London (AFP) – Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel says there is no bad blood with Kepa Arrizabalaga after the Spanish goalkeeper was dropped to make way for Edouard Mendy in Saturday’s clash with Manchester City.
Senegal ‘keeper Mendy has missed Chelsea’s past two games after aggravating a hip injury during last week’s Champions League win against Zenit Saint Petersburg.
In Mendy’s absence, Kepa kept a clean sheet in the 3-0 win at Tottenham on Sunday, then saved a penalty in the Blues’ League Cup shoot-out victory over Aston Villa in midweek.
He also came off the bench to make a decisive penalty shoot-out save when Chelsea beat Villarreal to win the UEFA Super Cup in August.
But Kepa’s impressive displays were not enough to keep the 26-year-old in goal against City as Tuchel confirmed Mendy would start now he is available again.
Asked by reporters on Friday if that hardline stance could create problems in his relationship with Kepa, the Chelsea boss said he had already made it clear to former Athletic Bilbao keeper that Mendy was his first choice.
“We are here to push Kepa to the absolute limit,” said Tuchel. “He is fantastic and we are happy to have him.
“But Mendy is in the moment number one and number one is ready to play. It is easy, not hard at all. There are no hard feelings in there.
“This is welcome to Chelsea, the competition goes on at a very high level. They are friends, there are no hard words. He will not come to my office and say I’m not happy.”
Tuchel has masterminded three successive wins over City boss Pep Guardiola, including last season’s Champions League final.
Another victory at Stamford Bridge would take the Premier League leaders six points clear of champions City in the early stages of the title race.
Regardless of the result, Tuchel, who became friendly with Guardiola when both worked in Germany, admits it still feels like an honour to compete against a manager he has admired from the early days of his coaching career.
“When I started this work, I didn’t do it to reach his kind of level. It was more about understanding what he did tactically, how he implements a counter-press,” Tuchel said.
“I don’t want to copy him. I’m not a fan boy but I’m simply impressed. It was an honour to hear his beliefs. It questioned my beliefs.”
He added: “It was so far out of reach to be able to compete with him. That’s why I’m so grateful now.
“If we can play at our level we can beat Pep’s team. This is a good feeling — you are in a good place.”