UEFA Champions League: May 29, 2021 will go down in history as one of the most magical days in Chelsea Football Club’s rich history. The Blues overcame the obstacles put in front of them and defied the odds when they defeated Manchester City, 1-0, to secure the second Champions League title in their history. Thomas Tuchel completely transformed the side during his four months in charge as he navigated the London side through the UCL knockout stages with relative ease.
Year two will pose its own unique challenges though. Chelsea has a target on its back for the first time since 2013 in this particular competition. The last time the west London club tried to defend its winners medals, Rafa Benitez’s squad was bounced from the competition in the group stage due to the poor run of results under Roberto Di Matteo. The Blues will look to avoid the same mistake nearly a decade later when Tuchel leads his men into battle on Tuesday evening. This begs an interesting question: what is considered a success for Chelsea in the Champions League this season just a year removed from hoisting the trophy?
What is considered a success this season as Chelsea looks to defend its Champions League title?
The absolute non-negotiable feat the Blues must accomplish is advancing into the knockout stages. Chelsea should be able to breeze through Group H in all honesty, but the Italian giant sitting alongside it is a formidable opponent. The final alphabetical group is very winnable as it consists of opponents like Juventus, Zenit and Malmo. The Champions of Europe are expected to top the bunch, especially after the Old Lady lost Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United in the final days of the transfer window and failed to bring in a superstar replacement. Regardless of whether the Blues finish first or second in the Group H standings though, advancing is a must.
Chelsea lucked out from there. The Blues are perhaps one of the only winners in recent memory to not be favorited heading into the following European campaign. Paris Saint-Germain’s strong summer—that included adding the likes of Lionel Messi, Achraf Hakimi, Georginio Wijnaldum, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Sergio Ramos—means the Parisians are favorites amongst betters. Manchester City also smashed the British transfer record when it added £100 million winger Jack Grealish from Aston Villa. Pep Guardiola’s new-look attack is out for revenge following last season’s 1-0 defeat in the final at the hands of Chelsea. All of this simply means the spotlight will occasionally shine down on other teams. The Blues won’t be under the usual pressure that defending champions find themselves under to begin their quest for back-to-back trophies.
Regardless of expectations, Tuchel is still perfectly suited to guide his side through the knockout stages. Roman Abramovich demands excellence from his managers and it finally seems as if he’s got the right man at the helm. The German gaffer has done everything right during his time in charge at Stamford Bridge, so there’s no reason to expect any less this campaign. Chelsea needs to take that next step to truly join the European elite like Real Madrid and Barcelona. Although the Spanish giants may not be in the best positions currently, they have sustained their success over the last few decades. The Blues have been the poster children for instability despite their everlasting pursuit of silverware.
Chelsea needs to go deep into the knockout stages. There’s no shame in admitting as a supporter that you felt nervous whenever the Blues took the pitch against Atletico Madrid and Porto in the Round of 16 and quarterfinals last season—it was uncharted waters in recent times. However, now this side has been there and conquered that, it’s time to stop celebrating early knockout victories. A semifinal appearance seems like an acceptable goal for fans to set for their side. It’d be nice to expect the Blues to win the competition every year, but that’s a relatively unrealistic standard to set considering there can only be one winner on the continent every season.
Every game of this year’s early stages in the Champions League has been analyzed, now all that’s left to do is play the matches. Chelsea goes into this 2021/22 UCL campaign with a much stronger squad than last season in terms of depth and skill. The new and improved team also possesses an abundance of experience, especially in comparison to last year’s rag tag bunch. The downside to that is other teams are better equipped to handle the Blues along the way. It’s going to be an exciting Champions League season, so buckle up as Chelsea looks to defend its trophy.