The climax of a season like no other is finally upon us.
A painful managerial change, a forgettable FA Cup final, the European Super League chaos and the sorry absence of fans, meaning a staggering 88% of games this campaign were played behind closed doors.
Yet, amidst all of the storylines, who would have thought that Chelsea would be in the Champions League final.
There is never a quiet week at Chelsea, and in the case of the 2020/21 season, we will never see another season like it. To go from ninth in the Premier League to securing top four and reaching two major finals, that is an achievement to be proud of.
The 2021 Champions League final will be the Blues’ third appearance in the showpiece event, having previously won one and lost one.
There was misery in Moscow in 2008, where Manchester United prevailed on penalties in the Russian rain. That was followed by miracles in Munich four years later, where Chelsea became the first – and only – team in London to win the coveted trophy. As the road to glory takes them to Porto, this is their biggest match since that night in 2012.
For all of Chelsea’s misfortunes and inconsistencies throughout the domestic season, they have been nothing short of marvellous on the continental stage.
Under the guidance of Frank Lampard, Chelsea won their Champions League group for the first time in five years, without a single defeat and conceding just twice in Group E.
Many would have been forgiven for underestimating the Blues’ abilities in the knockout stages, but with Thomas Tuchel at the helm, they made it look easy. The eventual La Liga winners in Atlético Madrid. The defending Portuguese champions in Porto. The defending La Liga winners in Real Madrid.
All tried, and failed, to defeat Tuchel’s winning machine.
Add the defending Europa League champions in Sevilla to that list, and it just goes to show the calibre of opponents faced on the path to Portugal. Lampard put Chelsea in pole position, and Tuchel has guided them to the final lap.
Chelsea do not approach the game in the best predicament, having lost the FA Cup Final to Leicester City and fallen to three defeats in their last four games. Even their concerning final record has caught attention, losing eight of the last 11 major finals.
They face formidable opposition too, a Manchester City side in their first ever Champions League final and aiming to complete a terrific treble. Led by the serial-winning Pep Guardiola, whose major final record of 14 wins in 15 attempts is astounding, the English champions will show no remorse.
The final must be isolated as one game and one game only, but context offers mixed reading for those in royal blue. Chelsea’s form and success is far inferior to that of the Citizens, yet in the two meetings between Tuchel and Guardiola this season, it is Tuchel who has prevailed in both.
Tactics, team selection and preparation will all influence the game, but above all, Chelsea must have that belief.
The spirit of Munich 2012, where Roberto Di Matteo’s underdogs arrived at the Allianz Arena, facing up to German goliath Bayern Munich, and beating them in their own backyard.
When everyone had written off Chelsea, fresh off the back of a sixth-place finish in the league, already preparing the red ribbons for the coveted trophy.
That mentality of fighting for their lives, never giving up and rising above the adversity to give Chelsea Football Club the greatest night in their history. For all of the football played and penalties taken, it was the mentality and motivation which guided Chelsea to glory that day.
Fast forward nine years, and this current squad is better than the class of 2012. What they lack in leadership and behemoth status provided by the old guard, they make up for in individual quality, star-studded players and a talented crop of academy products.
Even the manager this time round is a better suited candidate: a Champions League finalist last year with Paris Saint-Germain compared to, with the greatest due respect, someone who had only previously managed MK Dons and West Bromwich Albion. Tuchel is the man to lead Chelsea to glory, whenever that may be.
Saturday’s final will be a nothing short of the ultimate showpiece event, as two of England’s most exciting teams face off in Porto. Tuchel against Guardiola, N’Golo Kanté against Kevin De Bruyne, Thiago Silva against Sergio Agüero. This has the potential to be a European classic in Portugal.
Chelsea’s sole Champions League victory remains the greatest night in the club’s 116-year history. Now they have the chance to do it all over again.
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