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villa test Thomas Tuchel has been loyal to a bunch of Chelsea players who just may not be able to go the distance

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Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel knows that he is three or four players shy of a title-winning team

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel knows that he is three or four players shy of a title-winning team

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel knows that he is three or four players shy of a title-winning team

THIS will not at all be easy for the club I supported as a boy, against the club I played for as a man.

Yes, Chelsea control their own destiny against Aston Villa this afternoon. They win and they are into the Champions League next season.

But getting that win will be a hard task at Villa Park against a home team determined to end a really good season with a big performance in front of the 10,000 fans who will be allowed into the game.

It is a huge match for Chelsea to be playing just six days before their Champions League final – but that is where they find themselves.

A bad loss to Arsenal in the Premier League and a lost FA Cup final to Leicester City last weekend means the London club are peering at the horror of losing out on a Champions League place for next season by losing today and then again next Saturday night in Porto.

That would be an awful lot of hearbreak in May!

And it would certainly ruin Thomas Tuchel’s ambition to rebuild the Chelsea squad in the manner he would want to.

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Chelsea's Timo Werner hasn't hit the highs expected of him

Chelsea's Timo Werner hasn't hit the highs expected of him

Chelsea's Timo Werner hasn't hit the highs expected of him

You may be sure that when he arrived at Stamford Bridge in January, the German was given the short-term job of ‘get us into the Champions League next season’ and the long-term one of, ‘there will be money to rebuild as you see fit’.

If Tuchel (below) wants to attract the very best footballers to West London for next season, he has to be able to offer them Champions League football in 2021/22.

That’s why winning today, or next Saturday night, is such a big issue.

Just as I have said about Manchester United, Chelsea know they are three or four top players away from closing the gap to Manchester City.

They need those top players and they don’t need to be playing in the Europa League every Thursday either if they are to get them.

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Playing catch-up all through the season, while your title rivals have put three points on the board every Saturday, is not a good idea.

Watching Chelsea of late I get the vibe that they are running out of steam as a busy season comes to its climax.

Since he became boss, Tuchel has used the same core of 13 or 14 players, gradually freezing some players, like Tammy Abraham and Matteo Kovacic, out of the action.

Now it comes down to the last two games of the campaign and Tuchel has no option but to go again with those 13 or 14 stalwarts and hope adrenalin will see his players through.

It might just prove to be a long-term mistake that Tuchel has made. He has been extremely loyal to a bunch of players who just may not be able to go the distance for him now.

For Villa, it has been a top, top campaign. Many had Dean Smith’s guys down as possible relegation contenders last summer.

But they have played well all season and were even solid contenders for a European place next season at one point.

That fell away in recent weeks, losing points where they ought to have taken one or three from matches, all coinciding with the injury that kept Jack Grealish out of action.

Midfielder Grealish is the key to everything good about this Aston Villa side.

He gives them the bit of class that many other teams of their level don’t have.

The lad will be desperate to play, and play well today, as it is his last chance to influence England boss Gareth Southgate before he picks his 26-strong squad to go to the Euros next month.

Before his injury, Grealish was certain to go. And have a fair run at being a starter.

But of late, another lad who wil be playing this afternoon, Chelsea’s Mason Mount, has been outstanding, one of the club’s better players in spite of the poor results.

Even with UEFA allowing national team managers to take extra players to these finals, will Southgate opt to take both Mount and Grealish, players who play a very similar role?

Certainly Southgate has plenty of options. We can see that from other players currently on the outside looking in.

Unless the England boss reverses tack from recent squad announcements, it looks like Patrick Bamford of Leeds, despite all his fine performances for Marcelo Bielsa’s team this season, is not getting into the England group.

And Liverpool full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold is another player right on the brink for the Euros as the manager harbours doubts about Trent’s defensive work.

So Grealish will be on edge today and so will the rest of a Villa side that are going to make Chelsea work really hard for these three points.

Chelsea had better watch out for Ollie Watkins, who has been a real star for the Villa this season.

He arrived at Villa Park last summer from Brentford in the Championship, after the London side missed out on promotion via the play-offs.

Watkins has taken to life in the Premier League so well that Gareth Southgate has picked him a few times for England.

He’s an old-fashioned forward who works hard, lays the ball off and can pass it to best effect.

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Aston Villa's Jack Grealish has been unlucky with injuries this season

Aston Villa's Jack Grealish has been unlucky with injuries this season

Aston Villa's Jack Grealish has been unlucky with injuries this season

I really like him and I hope Gareth, whom I played with and is a cracking lad, takes him to the Euros. A goal today would help his cause no end.

Watkins’ improvement, and England recognition, is another feather in the cap of Smith who has brought what is largely a young side into the top half of the table.

At the start of the season, all I wanted Villa to do was stay up.

That they were never in the slightest danger of going down is a wonderful tribute to the work of Smith and his coaching staff.

Dean won’t be in the Manager of the Year conversation.

Not with what Pep Guardiola has done at Manchester City, not with how Bielsa’s Leeds have entertained us, not with Sean Dyche keeping Burnley in the Premier League yet again on a shoestring budget.

But maybe Dean does deserve to be mentioned for what he has done with a club who may mess up Chelsea’s dreams today.

Then the Dark Blues would have to go to Portugal for Saturday’s showpiece against Manchester City – where things might go badly wrong.

It would be a mammoth achievement for players and management alike to pick themselves up from all the recent disappointments and then go on to win the Champions League against Manchester City.

I really hope they can do it as I was a Chelsea supporter at the age of 10.

Peter Osgood and Charlie Cooke were my boyhood idols, the footballers I wanted to be.

I never got to play for Chelsea but I still love them and my prediction for next Saturday night comes from the head and the heart.

The head says City, who have been brilliant this season and I do think they have been the best side in Europe this season.

They deserve to end a stellar campaign with the trophy with the big handles.

But Paul McGrath’s heart was always, and always will be, Chelsea.

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