It’s the one that has got away.
Ever since their maiden Super Cup triumph in 1998, Chelsea have failed to retain the prestigious European accolade. Three continental trophies in seven years, each followed by heartbreak in Monaco, Prague and Istanbul in devastating fashion.
Something had to give.
Seventy-four days on from that dramatic night in Porto Chelsea were back contesting the Super Cup in 2021. Europa League winners Villarreal were the Blues’ opponents in Belfast, a third Spanish opposition in this competition and one not to be underestimated at any cost.
They say football is a game of two halves, and that was certainly the case at Windsor Park.
Chelsea were in cruise control for the opening 45 minutes, peppering the Yellow Submarine’s box with cross after cross from both flanks. It was not until a defensive blip allowed Hakim Ziyech to sweep home that the Blues looked comfortable, only to lose their goalscorer to a shoulder injury 16 minutes later.
Thereafter, it was Villarreal who enjoyed the lion’s share of the chances, growing in confidence and swagger as the game went on. Gerard Moreno’s equaliser was coming for a long time, arriving through some wonderful Villarreal football complemented by some questionable Chelsea defending. All square again.
One hundred and twenty minutes wasn’t enough to separate the respective European champions, despite both sides coming close to nicking it in extra time. Kepa Arrizabalaga’s late introduction suggested Thomas Tuchel knew where this was going, as did their Spanish compatriots who looked just as drained as the Blues.
A penalty shootout in the season’s curtain raiser? Go on then.
Kai Havertz, of all people, missed first with a poor saved effort, unrecognisable from his calm and collected figure in Porto. Chelsea shouldn’t have worried about missing first; a certain Juan Mata had his penalty saved by Manuel Neuer in 2012, and we all know how that one turned out.
Arrizabalaga spared the German’s blushes with his save from Aïssa Mandi before nine perfectly dispatched penalties from those in blue and yellow.
For Arrizabalaga, his Chelsea career has produced every possible emotion a footballer can go through. Trophies, success and plaudits contrasted by criticism, abuse and rejection. Yet, coming off the bench in Belfast, there stood the chance to become a Blues hero and back up a hefty £72 million price tag.
Kepa Arrizabalaga against Raúl Albiol, his vastly experienced fellow Spanish countryman. He needs to score to keep Villarreal alive and kicking in the shootout.
As Windsor Park fell silent for a split second, Kepa stepped up.
After 23 years, the Super Cup is returning to Stamford Bridge, and for the first time in the 21st century and Roman Abramovich era. Chelsea weren’t up to their usual standard – Tuchel will surely be the first to admit that – but no-one said you must play well to win a final.
Job done in Belfast: Super Cup champions.
Chelsea showed glimmers of quality which defined the second half of last season, thriving in the back three system and coming out all guns blazing in the first half. What we saw in the second half was the Chelsea we have become accustomed to: creative yet wasteful, defensively sound yet vulnerable, convincing yet concerning.
At the end of the day, the Blues leave Northern Ireland having achieved their goal of retaining the Super Cup, a second European trophy in a matter of three months.
Thomas Tuchel has got off to a flyer in what should be his first full campaign in west London, and what an achievement it is. A European double inside seven months at the club, continuing to defy expectations and reminding everyone why he deserves to be regarded as one of the best managers in world football.
Arrizabalaga did his job in the shootout, and a word of praise for stand-in captain N’Golo Kanté and inform Hakim Ziyech.
But it was Trevoh Chalobah, on his Chelsea debut no doubt, who deserves all the plaudits. A stunning defensive performance from the 22-year-old Cobham graduate, extending his pre-season form into the new campaign and beyond. Two hours of composure, quality and reliability in what is a debut to remember for the ages.
Chelsea have got off to the perfect start in the 2021/22 season with a piece of silverware the perfect confidence boost for a talented team. The hard work continues on Saturday when the Blues open their Premier League campaign against Crystal Palace, in what will be a gruelling but potentially magnificent nine months in west London.
Tonight, Belfast is blue. Chelsea champions – where have we heard that before?
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