César Azpilicueta has said the chance to make history will drive him on when Chelsea attempt to win the Club World Cup for the first time.
The European champions were beaten finalists on the only other occasion when they qualified and Azpilicueta, who was in the team that lost to Corinthians in 2012, is not short of motivation before Thomas Tuchel’s side look to reach the final on Saturday by beating Al Hilal on Wednesday.
The importance of the occasion is not lost on the 32-year-old defender, who is looking to become the first Chelsea player to win every major trophy at club level, and he knows from bitter experience that it would be a mistake to underestimate the Saudi Arabian champions.
“It’s very difficult to be in this tournament and after 10 years you realise how difficult it is,” Azpilicueta said. “We lost against Corinthians and I had a different feeling. It was my first season at Chelsea and maybe it looks easier than it is. And then with time you realise how difficult it is, first of all just qualifying. So we have to make the most of it, starting with tomorrow’s game. Hopefully that bad experience will help.
“I’m really motivated. In 2012 it hurt a lot. To win it for the first time for the club is huge, we have to make it everything for us. We know it’s going to be difficult. Maybe sometimes in Europe there’s a different perception of what the tournament is but we’re against champions of other continents. We have a huge motivation.”
Azpilicueta, who joined Chelsea from Marseille in 2012, refused to say whether completing his medal collection could convince him to seek a fresh challenge this summer. The Spaniard is out of contract at the end of the season and could join Barcelona but he is not thinking about his future. “That’s not important right now,” he said. “It’s to win the trophy. We’re trying to create our own history.”
Chelsea have travelled to Abu Dhabi without Tuchel, who is in quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19 last Friday. The manager could join up with the squad on Friday if he tests negative.
Tuchel’s assistants, Zsolt Low and Arno Michels, will lead the team against Al Hilal. Low said that goalkeeper Édouard Mendy could fly to Abu Dhabi on Wednesday after winning the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal last Sunday. However Kepa Arrizabalaga is expected to start in goal.
Reece James is unavailable with a hamstring injury and Mason Mount is a doubt after limping off during Chelsea’s victory over Plymouth Argyle in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Saturday. “Mason is getting better every day,” Low said. “We’ll take the last decision tomorrow.”
Al Hilal are managed by Leonardo Jardim, who led Monaco to the Champions League semi-finals in 2017, and could pose problems. They have the former Porto striker Moussa Marega, the former Manchester United forward Odion Ighalo and the former West Brom playmaker Matheus Pereira.
However Jardim, whose side reached the last four after thrashing Al Jazira 6-1 last Sunday, believes the tournament’s schedule will give Chelsea a physical advantage. “I’d like to give a warning to Fifa and I find it unfair some teams have to play four matches in eight days and other teams, the best, have to play two matches with their teams rested,” he said. “There should be better care with the match schedule to recover so Asia and South America can have ambition to win this cup.”