Nearly eight years on since our against-the-odds Champions League run, and the memories are still fresh in our mind. How could we forget them? We still remain the only team in London to boast winning the trophy with big ears. However, reliving it is a different concept altogether. Despite the words “It’s the greatest night in Chelsea’s history” ringing in my ears, I barely knew the rules of the game apart from the fact that we should be putting the ball in the other teams net- I was 11. It is the age when we would play with the maximum number of strikers on FIFA; and the least possible defenders. Utilising this newfound time, I will be attempting to tempt you to embark on this journey with me again and relive the days when we used to be one of the most feared sides in Europe. When we finally claimed the crown, after reaching ever so close five years prior. When, in simple terms, life peaked.
Over the next few weeks, I will be writing about each and every single one of our games on road to Munich, analysing each game in detail. Make known the unsung heroes who are often overlooked. Uncovering fun facts such as Ross Turnbull having more UCL titles than Gianluigi Buffon- yes, you read that right.
The first article based on this series will be looking into the group stages of the competition. We were drawn alongside Bundesliga runners up Bayer Leverkusen, Spanish club Valencia CF, and Belgian Champions Genk.
Game 1: Chelsea vs Bayer Leverkusen 2-0
Our first Champions League match under Andre Villas-Boas was at home to Bayer Leverkusen, who had just lost their manager Jupp Heynckes to Bayern Munich; where we faced him as the final hurdle before success. It also marked the return of fan favourite midfielder Micheal Ballack to London. The German club’s line-up also included future Chelsea player Andre Schurrle. Meanwhile Villas-Boas had rested legendary duo John Terry and Frank Lampard. In the pre-VAR era, this game was full of controversies, with both sides being denied a goal in the first half. While it looked a balanced game at half time with both teams creating several chances, Chelsea really turned the heat up in the second half, forcing current Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno into several fingertip saves. Record signing Fernando Torres wasn’t at his best, and missed a few good opportunities, but provided assists for both the goals which followed. David Luiz scored the Blues first goal in the 67th minute with a tidy finish, with Spanish playmaker Juan Mata ensuring the three points stayed in London. Anelka did have a legitimate goal cancelled for offside, which would have been overturned now by VAR (or not, we have witnessed some erratic decisions), but we clinched the three points whilst maintaining a clean sheet. A perfect start on our journey to conquer the coveted piece of silverware.
Game 2: Valencia vs Chelsea 1-1
If you imagined this match was calm after the previous game’s shenanigans, then you are wildly mistaken, as this game was even worse than the previous. Chelsea started the game brilliantly and nearly won a penalty in the first three minutes when Adil Rami brought Torres down, but the referee adjudged that there was not enough contact. A flurry of shots followed and brought the best out of Diego Alves, the Valencia goalkeeper. The game ended goalless at half time, but was brought to life in a frantic second half. Lampard put the Blues ahead in the 56th minute with a strike from distance, followed by several wasted opportunities by both Torres and Anelka. Soldado equalized for the hosts from the penalty spot in the dying minutes of the game, after Kalou handled the ball inside the box. The game ended with numerous yellow cards being brandished and the managers had to intervene to cool the situation. Two games in, still unbeaten.
Game 3: Chelsea vs Genk 5-0
Chelsea really turned up for the third game, demolishing the Belgian champions. John Terry was benched for this game as well, but defenders were hardly required for this game, along with Petr Cech as the visitors had zero shots on target throughout the game. We absolutely steamrolled past them, and ended the game with 63% possession. Four of the five goals were scored before the half time whistle, with Meireles and Ivanovic adding to Torres’ brace. Chelsea seemed a little more relaxed in the second half, and added just one more courtesy of Kalou. Unbeaten after three games, Chelsea were in the driving seat and almost guaranteed a round of 16 spot.
Game 4: Genk vs Chelsea 1-1
Following their demolition in London, the Genk faithful welcomed Chelsea to Belgium with a rather hostile atmosphere. The hosts caused problems in the first 10 minutes, but Chelsea soon found their rhythm, opening the scoring in the 26th minute courtesy of Ramires. Despite naming a weak starting XI which saw Lampard, Terry, Mata and Sturridge on the bench, Chelsea cruised through the first half. Raul Meireles hit the crossbar, shortly followed by David Luiz having his penalty saved. The second half began with a transformed home team, and they dominated the game before equalizing in the 61st minute. Chelsea continued with their philosophy of missing sitters, and eventually had to settle for a draw. A certain Kevin De Bruyne also featured in this game, rings a bell doesn’t it?
Game 5: Bayer Leverkusen vs Chelsea 2-1
This game started in a very aggressive manner, with Chelsea seemingly the better side of the two. Both the teams were aware that the winner of the game would ensure qualification for the knockouts. After a reckless and sloppy first half where both teams missed chances, Chelsea finally took the lead courtesy of Didier Drogba three minutes into the second period. The hosts equalised through Derdiyok in the 73rd minute and snatched the three points with a 91st minute header by Freidrich. The Chelsea players only had themselves to blame and rued the missed chances while the German side ensured qualification for the round of 16.
Game 6: Chelsea vs Valencia 3-0
knowing a win would confirm qualification, Chelsea turned up with only one intention in mind. Drogba put the London side ahead in the third minute, and a huge sigh of relief was detected around Stamford Bridge. What followed was very nervy, as Valencia dominated the next few minutes, knowing full well a single goal would ensure qualification for the Unai Emery coached side. Ramires then doubled the home team’s lead in the 22nd minute, which calmed all the nerves of the Chelsea faithful. Petr Cech had brought his A game for this match and made several saves which left the fans and teammates alike with their jaws dropped in awe. Drogba added another in the 76th minute, and now Chelsea could finally relax as qualification was confirmed. After a backs-to-the-wall performance of purely playing on the counter, Chelsea sealed top spot after Genk secured an unlikely draw against Bayer Leverkusen.
So that is how the eventful group stage panned out. Despite being table toppers, we were drawn to face Cavani-led Napoli in the round of 16. For in depth analysis of the game, remember to tune in same time next week.