Champions of Europe: The start of something special for Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea

(Chelsea FC)

Who would have thought it?

When the season kicked off eight months ago on the south coast. When Frank Lampard was sacked in one of the club’s most brutal axings. When Thomas Tuchel was hired to restabilise the near-sunken ship.

Amid all of this season’s highs and lows, who could have envisioned it ending in Chelsea winning the Champions League?

It still feels surreal to say: Chelsea are the champions of Europe.

(Chelsea FC)

The Blues entered Saturday’s showpiece in Porto as the underdogs, a label they have grown accustomed to over the years. Think back to Munich 2012, where Bayern Munich were already planning for the perfect victory on home soil, only to be stunned by the boys from Fulham Road.

This time, it was Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City who stood before Chelsea. A formidable opponent, fresh off the back of securing the Premier League title and chasing a first Champions League triumph. The Citizens were heavily fancied to add another trophy to the overflowing cabinet, seen as invincible and unbreakable by many.

Yet many were forgetting, that it is as underdogs that Chelsea shine brightest.

Even in a Champions League final on the biggest stage in club football, the opening half hour perfectly encapsulated Chelsea’s fortunes this season.

The Blues were bright in attack, yet lacking that clinical touch in the final third. Timo Werner’s flurry of missed chances set a tone of frustration early on, especially when Manchester City would hit on the break.

(Photo by Manu Fernandez – Pool/Getty Images)

City looked dangerous every time they emerged from their own box, like an onslaught of soldiers charging into battle. But for all of the soldiers’ chances, Chelsea defended like warriors, a brave defensive performance which lasted the entirety of the game.

When it came, Kai Havertz’s decisive goal was a moment to savour. Stemming from a simply gorgeous pass from Mason Mount, the German’s confidence and swag to take the ball around Ederson and slot it home into an empty net sparked pandemonium in Porto, London and beyond.

For the first time ever, Chelsea were leading in a Champions League final.

The lead gave Tuchel’s men breathing space and a valuable advantage going into the break, but if anything, that goal made the task ahead even harder.

City were going to fight back, Guardiola was going to unleash his weapons to the maximum, and Chelsea had to defend with every last drop of blood, sweat and tears.

(Getty Images)

That final 45 minutes and counting would be Chelsea’s toughest of the season, yet it proved to be one of Chelsea’s best.

For all of Manchester City’s shortcomings in the second half, Chelsea were magnificent at the back. Thiago Silva’s early departure would have left a gaping hole in the back three, but the Blues were bound together by the leadership of César Azpilicueta, the grit of Antonio Rüdiger and the grace of Andreas Christensen.

Once Chelsea had taken the lead, they were in full flow, unlucky not to extend their lead. In truth, they should have extended their advantage but could not – a statement sounding like a broken record. The fight continued into the Portuguese night, resisting every card Guardiola played and fighting until the very last breath.

The seven minutes of additional time were agonising, but when the final whistle blew, it was all worth it.

Even now, it feels surreal. To describe what it was like in Porto, right there witnessing it live, it was a moment of joy, ecstasy, disbelief. The collective roar from the pitch, the bench and the stands is a sound no-one at the Estádio do Dragão will never forget, a feeling that will never be topped.

(Nischal’s Blog)

Champions of Europe.

Chelsea were outstanding from start to finish, driven on by the magnificent 5,000-strong support who had travelled over land and sea. We were marvellous all day long, from the streets of Avenida dos Aliados to the stands of the Dragão. An exhausting journey across the Bay of Biscay, but one which every Blues fan will affirm was worth it.

Every player on the pitch gave it their all, many having one of their finest performances in blue.

Antonio Rüdiger was incredible from start to finish, bullying Manchester City’s star-studded attack and throwing himself at their every sight of goal.

César Azpilicueta led by true example, making a string of crucial blocks and leading the pack in style. No-one deserves this more than Chelsea’s loyal, long-serving captain.

Ben Chilwell had the game of his life on the left flank, causing Kyle Walker problems all night long with his intelligent runs and superb link-up play.

N’Golo Kanté.

Reece James was marvellous against Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling, producing his greatest display in blue and bombing down the wing in classic James style.

Mason Mount played with his heart on his sleeve, making vital defensive interceptions and getting the winning assist with the most stunning pass he will ever pull off.   

Last but not least, Kai Havertz, the matchwinner who came back from incredible adversity to produce one of the greatest moments in the club’s 116-year history.

(Kai Havertz)

You could list every single player and sing your praises about them – every single one was absolutely outstanding.

Finally, Thomas Tuchel. When the German arrived at Stamford Bridge four months ago, the goal was simply to revive the Blues, maybe even sneak back into the top four.

A fourth-place finish, an FA Cup final and Champions League glory later, he has achieved things no-one thought was possible. He has defied expectations, proven critics wrong and etched his name into Chelsea folklore, joining an exclusive club alongside Roberto Di Matteo as Chelsea’s Champions League-winning managers.

When Azpilicueta lifted the Champions League trophy into the Portuguese sky, it marked a moment no Chelsea fan will ever forget. The end of a nine-year wait, a journey to return to the continental pinnacle – one which the aforementioned Azpilicueta had been present for every step of the way – and earn a second star.

There are so many fascinating storylines to delve into, far too many to fit into one article, but above all, the future is bright.

(Chelsea FC)

This is a young, exciting group of players, a beautiful blend of world-class experience and prosperous youngsters. This is only the start of Tuchel’s project, one which is set to continue with a lucrative contract extension right around the corner.

Tuchel is undoubtedly the man to lead this new era at Stamford Bridge, an opinion shared by even those at the very top of the hierarchy. If he can win the Champions League within four months without a single new player brought in, what will be possible when Tuchel is given the time, money and resources needed for success?

After a gruelling eight months, the curtain has finally fallen on a season like no other. An unforgettable campaign capped off by an unforgettable night, both of which will live in the memories of every Chelsea fan forever.

The 2012 triumph marked the end of an era, but 2021 is the start of a new one. Chelsea Football Club, Champions of Europe – again.

(Chelsea FC)

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READ MORE

Read my Chelsea articles here

Thomas Tuchel: The final piece of the winning puzzle?

Chelsea must channel the spirit of Munich for Champions League glory


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