Big Midweek: Sancho, Tuchel and Aston Villa in Europe, but it’s all about Chelsea v Tottenham

Will Ford
Tuchel Sancho Chelsea Tottenham
It's Chelsea v Tottenham in a Big Midweek for Sancho and Tuchel.

It’s a European Big Midweek offering Jadon Sancho the chance to stick it to Manchester United and Thomas Tuchel the opportunity to further carve out his niche as Aston Villa play a semi-final for the first time in 42 years.

But we couldn’t ignore what could well be the most entertaining of all Premier League games between two unfathomable football teams.


Game to watch: Chelsea v Tottenham
As games between these two go, this one isn’t hugely significant. Tottenham probably aren’t going to get into the Champions League and Chelsea probably aren’t going to get into Europe. But if anything, the relative lack of consequence makes this clash between the two most batsh*t Premier League teams – both of whom throw caution to the wind no matter the circumstances because of an inability/aversion to control – all the more enticing.

The game between the pair at the start of November featured multiple disallowed goals, multiple red cards, multiple season-defining injuries, a comically high defensive line, even funnier botched attempts to make the most of said defensive line, the most unremarkable hat-trick in Premier League history and an epic vice-enhancing response to the madness from a football manager: “It’s just who we are, mate.” More of the same please, fellas.

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And there’s every chance this one will be just as frantic, because while Ange Postecoglou doesn’t just accept the chaos but actively encourages it, Mauricio Pochettino’s players have illustrated time and again that while they can control a game of football for a short time, they suffer surges of what we must refer to as ‘inexperience’ which manifests as ludicrous defensive errors and lapses in concentration.

Two very flawed football teams featuring very talented footballers should make for an incredibly watchable game of football.

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Manager to watch: Thomas Tuchel
He’s carved out a niche for himself as The Champions League Manager. In the last four seasons he’s either won the Champions League or been knocked out by the eventual winners: Bayern Munich in the 2020 final; Real Madrid in 2022 in a tie Chelsea really should have won; Manchester City in 2023.

Tuchel won two Ligue 1 titles with Paris Saint-Germain, the German Cup with Borussia Dortmund, took Chelsea to third in the Premier League as well as to a couple of cup finals and just won the Bundesliga with Bayern last season. But those are the expected achievements (Todd Boehly Chelsea era aside) of anyone managing those clubs. Anything less and he would have been a failure. His legacy, the reason he’s still highly regarded despite being knocked out of the German Cup by third-tier Saarbrucken and swept aside by Bayer Leverkusen in the league this season, is his Champions League pedigree.

Having lost the first leg against Lazio in the last 16 Bayern cruised through at the Allianz Arena in the second, and they made Arsenal look like silly little boys in the quarter-final, as Tuchel set his team up perfectly to nullify their threats in a tie they all looked like they knew they were going to win.

Real Madrid will likely provide a far more significant challenge, but Tuchel will have focused on nothing else since the draw was made, and for some reason – whether it’s his intensity on European nights or the sudden urge to man-manage effectively – his players always seem to turn up in the Champions League, and know how to win against anyone as a result of their manager’s tactical nit-picking, which can prove overbearing week in, week out, but comes in handy when they need it most.


Team to watch: Aston Villa
A first major European semi-final for Villa since 1982, the fans are going to enjoy this. They went all the way that year, winning the European Cup, and should really do the same this season, with their quality and resources far outstripping the clubs remaining in the competition.

Olympiacos have experience on their side, with European football a given for them, though this is their first ever European semi-final, so Villa can expect an even more raucous atmosphere to the deafening norm at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium in the return fixture next week. Unai Emery’s side could really do with a healthy lead after the first leg.

And there’s every chance they’ll have one. Incredibly, such has been their brilliance domestically, they can allow themselves to be fully distracted by the Europa Conference League, with Champions League qualification rivals Spurs looking increasingly unlikely to bypass them in the Premier League.

In Emery they have a manager who has not only masterfully balanced their commitments to thrive in two competitions this season, but also a guy who will go down in history as one of the greatest managers in European knockout football no matter what he achieves from here. And with four Europa League wins already in the bag, a Conference League win is child’s play.

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Player to watch: Jadon Sancho
Sancho scored his 40th Bundesliga goal on Saturday to overtake former Arsenal and Koln striker Tony Woodcock as the highest-scoring Englishman in the history of the German top flight. A record that may well be broken before the end of the season with Harry Kane on 35 goals already with three games left to play. But it created a headline and further opportunity to rub Manchester United noses in the success of their ousted employee.

Seeing him play a Champions League semi-final will be particularly grating after United fans already had to endure him starting each of Borussia Dortmund’s four knockout games to date after he played no part in the competition for them.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe and INEOS will be rooting for him though. Decent performances from Sancho will only serve to bolster summer interest in him and ultimately, they hope, lead to a sale for their asking price, which as it stands it reportedly around the £40m mark – which effectively rules Dortmund out – but could even increase if he plays a significant role in further success in the competition.

Sancho will be well aware he’s in the shop window, and for Dortmund he’s typically delivered when the pressure is on.


EFL game to watch: Coventry v Ipswich
Ipswich need four points from their last two games to be sure of being a Premier League team for the first time since 2002. Back-to-back promotions would also be secured with a draw against either Coventry or Huddersfield if Leeds lose to Southampton on the last day of the season, or one win in their remaining two if Leeds and Southampton draw.

Coventry can’t get in the play-offs, Huddersfield are effectively already relegated and Southampton are assured of a play-off spot, so none of these opponents have anything but pride left to play for. Ipswich are very much in the box seat, but defeat to Coventry on Wednesday takes it out of their hands and gifts the impetus to Leeds and their fans, who will create quite the din at Elland Road on the final day.

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