Soccer

Chelsea’s case for winning the Champions League title: Defensive strength, attacking options and Mason Mount

Before we engage with the actual footballing matters at hand let’s dive deep into the wells of superstition to offer an explanation for why Chelsea could win it all in Istanbul next month (you can watch all the matches on Paramount+). 

A season that began with great things expected of a young manager whose attack had been bolstered by some of Europe’s brightest attacking prospects but was brought to a juddering halt with Champions League qualification slipping away. A squad that went back to a previously successful blueprint under a new manager that had few assurances about his long-term future and a quarter-final triumph over Portuguese opponents that needed most of the tie to score a goal. Next up a Spanish superpower in the semi-finals.

The similarities between 2011-12 and 2020-21 are growing and Chelsea fans will need no reminding of the season where they ended London’s wait for a European champion. But of course the Blues don’t need to rely on lucky rabbits’ foots or quirks of fate to win this competition. They have many of the ingredients, if not all of them, that are required to win the Champions League.

1. Chelsea’s dominant defense

First and most importantly they have a defense that it is extremely hard to score against. The only goal they have conceded in European football since the turn of 2021 has been the sort of outrageous bicycle kick that even the best players might score only a few times in a hundred attempts. The story of Thomas Tuchel’s tenure so far is that it has taken something out of the ordinary just for them to concede a goal: a Mehdi Taremi bicycle kick, Thiago Silva getting sent off, Christian Benteke scoring.

Tuchel has a diligent, experienced back three where many experienced playing a system with similar demands under Antonio Conte. Cesar Azpilicueta has fit back into his role on the right of the three like a specialist returning to his calling, as opposed to it being one of so many he has had to take on at Chelsea while Andreas Christensen looks like the anchor of the Stamford Bridge rearguard he seemed to be developing into with Borussia Monchengladbach. On the flanks competition has brought the best out of Ben Chilwell on the left and Reece James can do it all on the right. Add N’Golo Kante and Jorginho to screen the defense and it is hard to see how opponents find the net.

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2. A broad array of attacking options 

The attack is imperfect, a collection of bright young things put together without much thought for how they might mesh together. Tuchel still does not seem to have found quite the perfect blend with Timo Werner and Kai Havertz taking it in turns to lead the line. Still that has allowed him to adopt something more akin to horses for courses, using the former in particular to punish those teams who use a high line. As Manchester City can attest, while Werner may drift offside a fair few times, he only needs to judge his run right once.

Christian Pulisic is fast-improving as he recovers his fitness, Hakim Ziyech’s elegant left-foot makes for an excellent tandem with Reece James and Mason Mount has taken to the uncharted waters of the Champions League latter stages with a composure that belies his young age. Whenever Chelsea have needed someone to provide a moment of decisive quality he has delivered.

3. Thomas Tuchel’s experience

Tuchel may not have lifted Europe’s top prize but he took Paris Saint-Germain closer than ever before and whether he faces them or Manchester City in the final he will know what is required to beat them. He also is in no doubt that his Chelsea team have the quality go all the way.

Asked whether another gear would be required against Real Madrid in the semi-final, he said: “Maybe the next level is to keep the level, sometimes it’s like this. Don’t drop the level and I strongly believe in our squad that we can do this. Sometimes in circumstances playing against a big, experienced team and a huge club in European competition like Real Madrid, maybe the next step is to keep the level and not to over-expect from us.

“Because I truly believe that we showed in Tottenham, Liverpool, Atletico and Porto that we are capable of consistently producing high-level football, in all questions that are asked on the pitch in offensive and defensive terms. So the challenge is for me more to produce it again, and to keep the level up. This is more the question than adding another step.”

He is right. Tough though their task will be, Chelsea have everything they need to win three games and end a season that was threatening to go off the rails in the most extraordinary fashion.



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