The UEFA Champions League is the most coveted European cup competition. Chelsea FC are one of ten teams who have won this prestigious competition once in their existence, and are looking to double that tally when they face Manchester City on the 29th of May. Chelsea won their solo Champions League title back in 2012, when Didier Drogba slotted home the winning penalty in a 1-1 draw againt German superpowers Bayern Munich. But what has changed at the club since that fabled night in Munich?
Nine years is a relatively long time but seems to be a lifetime in football.
The penalty shootout victory over Bayern Munich wrote the etched the names of a special group of players in the history books, with Didier Drogba, Petr Cech, and a left-midfield Ryan Bertrand heralded for their roles in the Blues’ victory. Not a single player from that star studded remains at Chelsea – and you can see why, it has been 9 years since we’re back in the Champions League, and players that were in their prime in 2012, are now either retired or at smaller clubs (David Luiz at Arsenal comes to mind), playing in the twilight years of their careers.
Petr Cech, Jose Bosingwa, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Ross Turnbull, Michael Essien, Paulo Ferreira, Florent Malouda and Fernando Torres have all hung up their boots on illustrious careers, while the likes of David Luiz, Juan Mata, Gary Cahill, John Obi Mikel, Ryan Bertrand, Salomon Kalou and Oriol Romeu continue to ply their trades at different clubs, scattered across the world.
After years of rebuilding, Chelsea seem to have a star studded squad reminiscent of Chelsea back in 2012 , with talisman Mason Mount emerging as the team’s driving force. Eduoard Mendy, Chelsea’s Senegalese goalkeeper, who signed from Rennes this season, is doing his best Petr Cech impression – keeping 8 clean sheets in the UCL, a backline consisting of a permutation of Cesar Azpilicueta, Thiago Silva, Andreas Christensen, Antonio Rudiger and Kurt Zouma playing their best football and ensuring that Mendy’s job is reduced. Jorginho has been revived under Thomas Tuchel and has been a revelation playing in a pivot with the likes of N’golo Kante, Billy Gilmour and Matteo Kovacic. The wingbacks’ Reece James and Ben Chilwell too have developed into instrumental players for the squad. A huge summer spree, netted the likes of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech who join the likes of Tammy Abraham, Christian Pulisic, Olivier Giroud and Callum Hudson Odoi to create a lethal and world class strike force. I’d go as far as saying that the talent the present squad possesses is on par with the 2012 squad.
Since 2012 Chelsea have gone from Roberto Di Matteo, who arrived mid season, won them them the Champions League, and was promptly sacked – to Thomas Tuchel , another manager who has arrived midway through the season, but doesn’t look sack-able in the least.
Di Matteo took charge of a squad that was still fighting for a Champions League spot in the Premier League, and for a place in the quarter finals of the FA Cup and the Champions League. Chelsea could still win two trophies, though Torres scoring a hat trick looked more likely at that time. What Boas lacked in man-management, Di Matteo had it in him plentiful. He got the ‘old guard’ of Chelsea performing as if they were in their prime. Lampard, Drogba, Terry were at the center of Chelsea victories with a good supporting cast of Ivanovic and Ramires. The team overturned the deficit against Napoli and waltzed into the UCL semifinals. What happened next, possibly changed their season. Playing against probably the best team of our time, a resilient Chelsea team managed to beat Barcelona over two legs and even avoided defeat at the Camp Nou despite being down to 10 men. Spurred by this confidence, Di Matteo’s team went on to beat Liverpool in the FA Cup finals. Towards the end of the season, Roberto di Matteo seemed to give up on his team’s chances in the Premier League, often playing second-string line ups even against teams like Arsenal and Liverpool. But, having gambled next season’s UCL qualification on winning the UCL tournament itself, paid off when they defeated Bayern Munich in Munich.
When Tuchel took over, though, he never gave the impression that Chelsea were a team crying out for huge repairs. He looked at his squad, found little wrong with it and simply tweaked the system, switching to a 3-4-2-1 formation that gave them a better structure. Chelsea look impenetrable at the moment, with Édouard Mendy impressing in goal. They have kept 18 clean sheets in Tuchel’s first 24 games and look equipped to take on City in Istanbul on 29 May. Tuchel has already recorded one big win against Guardiola this season, outwitting his friend when Chelsea won their FA Cup semi-final against City last month.
The natural temptation is to hark back to previous mid-season managerial changes by Abramovich, who saw Avram Grant take Chelsea to the Champions League final in 2008 and Roberto Di Matteo win the tournament four years later. But this is different. Chelsea were on auto-pilot under Grant and they had plenty of luck under Di Matteo. There is no comparison to be made with this controlled run under Tuchel.
P.S Here’s a fun thread for you to enjoy comparing 2012 to 2021 in the footballing world, and explaining why this is Chelsea’s year