Chelsea don’t do Champions League campaigns easily. Jose Mourinho clanged into a roadblock called Anfield in 2005 and 2007, while Avram Grant, his mid-season replacement the following year, got to within one kick of victory against Manchester United in Moscow. When they finally won it in 2012 it was a victory achieved with a much less capable side and included extraordinary defensive performances in Barcelona and Munich to see it over the line. Even before the Roman Abramovich era, they were taking Barcelona to extra-time in a nerve-jangling quarter-final in the Camp Nou in 2000.
This latest victory didn’t fit the pattern of their previous efforts at all. Both of their finals in the competition before this went to penalty shootouts, in which they saw both extremities of pain and joy that this method of settling matches can bring. On Saturday, they matter-of-factly beat Manchester City in the regulation 90 minutes, imposing their own game perfectly on a team that Pep Guardiola had sent out to drown them in possession. Even by his own standards, N’Golo Kante turned in a superb performance in midfield that disrupted any attempts by City’s front six to send Chelsea dizzy on a passing carousel.
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It shouldn’t be a surprise that Thomas Tuchel outwitted Guardiola on Saturday; he’s done the very same thing on two other occasions in the last six weeks. Chelsea beat Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final in April and then repeated the trick to pick up a then crucial three points at the Etihad just three weeks ago. That is compelling evidence of a pattern, and of a manager with an innate capacity to pick out and exploit weaknesses in his opponents. Victory tonight will have also provided Tuchel with a significant amount of catharsis, after watching on from the touchline last year as his Paris St Germain team were beaten by Bayern Munich in last year’s final.
Bayern Munich's French forward Kingsley Coman lifts the Champions League trophy
Image credit: Eurosport
With that put to bed, it will be fascinating to see where Tuchel can take Chelsea from here. Both he and the club are still in the honeymoon period of his time in charge and heading into this final it was Manchester City that were the favourites to win this match. Chelsea had lost three out of their previous four, including the aching disappointment of losing the FA Cup Final. They did secure a place in the top four of the Premier League, but only after other results had made their final day defeat to Aston Villa irrelevant. Now they have landed the Champions League title, any misgivings from the 2020-21 season will be forgotten and the future seems rich with possibilities.
Having beaten Guardiola’s City three times in quick succession, his challenge is now to raise the stakes domestically and really take them on for the league title. In Mason Mount, Reece James, Christian Pulisic and Kai Havertz he has some outstanding young talent with which to do so. The midfield axis of Jorginho and Kante remains of titanium strength and Edouard Mendy has been excellent in Chelsea’s run to victory in Porto. There are still things to resolve, such as how to recalibrate the shooting boots and confidence of Timo Werner and the inevitability of having to replace Thiago Silva, but they are now next season’s problems.
And next season, it truly becomes Tuchel’s team. He will have the summer to start moulding a squad that he inherited, and bring in players that fit the style of play he wants at Chelsea. For ambitious and talented players across the world, they’re an attractive proposition. Tuchel is a manager going places, and he could take Chelsea back to the top of the Premier League.
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