Twelve years later and Chelsea are back in a Champions League final. The last time, in Munich, they won their first title in Europe’s premier competition. Now on the horizon is an all-English affair with Manchester City on May 29 in Istanbul.
This was a convincing win over Real Madrid, although there should have been more goals than just Timo Werner’s first-half header and Mason Mount’s late strike from close range. The home side had countless chances to put this tie to bed, having drawn the first leg 1-1 last week, but that didn’t matter as Chelsea were far superior throughout.
It was quite fitting that Werner scored the opening goal. It has not been an easy season for the German international since joining from RB Leipzig, once again he wasted chances in this game, but his potential is clear.
The possibility of another frustrating night in front of goal seemed high when he found the net early on only for the offside flag to be raised. Nevertheless, he was on hand to head into an empty net when Kai Havertz’s dinked effort came back off the crossbar. A relief and a confidence booster all in the same motion of the head.
Mendy shows his worth
Thomas Tuchel’s side defended superbly as a whole but there were moments when Real did create their own chances, especially in the first half. Karim Benzema was the liveliest of the visitors’s attackers but he alone could not inspire Real.
Twice he brought fine saves from Edouard Mendy: a curling effort from the edge of the area forced the Chelsea ‘keeper to stretch and tip the shot wide, then a powerful header from close range required an equally reactive save from the Senegal international to push the attempt over the crossbar.
These were crucial moments for both Real and Chelsea. A goal for the visitors at that stage would have taken the game into extra-time. However, Mendy showed why he is so reliable. In the few instances when he was called upon, he delivered. Chelsea’s No.1 is fast becoming the dependable one.
Havertz’s growing influence
Similarly to his countryman, Werner, Havertz has endured periods of difficulty since arriving in west London this season. Yet there are signs that the 21-year-old is starting to find his feet and his place in this team.
Havertz scored twice against Fulham last weekend to take his goal tally to eight, but he is yet to score in the Champions League. The former Bayer Leverkusen winger couldn’t manage that against Real but was unlucky to see his chipped effort strike the crossbar in the immediate build-up to Werner’s goal. He also hit the woodwork a second time before squandering a one-on-one with Thibaut Courtois.
Despite such goalscoring chances being missed, Havertz is more involved in games now and appears settled in a position centrally just behind Werner rather than out wide. There are promising signs: he seems to be stronger on the ball, more confident with his runs, and crucially, is being given starts by his manager. There will be more to come for sure.
Hazard’s anonymous return
On the other side of the coin, Eden Hazard returned to Stamford Bridge for the first time since leaving the club in summer 2019. The narrative was set up perfectly for the Belgian playmaker to return from his spate of injuries, which have plagued his time at Real so far, and knock Chelsea out.
That, however, didn’t happen as Hazard was largely anonymous. He was marshalled excellently by Andreas Christensen and unable to find his way into the game. It looked like he was only half fit and certainly not up to match sharpness. It speaks volumes of the depth, or lack of it, that Zinedine Zidane has at his disposal given Hazard stayed on the pitch into the 88th minute.
Overall, it was a hugely disappointing performance from Real, who rightly consider themselves the masters of this competition. Not even the return of Sergio Ramos, their leader at the back, could lift this wearisome team. In fact, Ramos’s inclusion, having also been out through injury for much of the past month, seemed to be for his presence rather than his ability - the Real captain had to be managed through the game.
This was a long way away from the level of performance which Real usually dish out in Europe. The 13-time winners appeared lethargic, lacking inspiration and decisive runs from midfield. In truth, it looked like a team who are on the verge of being ‘past it’. Energy and a fighting spirit was what was missing from Real, Chelsea, on the other hand, had just that.