With the draw for the last 16 of the Champions League made earlier this month it sent shockwaves through the footballing stratosphere, we take a look at the chances Chelsea have of European glory for the second time.
Initially, referring back to their previous victory in 2012, the Blues mixed up a perfect Champions League winning formula that consisted of two parts performance and tactics, to admittedly one part luck on their road to lifting the trophy.
That being said, the group stages of the competition that year saw Chelsea sweep aside Valencia, Genk and Leverkusen with ease to finish as group winners, setting the stall out early.
Their first knockout game resulted in a 3-1 away defeat at the hands of Napoli, seemingly ending Chelsea’s European campaign before it had gathered any real steam.
However, the fightback that followed a fortnight later saw them win 4-1 on the night to hand Stamford Bridge the accolade for hosting its first huge ‘European night’, a special atmosphere indeed.
Didier Drogba sparked the game alight that evening with the opening goal, the Ivorian then going on to become imperative as the competition reached its bitter end.
The quarter final tie with Benfica was more of a formality with Di Matteo’s men taking a 1-0 win in Portugal back to England for the second leg, where they won 2-1 on the night to book a semi final clash with Barcelona, the toughest of tests.
A solitary Didier Drogba goal in the home tie was never going to be enough to tame the Spanish giants, with Busquetes and Iniesta giving the Catalan a 2-0 lead at the Camp Nou.
However, cometh the hour, cometh Ramires to score one of the finest Champions League goals to be witnessed on the stroke of half time.
Then came the onslaught and a true test of Chelsea’s Champions League credentials and resolve. Wave after wave of Barcelona attack came, but the defence stood strong and gripped onto their away goal advantage with everything at their disposal.
That unforgettable piece of Gary Neville commentary on Fernando Torres’ late equaliser to seal the victory made the evening one for the history books, securing Chelsea’s place in their second Champions League final against Bayern Munich.
The Bavarian heavyweights had home advantage on that special night in May 2012. As tight as the encounter was, Thomas Muller’s late goal to break the deadlock seemed too heartbreaking for Chelsea to survive, but Didier Drogba literally rose to the occasion shortly after to equalise with a thumping header before the full time whistle was to blow.
Their success in the penalty shootout saw Drogba take the world on his shoulders once more and bury the deciding penalty low into the corner of the net, history made, Chelsea champions of Europe.
The reason behind my reminiscing is to remind people of just how much character Chelsea showed to win that trophy back in 2012. The comeback against Napoli, the grit against Barcelona and retaliation against Bayern are all events that will have changed the mentality of Chelsea as a football club when it comes to European football.
The winning mentality that Jose Mourinho brought to domestic matters shortly after Abramovic’s takeover also helped, giving the players a never say die attitude. Securing your first European success can go a long way in the big games that follow, future Champions League nights at the Bridge, semi final and finals become more natural, huge night’s suddenly become less daunting.
History and mentality aside, if you look at Chelsea’s squad, the first point people raise is the size – it’s not big enough. What some people don’t realise, is the quality that pronounces itself from the goalkeeper Courtois, to the spearhead of their team Alvaro Morata. Morata has already showed his qualities this season, he’s proved he can do it in the big games.
The winning goal against Manchester United at home, an away equaliser to Atletico in the group stages, just to name a couple. The even more frightening thing for Chelsea’s opposition is the cohesion between Morata and Hazard.
The Belgian is unplayable at the best of times, but his ability to link up with Morata despite how many players surround him is enough to terrify any defence. Their nucleus of 16 squad players is as strong as any and of course, if they are to be successful in Europe this season, they’re going to need to avoid injury – but aren’t most sides?
In terms of this season, they’ve not been far shy of their best. A stuttering start against Burnley and a defeat against an imperious Manchester City aside, and their domestic campaign has been difficult to scrutinise.
Taking maximum points against Spurs and Manchester United, alongside draws against Arsenal and Liverpool are results that cannot be disregarded across the course of a season. It could be said that it’s because of Manchester City’s success so far that Chelsea have gone under the radar somewhat – rightly so considering their title rivals form this season.
I personally feel that their tie against Barcelona is winnable. In fact, thepunterspage.com have them at odds of 23/10 ‘To Qualify’ which looks good value to me. They have the perfect manager in Conte to suppress the potency of Barcelona’s attack, especially if they set up in the solid 3-4-3 formation we’ve seen them adapt plenty of times under the Italian.
Should they progress, they will hope the draw may be kinder to them, though the competition will undoubtedly get tougher. As mentioned earlier, as well as excellent tactics and a higher level of performance, a certain degree of luck is needed to win the Champions League.
The odd dubious decision, some dogged defending or moment of brilliance going forward – we will see if Chelsea have it in the locker again come the knockout stages in January.
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