What Chelsea Can Teach Future European Champions
"The Blues from the Kings Road London are crowned the kings of Europe and they'll dance till dawn." Uttered the one and only Peter Drury after Chelsea saw out a 1-0 win against Manchester City in the Champions League final.
Kai Havertz scored the goal that mattered and a resolute Chelsea side, led by Thomas Tuchel, added a second champions league crown to what’s fast becoming a crowded trophy cabinet.
What were the key takeaways from this stunning campaign, and just as importantly, what are some of the major lessons to be learnt from other European clubs desperate to get their mitts on club football’s most prestigious prize?
Continuity is key
When Frank Lampard was let go in late January, and replaced by Thomas Tuchel, many were intrigued to see what system the brilliant German would implement in his first game against Wolves.
Right out of the gate, Tuchel opted for a 3-4-3 formation, though it wasn’t until later on in this famous Chelsea campaign that the former PSG and Dortmund maestro settled on his preferred 11.
From the UCL quarter-final first leg leg onwards, Chelsea have been incredibly stetted both from a formation and personnel point of view, with that continuity allowing for some incredible on-field chemistry to develop at the club.
Despite being on the back foot for the majority of the night, each player knew their role and executed it to perfection. This allowed for trust to be built as the night grew old, with the likes of N'Golo Kante, Mason Mountand Jorginho continually linking up to provide opportunities for Timo Werner up front.
The same, however, can't be said about Manchester City, as Pep Guardiola’s tendency to overthink big games reared its ugly head again.
In the 60 previous games this season, either Fernandinho or Rodri played in 59 of those. The one game they didn't, yep you guessed it, the Champions League final.
Pep instead went with Ilkay Gundogan in the holding midfield role, bewildering nearly everyone. While Gundogan was City's top goalscorer this season, he's occupied a holding midfield position in just 11 games this season and in City's greatest assignment, the German was exposed. He left space between the line’s countless times, eventually leading to the game's only goal. The 30-year old with 45 national team caps and 17goals for City this campaign departed the UCL final with a grand total of zero tackles, zero interceptions and zero clearances.
Another interesting decision made by Pep was his choice to start Raheem Sterling. And it was made more surprising by the fact Sterling had started one game previously in the knockout stages, and one in which he was substituted off some 69 minutes in.
Sterling’s poor outing was encapsulated by producing just 2 dribble attempts (both unsuccessful), submitting not a single key pass nor accurate cross while accounting for the least total successful passes (11) from anyone who started the game. Chelsea's Christian Pulisic produced 11 successful passes in his 24 minutes off the bench.
This lack of continuity and a drastic change of personnel in such a big game left City players in the dark about whether they could, or couldn't, trust each other to be where they needed to be at the right time.
For other UCL aspirants watching on throughout the continent, the importance of tactical and squad continuity should have be filed away with particular attention.
RELATED: How Atletico Madrid Conquered Spain
Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles
Arguably the greatest manager of all time, Sir Alex Ferguson said that "attack wins you games, defence wins you titles' ', and this couldn't have been further displayed here.
Chelsea's impenetrable defence included Antonio Rudiger, Thiago Silva and club captain, Cesar Azpilicueta, with cameos from Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen providing solid back-up all tournament.
From the moment Tuchel’s reign in West London began, the Blues have been very hard to break down with exceptional defence underpinning their UCL run.
From the first leg of the round of 16 through to the final, the Blues conceded just 2 goals and only amassed an XG against of 4.27. To put that into perspective, for both ties against Real Madrid, Chelsea amassed an XG of 5.26 themselves, indicating just how incredibly stout this defence was.
In the final in Lisbon, they were nothing short of exceptional. The blues conceded just 7 shots, 4 of them blocked, while just 1 Manchester City shot was on target. Chelsea recorded 25 clearances, 9 interceptions and 21 tackles, ultimately dwarfing City in the same metrics.
Despite how good Chelsea were as a team defensively, special mentions are in order for certain players.
21- year old Reece James was under intense pressure all night with City continually targeting his side of the pitch. James stared in the face of that pressure and answered every question brilliantly. He had the game’s most tackles with 7, won the most ground duels with 10, had the most clearances with 5 and had 1 blocked shot. Not only did he play a major role in Chelsea eventual win, but he may have played himself into a starting role for England at the European championships.
N'golo Kante also needs a special mention. The brilliant Frenchmen stat-line included 11 duels won and 10 ball recoveries which were the most for any player, while he also won 4 aerials contests and applied 3 successful tackles. The World Cup winner was awarded 'Man of the Match' honours for his performance, and he might just have moved himself into favouritism for the Ballon D'or as well.
While obviously not every team has a N'golo Kante to deploy, the lesson which can be learned here is that heart, desire and the will to win constitute key attributes of a successful side, especially in a knockout competition where every game is a must-win.
So, who can take the trophy off the Blues?
Next season's UCL will be yet another edition of intense, world-class competition.
Liverpool will be healthier and desperate to put a couple of underwhelming continental campaigns behind them. Manchester City will still be hungry to end their UCL drought, as too will PSG who've made at least the Round of 16 in 9straight seasons, yet continually failed to achieve their breakthrough. A new-look Bayern Munich with Julian Nagelsmann in the hot-seat will be looking to land the club's 7th crown, while 3-straight seasons without a championship is an eternity for Spanish clubs, so expect the likes of Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid to be smashing down the door.
An interesting note as to clubs looking to get their hands on the the trophy with the big ears is that the last 8 sides to make their UCL final debut have all lost. This suggests that any team looking to cause a shock need to proceed with caution. If Chelsea proved anything this season it's that maturity, tactical sophistication, defence and continuity are all fundamental ingredients to conquer Europe, and that UCL aspirants simply can't be found lacking in any such area.
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