Chelsea Football Club become the first-ever side to have both of their men’s and women’s teams in the finals of their respective UEFA Champions Leagues simultaneously.
Calm. Composed. Comprehensive. That were Chelsea last night at Stamford Bridge as they brushed aside a seasoned Real Madrid side without ever really breaking sweat to set up an all-English Champions League final against Manchester City later this month, emulating the achievement of the club’s women’s side who reached their own Champions League final last week.
Given their defensive solidity under Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea were already in a relatively comfortable position with their away goal advantage, but they chose not to sit on it. Instead, they came out of the gates looking sharp and intent on frustrating Los Blancos.
Chelsea’s attackers looked in-sync and dangerous moving around the Real defence. Zinedine Zidane’s decision to play Vinícius Júnior as an auxiliary right-wingback didn’t seem to work at all, as the Blues managed to note that weakness early on and bombarded their left flank with quick movements. The young attacker often found himself pegged back by Ben Chilwell, who also managed to extract a few silly fouls out of him.
Still, for all their chemistry, Chelsea continued to scupper their chances, mostly because of their poor-quality shots and also because of Thibaut Courtois, who managed to keep Real a little longer in the game by producing a few fine saves.
Chelsea finally managed to make a breakthrough in the 28th minute when Kai Havertz tried to chip Courtois at the end of a well-worked move, only for the ball to bounce off the crossbar right in front of the goal and fall on Timo Werner’s head, who despite his lack of sharpshooting this season could not miss from less than two yards. Werner’s movement and link-up play has made him a vital cog in Tuchel’s attack in recent weeks, but with this finish the German will be looking to finally start adding more goals to his game.
Another thing that did not work for Zidane was his decision to include too many players in his starting line-up who were just returning from injuries. Sergio Ramos and Ferland Mendy, for all their talent and traits, looked rusty. Eden Hazard, who has been anything but fit during his time with Real, got a rare nod to play from the start, but could barely make any crucial contribution up front. The Belgian’s reputation seemed to play more on the pitch than he did, because of which he was able to attract a few fouls from his former team, albeit to little avail.
Real Madrid grew in possession as the minutes went by, but they could muster little more than feeble shots from distance against an incredibly disciplined Chelsea back-line that has been the highlight of Tuchel’s time with the Blues thus far. Even the serial winners of Real Madrid seemed to lose their cool over the obstinacy of this Chelsea defence.
The final nail in Real’s coffin came in the 85th minute, when Mason Mount successfully converted a low-driven cross from Christian Pulisic to confirm his side’s trip to the Atatürk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul later this month.
For both Real Madrid and Chelsea, work is far from over as far as their respective domestic leagues are concerned.
Real find themselves in a rare four-way title race in LaLiga and face fellow contenders Sevilla at the weekend. They need to win their remaining fixtures and hope for some luck going their way to retain the Spanish crown and hence, avoid a trophyless season.
Chelsea are fourth in the Premier League with the top-four race wide open going into the last four games of the season. They have a relatively tough run of fixtures coming up, beginning with the one away at Manchester City, which will now serve as a tasty prelude to the Champions League final. Their final three fixtures in the league are Arsenal (H), Leicester City (H) and Aston Villa (A). As good as they are defensively, their lack of finishing still makes them prone to drop points in draws, so a top-four finish is by no means a forgone conclusion. Chelsea would like to make sure that they don’t have to depend on winning the Champions League to make sure they play in it next season.
They’re also in the final of the FA Cup, in which they’ll be facing Leicester City at Wembley Stadium next weekend. A season that felt like it was slipping away into pointlessness when Frank Lampard was dismissed, might just end up being one of Chelsea’s most decorated ones in their recent history.