sunday’s opponents, Sheffield United parted ways with long-serving manager Chris Wilder this month, leaving interim manager Paul Heckingbottom to try and avoid relegation from the Premier League.
Speaking about Wilder’s departure, Tuchel said, “It’s a bit sad of course, because personally we had a very warm welcome in Sheffield from the opponents’ coach, and he invited me to his coaching office and introduced me to his staff. We had a talk for 20 minutes, he offered me a glass of wine. It was very nice, very unique, very friendly.”
He continued, “I wish him all the best, and I hope he comes back if he wants to and fights another challenge that suits him and shows his qualities. So all the best from here, and tomorrow we face the same team with another manager, which is a bit harder to prepare, but the goal remains the same, we want to beat Sheffield United at Stamford Bridge.”
Chelsea will look to reach the FA Cup semi-final for the second consecutive year on Sunday, as Sheffield United are the visitors to west London. The Blues are gunning for their ninth FA Cup, having already won the competition six times in the 21st century.
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