On the eve of Barcelona’s Champions League tie with Chelsea, Gus Poyet has claimed that the English champions are like Real Madrid in the sense they only play like champions at certain moments.
Antonio Conte’s charges have struggled domestically this season and haven’t been able to defend their crown in the way the Italian would have liked, although it must be stated that Manchester City have been sensational.
The Uruguayan coach has just embarked on a new adventure with Bordeaux in Ligue 1, having previously gained coaching experience with spells in England, China and Spain.
In an exclusive interview with MARCA, the former Chelsea midfielder detailed just what he learnt at Real Betis, as well as giving a prediction on the big Champions League clash at Stamford Bridge.
How do you see Chelsea’s tie with Barcelona going?
“I see Chelsea as a destabilised team, they are struggling and this has happened too many times after winning the title. The next season things go wrong. It happened with Ancelotti, Mourinho and now Conte. Last season Chelsea were strong and had a solid system, now you don’t know what is going to happen. Sometimes they lose 3-0 at home and they are similar to Real Madrid; they only play like champions at certain moments.”
How has your start been in Ligue 1?
“I’ve had a dream start, you always want to make an impact, especially when you take over a team where things aren’t going well. Winning three successive matches goes some way to making an impact, it does a lot to convince people.”
How is your French?
“I know how to speak French because as a young man I spent time in Grenoble. The problem is with Mauricio Taricco, he doesn’t understand my instructions.”
Are you surprised by French football?
“There are very powerful players who are very quick. In Spain there is more ball control, which is what I like the most, however, over here you need to find a balance based on the players you have. In my squad there are a lot of players under 23 years old who are always developing.”
Everyone is talking about Malcolm, can you see why?
“He is a special player who can win matches on his own. He is often double-marked because his talent is that special, and in January we were nervous because we almost lost him to the Premier League. We must prepare for this because sooner or later he will leave.”
How have you changed since working in Seville and China?
“I am passionate. When I was offered the Bordeaux interview I didn’t stop watching their games. I read a lot and tried to learn everything I could. It was easier to do that here than in China. I relish challenges and I learned in Betis that I didn’t prepare myself enough before taking the job. I found a club riddled with internal conflict and that affected my work. I wasn’t prepared for that.”
Why did you go to China?
“I went for many reasons. Firstly I chose to go so soon after leaving Real Betis because you never know what will happen to that league in the future. I also thought about my coaching staff as they needed jobs. The economic benefits were good but the human experience was brutal.”
Is LaLiga already decided?
“It’s interesting. Atletico Madrid doesn’t have Champions League football to deal with and are almost waiting for Barcelona to make a mistake. If Barcelona are able to win the next few matches then they will walk to the title, although if that doesn’t happen then Atletico has a chance.”
What is it about Chelsea which seems to cause Barcelona such difficulties?
“They have a way of defending in these matches that comes with the tacticians who have worked there previously. Italian coaches and Jose Mourinho defend the central areas and this makes it difficult to play.”
Will Messi and Hazard make the difference?
“It’s a safe bet that Messi will perform, this isn’t always the case with Hazard. We need to see what Hazard will turn up, it depends on if Conte gives him the freedom to play on the left.”
It’s seems almost sacrilegious for Valverde to dispense with the 4-3-3, why is it working?
“This is a great testament to Valverde’s coaching. He has made a team that wins and plays within a different system that has previously been seen as unusable. He’s found the formula without results slipping.”
You were present for the birth of the Chelsea/Barcelona rivalry, how did that tie play out?
“Figo’s goal in the first leg killed us and I was furious about not playing in that match. I knew Barcelona better than anyone because I had been with Real Zaragoza. Ray Wilkins told us that if we didn’t score in the second leg we would be eliminated, and we started well with Tore Andre Flo’s goal but then Barcelona came back. It went to extra time and we needed to score, but we had 10 men and could barely touch the ball.”
Do you think Chelsea learned from that experience?
“They learned a lot from that, definitely. Barcelona played a different kind of football, they were focused and organised and waited for their opportunity. Now, I don’t see many great teams open up against Barcelona.”
Are the Blaugrana favourites for this tie?
“Yes, if we look at their form and league position.”
Can Messi be stopped?
“Chelsea’s system with three central defenders and two wing-backs will attempt to block him in the central zone. In this zone there will be many bodies and it will be an interesting tactical battle. I am seeing these matches from the coach’s point of view now.”
Do you think Luis Suarez is the best forward in the world?
“Luis is a striker that I would love to have. I understand football in the same way he does. If I enter a pitch then I have to win the match. Luis always finds a way to win and that makes him special and very Uruguayan. For me, he is the best forward, perhaps not technically but in his attitude.”
Would you like to coach him at international level one day?
“I hope that Mister Tabarez will last many more years, but obviously I would like to work with him in my team. I’d like to coach both Suarez and Cavani, so it would have to be soon!”
Would you coach in Spain again?
“Of course, it’s the perfect league in which to play football. I like my teams to play good football and I couldn’t do this at all at Betis.”
Was Real Betis tough?
“Absolutely, I was bothered by immediate discomfort when I arrived.”
Discomfort that almost saw Quique Setien lose his job recently, do you agree?
“Yes, but now he is en route to Europe. I ask them please to let Setien work, his teams have played really well and he just needs time and calmness.”
Are you following Real Zaragoza?
“Yes, of course. The whole process that was experienced with Agapito Iglesias hurt me a lot, these things affected me badly. Zaragoza is my club, the one which helped me develop in Europe, without them I would never have got to Chelsea. There will be a time for me to return there.”