For the second time in the club’s history, Chelsea are champions of Europe!
Kai Havertz scored the only goal as the Blues beat Manchester City 1-0 in Porto on Saturday night, just over nine years after they won their first Champions League.
While 2012 was more about luck, and a massive hint of destiny for Didier Drogba, Petr Cech, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and John Terry finally winning the big one for the Blues; 2021 was Chelsea getting the trophy they, frankly, deserved to win.
On the night, N’Golo Kante rightly received the plaudits for a phenomenal performance, but it wasn’t just one game that won Chelsea the Champions League. It was 13 solid performances across the year in which they were horrible to play against.
Best defence in the competition
In their 13 Champions League games in 2020/21, from group stage opener to final, Chelsea conceded just four goals. Rennes, Krasnodar, Porto and Real Madrid were the four teams to breach the Chelsea net, all managing one goal. No team conceded fewer goals than Chelsea across the campaign, and their 1-0 win over Man City ensured they were alone at the top (with Pep Guardiola’s side ending on five goals conceded).
On average it was only Man City (0.56) who had a lower Expected Goals conceded per match than Chelsea’s 0.96, as the Blues suffocated their opponents. Chelsea outperformed their opponents on xG in every game of the Champions League and only allowed their opponents an xG of higher than 1 on three occasions, but from those games they conceded just one goal (against Rennes in a 2-1 win). It was Rennes who fared best against Chelsea, accumulating an xG of 1.70 across the two games, at an average of 0.85 per game. Man City, meanwhile, fared worst at 0.45, even when looking at averages per game.
But when Chelsea’s defence did allow opponents the opportunities, more often than not, Edouard Mendy was there to thwart them. The 29-year-old was signed by Chelsea last summer to be their new number one as the club had lost patience with Kepa Arrizabalaga, and it proved to be one of their most important signings. Mendy ended the campaign, his first in the Champions League mind you, with an incredible nine clean sheets. He joined Santiago Canizares (2001) and Keylor Navas (2016) in keeping nine clean sheets, winning the trophy as the latter did with Real Madrid.
The Senegalese shot-stopper conceded three of Chelsea’s four goals, but made 31 saves and had a save percentage of 91.18. Only four players had a better percentage, but Diogo Costa, Zack Steffen, Adrian and Gianluigi Buffon (all 100%) made fewer than 10 saves as they were not their respective teams’ first-choice goalkeepers.
In his debut Champions League campaign, Édouard Mendy has equalled the competition record for most clean sheets kept in a single season.
? 12 games
? 9 clean sheets
? 3 goals conceded
? 1 trophy
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 29, 2021
Chelsea do not hold the record for fewest goals conceded by a Champions League-winning side, as Aston Villa (two in nine, 1981/82) and AC Milan (two in 12, 1993/94) were more resolute, but the Blues’ goals conceded-per-game ratio of 0.31 is up there.
Defence has been the main focus for Thomas Tuchel since he replaced Frank Lampard in January, and the improvements – as well as Chelsea winning the Champions League – has seen the Blues made second-favourites to win the Premier League next season at 11/2 with Sky Bet. They are also 9/1 to retain their Champions League crown.
2021/22 Champions League winner odds (via Sky Bet)
(Odds in this article are correct at the time of writing. 18+ only, BeGambleAware.org)
Sometimes teams are praised on their ability to come from behind. No team would want their opponents to score first, but a comeback win is a way of showing their fight and mentality. Some teams crumble once going a goal behind, while other teams will use that as the kick they need.
In the build up to the Champions League final, Chelsea showed their struggles after going a goal down, losing to Arsenal, Leicester City and Aston Villa. And in the Champions League they only came from behind once en route to the final, in their 1-1 draw with Krasnodar.
But that’s not a bad things, it’s actually because of a ridiculous stat. Across their 13 Champions League games in 2020/21, Chelsea were trailing for a grand total of five minutes and 23 seconds. Yes, 05:23 accumulated in THIRTEEN games!
The majority of that time came against Krasnodar, a game Chelsea did not need to win having already secured top spot in their group. Krasnodar took the lead at Stamford Bridge on 23:42 when Remy Cabella beat Kepa Arrizabalaga from the centre of the area, slotting the ball into the bottom left-hand corner.
By 27:09, Chelsea were level. Within three minutes and 27 seconds, the Blues had gone up the other end of the pitch and won a penalty (at 25:55), which Jorginho duly put away. If it weren’t for the Krasnodar celebrations, and set up for the penalty actually being taken (including some Krasnodar protests and gamesmanship), it would have been even shorter.
The only other time Chelsea were behind came against Porto, in the second leg of their quarter-final. This time it was Medhi Taremi who scored, with a brilliant bicycle kick on 92:59 to hand Chelsea their only loss of the game. By 94:55 the game was over, and the goal didn’t actually matter, as Chelsea won 2-1 on aggregate – so even though the Blues were behind on the night, they were never behind in the tie.
Chelsea were also excellent at keeping a lead, only once failing to win after scoring the first goal. That sole occasion came in the first leg of their semi-final against Real Madrid as Karim Benzema cancelled out Christian Pulisic’s opener but, as with Porto, the Blues still technically had an advantage with an away goal.
Although Tuchel will receive a lot of praise for the turnaround at Chelsea following his arrival, special mention should go to Lampard for building the foundations and getting the Blues through to the Champions League last-16. Lampard may have received a bad reputation for his defensive struggles in the Premier League, but under his tutelage Chelsea conceded just two goals in six Champions League games, one of which came after they had already secured top spot in their group (against Krasnodar).
Lampard’s Chelsea had also scored 14 goals in six games compared to Tuchel’s nine in seven (with two 1-0 wins including the final), though you could argue the approach warranted changing as the quality of opponents grew.
Goals win you games but defences win you titles and, in Chelsea’s case this season, the Champions League.