Soccer - Chelsea not at top level but still tough to beat, says Tuchel

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Champions League - Group H - Chelsea v Zenit St Petersburg - Stamford Bridge, London, Britain - September 14, 2021 Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel before the match REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

(Reuters) - Chelsea are not yet playing at their best but are doing enough to ensure they remain a tough side to beat in the Premier League, manager Thomas Tuchel said on Friday.

European champions Chelsea are in second place level on 10 points with league leaders Manchester United, Liverpool and Everton but Tuchel acknowledged they had issues to sort out after a draw at Liverpool and home win over Aston Villa.

"I didn't expect us to be at our top level early in September, especially after this pre-season and COVID," Tuchel told reporters ahead of Sunday's match at London rivals Tottenham Hotspur, who are one point behind.

"For me at the moment, it's more important that we are competitive, we play relentless and have belief to overcome difficult minutes and periods within games... Competition is high. It's a good thing that we are able to win.

"I'm not saying we're not playing well, we can play better but we are tough to beat. A win helps with atmosphere -- keep calm and also be open to criticism. In the moment, I feel everybody is aware that we can do better."

Tuchel added that it was "always a good time" to play Spurs and looked forward to the clash of the two teams' strikers -- Chelsea's Romelu Lukaku and Spurs' Harry Kane.

While Lukaku has hit the ground running with three goals in three starts on his Premier League return, Kane has yet to open his league account after winning the Golden Boot last season.

"They score decisive goals and love to score, always score no matter what the competition is," the German manager said.

"That's the similarity but apart from this they are very different players. If Kane plays, we have to focus on how to defend him."

Tuchel said midfielder N'Golo Kante has recovered from a foot injury but Christian Pulisic (ankle) is not in the squad.

(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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