Chelsea were, by all accounts, lucky to beat Bayern Munich in the final last May. They were lucky to be in the final, after knocking out Barcelona in the semis. However, a little bit of luck went a long way for Roberto Di Matteo’s blues, after another unsuccessful manager bit the dust, Andre Villas-Boas’ side had drifted off course in the Premier League and, when Di Matteo took the reigns, there were serious doubts that Chelsea would make the Europa League places, never mind the Champion’s League.
But the Londoners never gave up – a strong and experienced line-up, some of whom had been to a Champion’s League final under Jose Mourinho, knew what it would take.
After easing out of the group stages, they faced the favourites Barcelona in the semi-finals and, over two legs they managed to beat the Spaniards on their own soil at the Nou Camp.
They set themselves up to defend and hopefully catch Barcelona on the break – which they did. They took the same tactical template for the final, as they held on against the unlucky Bayern Munich who, having dominated the game, had failed to take their numerous chances and found themselves in a tricky spot. The game was settled by a tense penalty shoot-out, in which Chelsea were the victors.
Looking at the Chelsea squad this year it has some significant additions, but it also has some significant absentees. Di Matteo went striding into the transfer market this summer and came back with Eden Hazard, Oscar, Victor Moses, Marko Marin, and Cesar Azpilicueta in his pocket.
The Belgian Hazard, his marquee signing, has started well in the English Premier League and, when combined with the creativity of Juan Mata and his on-form compatriot Fernando Torres, Chelsea look a force to be reckoned with this year.
They still have some key members of the old guard – having lost Didier Drogba, they still have their captain Frank Lampard, and their defensive spine intact with Petr Cech, John Terry, Ashley Cole, and Branislav Ivanovic.
Looking at the Chelsea team sheet would strike fear into the hearts of even Europe’s established elite. That, along with the confidence that a European title will have no doubt instilled in the players and the manager, I can see Chelsea retaining the trophy.
The difference this year may be there application across all competitions – they never looked like Premier League title contenders last year, perhaps the reason they flourished on the continent. It remains to be seen if they can challenge on all fronts this season.