Chelsea 2 Real Madrid 0 (Chelsea win 3-1 on aggregate)
It may not be to everyone’s taste around the continent but the Champions League Final will yet again be a ‘full English’ as Chelsea brilliantly overcame the competition’s royalty, Real Madrid, to deservedly set up a meeting with Manchester City.
By doing so they ensured that for the second time in three seasons the final will be contested by two Premier League teams with the strength of English football shown by the fact that it is two different clubs after Liverpool beat Tottenham Hotspur in 2019.
As with that season it could also be two English clubs in the Europa League Final. Chelsea won it back then but now they are so close to claiming the greatest prize, the one that really matters, for only the second time and in what will be only their third final and their first since 2012.
For Thomas Tuchel, there is a slice of personal history as he became the first coach to reach consecutive finals with different clubs having lost with Paris Saint-Germain last August and his achievements since taking over at Chelsea in late January simply cannot be overstated. A new contract looms for Tuchel.
There was even another clean sheet – that is 18 in 24 games – and he has transformed Chelsea. N’Golo Kante, Mason Mount, Antonio Rudiger, Kai Havertz … the list goes on and on. They were all exceptional. Chelsea are back into the top four, into the FA Cup Final and now into the one they all crave against City in Istanbul on May 29.
How Chelsea have every right to be there. They were comprehensively the better team over both legs against Real for whom Eden Hazard, on his return, was anonymous before being substituted and coach Zinedine Zidane had few answers.
Tuchel had talked up the importance of Kante and so it transpired, as the midfielder’s driving run opened up Real. Passes were exchanged with Mason Mount and suddenly Kante laid the ball off to Kai Havertz, who was clear on goal before lifting his shot over Thibaut Courtois. Was that the right decision? It proved so because, even though the ball rebounded off the crossbar, there was Timo Werner to nod it into the net from a yard out. No Real player was near him.
Chelsea were ahead and Real now had to score to at least force extra-time. The importance could also be traced back to an outstanding save made by Edouard Mendy moments earlier as the goalkeeper flung himself to his left to turn a powerful shot from Karim Benzema around the post. The save was even more impressive, given Mendy could only have seen the ball late after Benzema took possession on the edge of the penalty area before swivelling.
Certainly, Mendy knew how crucial it was, screaming his satisfaction, and soon after Chelsea had scored he denied Benzema again as the forward rose to direct a header from seven yards that was acrobatically tipped over the bar. What a difference Mendy has made since joining the club in September.
Given the occasion, it was an oddity to see the ball having to be replaced in the first minute as it was deemed too flat. Thankfully, the players were a bit more pumped up and primed. There was an early welcome back to Stamford Bridge for Hazard as he was crunched by Andreas Christensen on halfway. That set the uncompromising tone.
There further robust challenges from Kante on Toni Kroos and then Havertz on Nacho. Chelsea were certainly pressing Real hard, maybe looking to rattle them, although Jorginho was cautioned for bringing down Hazard.
A euro for Sergio Ramos’s thoughts? The Real captain was making his first appearance since suffering a calf injury in March and is, of course, not averse to the dark arts himself. Perhaps inevitably, he was involved in a bust-up after shoving over Cesar Azpilicueta. Despite protestations, he was booked, too.
The tension continued to rise as Ben Chilwell and Vinicius Junior clashed. Daniele Orsato, the Italian referee, implored them to calm down, although there was another caution for Chelsea when Christensen was punished.
They had threatened in a more meaningful sense when Courtois had to deal with Antonio Rudiger’s swerving shot, then blocked Havertz’s low effort with his legs after the forward had “nutmegged” Eder Militao. Werner found the net but it was correctly ruled out for offside.
Chelsea were not giving an inch. They hunted down Real all over the pitch and when Vinicius sprinted past Chilwell, there was Kante to whip the ball away, while Mount almost rivalled his team-mate for energy and work-rate.
Havertz continued to vindicate his selection, in preference to Christian Pulisic, when he met Azipilicueta’s cross early in the second half and his header clipped the top of the bar. There was no let-up from Chelsea. A free-kick was won and met by Thiago Silva, who headed over, then Mount should have put them further in front – and maybe already into the final – when Havertz and Werner linked up and he ran onto the latter player’s flick to surge into the area. Ferland Mendy was left in his wake but Mount lifted his shot wastefully over. That could have been it and Mount knew it.
Real were rocking and Chelsea failed to take another golden opportunity when Jorginho’s through ball caught out Ramos and Militao as Havertz and Werner both ran clear. Havertz took the responsibility but Courtois beat away his low shot with his right foot.
Real were being overrun and Zidane had to do something, making two changes, while Tuchel will have fretted that his team were in danger of letting their opponents off the hook. The warning was duly delivered when Hazard was far too easily picked out inside the Chelsea area and Mendy had to kick away his shot at his near post.
Once more Chelsea poured forward and their pace was too much for Real. Werner ran from his own half into the area and laid the ball off to Kante, who had matched him stride for stride, only for Courtois to again save.
“Keep on pushing,” Tuchel implored and Silva was left punching the turf as he met Mount’s corner only for his header to fly across goal and wide.
Finally, Pulisic came on and delivered a dangerous cross with Havertz stretching but unable to reach it.
Finally, the goal and it was no surprise that Kante was heavily involved as he stole back possession, charged forward and found Pulisic who smartly delayed before picking out Mount who swept the ball home. The celebrations said it all. Chelsea are in the final.
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