It was Blue day this past weekend as the annual, prestigious UEFA Champions League (UCL) took place on 29 May 2021 at the Estádio do Dragão in Porto, Portugal.
In the nail-biting thriller of a final, English club Chelsea won the Champions League for the second time since 2012, narrowingly edging fellow English football club (and favourite to win) Manchester City one goal to nil thanks to Kai Havertz’s marvellous display of skill after an admittedly tough season for both player and the eventual UEFA champions.
A (Sky) Blue Finals
This sweet victory for the Blues, however, did not come easy as the German technician and the London club experienced what could only be described as a one-of-a-kind season where the global COVID-19 pandemic had turned the entire UEFA Champions League proceedings upside down, in addition to their rather lacklustre uefa champions league matches, of course.
Coming into the UEFA fixtures at a humble seventh place in the Premier League back in mid-January, the Blues certainly saw a season of ups and downs, trailing the last EPL champions Manchester City by a huge margin before gaining the narrow upper hand in the UEFA Nations League finals.
But in a unique year unlikely to occur again anytime soon, the surprising winners of the last EPL season, the Sky Blues (that had stellar seasons due to the massive investments made by its wealthy Emirati owner) will have to wait one more year before they’re able to lift their first UEFA Champions League Cup.
Manchester City isn’t the first club to fail in clinching the ultimate Euro football prize either. Just like Tottenham in 2019 and Paris Saint-Germain in 2020, the wealthy English football club has fallen into this unfortunate category of losing in their first Champions League final — which goes to show that competition is certainly tough for newcomers at the top of the European football scene.
Similarly, eventual winners Chelsea also suffered from the same dire situation in 2008 when they were overtaken by City’s scarlet counterpart, Manchester United in a penalty shootout in Moscow. Thankfully, the Blues managed to turn things around just four years later to finally lift the UEFA cup, as well as their most recent achievement — the latter, in part thanks to the leadership of manager Thomas Tuchel.
The Long & Arduous Journey To The UEFA Champions League Final
Regarded as one of the best managers in the world today, the German head coach, like Chelsea, suffered from a long and tiresome journey in the finals, where he lost last August in Lisbon to Bayern Munich (1 — 0) while heading Paris Saint-Germain. This incident would lead to him being sacked by the club after just four months due to the dispute over the match.
But that’s all behind him now.
During the finals, the Blues players stood in solidarity in defence and permanent commitment, with one of the MVPs of the season, N’Golo Kanté tying everything together.
Proving his nickname as the player “with three lungs”, Kanté was tireless throughout as he played with careful urgency and weighted footwork when he had the ball. Fellow French teammate Olivier Giroud, on the other hand, remained on the bench throughout the match.
With around 4,000 Blues fans in attendance (a miracle considering the circumstances of the world currently), Chelsea definitely benefited from the passionate support of the 12th man — their fans who had hollered, cheered, and won the match from the stands.
Tuchel also sensed it when he endeavoured to rile up more noise and support from the fans after just five minutes into the match. The fans, in turn, erected a wall of cheer and whistles during the last spurt of offence seen during the seven minutes of extra time.
The presence of more than 14,000 spectators at the Dragon Stadium definitely gave life to this much-anticipated final, as loud chants and cheers filled the air of what could have been a hotly received match if not for the current pandemic limiting the number of fans to watch.
Nail-Biting UEFA Champions League Final
The uefa champions league final didn’t come with their fair share of disappointment either, as the always loud and outspoken Thiago Silva had to exit the pitch after suffering an injury in what could be his final major tournament finals. The former Parisian had always dreamed of winning the trophy that eluded him last August while he was in Paris Saint-Germain.
His dream would come true a few moments later with Havertz opening the salvo to score the winning goal for Chelsea three minutes before the half-time whistle as the London club took the lead when Mason Mount passed the ball to Havertz, who went one-on-one against Ederson. And although the goalkeeper rushed out to deflect the ball away, Havertz managed to slip it into an empty net to make it 1 — 0.
After three minutes of stoppage time, the first half was finished.
To put it succinctly, each team had periods of dominance throughout the match.
The Blues came first with Timo Werner in particular but Manchester City responded well with Phil Foden on the verge of shooting from close range, though the attempt was foiled by an exceptional tackle by Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger. Rudiger also had some near misses with Riyadh Mahrez and Kyle Walker, with the former trying his luck again by launching a risky position on Chelsea’s César Azpilicueta.
Moments earlier, Kevin De Bruyne left the field injured as a blow to the face left him laying on the field. Like Silva before him, the Belgian was emotional when he was substituted due to injury.
Two minutes later, Manchester City appealed for a last-ditch penalty when the ball appeared to have struck Reece James on the arm in his own penalty area. However, the VAR review decided against such a foul as it was shown that the ball deflected off James’ chest first.
More substitutions followed as Bernardo Silva was replaced by Fernandinho for Manchester City and Christian Pulisic for Werner for Chelsea.
More close calls followed as with 21 minutes remaining, Mahrez’s cross to İlkay Gündoğan was cleared by Azpilicueta. Mere minutes later, Pulisic and Havertz made a play that rolled just past the goalpost.
Manchester City made their final substitution of the game when Raheem Sterling was replaced by Sergio Agüero, whereas Mateo Kovacic was brought on by Chelsea to replace Mount.
At the end of the match, the fourth official displayed a minimum of seven minutes of stoppage time. And in the final minute, Mahrez’s half-volley from the edge of Chelsea’s penalty area would just go over the crossbar, leaving the UEFA finals match results to be 1 — 0 in Chelsea’s favour.
And after the final blow of the whistle, Chelsea fans rejoiced after what could only be described as a UEFA Champions League like no other.