Chelsea’s win in Bucharest against Atletico Madrid was their first victory in an away Champions League knockout game since 2012.
Nine years on from Chelsea’s historic Champions League triumph in Munich, the Blues will look to repeat that feat. Victory against Atletico gives them one foot in the quarterfinals.
Thomas Tuchel has galvanised a group which looked lost under Frank Lampard. His immediate impact was evident against the La Liga leaders. From a tactical and mental perspective, Tuchel’s Blues passed their toughest test yet and in convincing style.
Chelsea are halfway towards knocking out La Liga’s best side which begs the question, just how far can they go?
Two major obstacles towards any potential European triumph would be Manchester City and Liverpool. England’s best two sides over the last three seasons have had mixed fortunes in Europe however, both would present a major hurdle for this Chelsea side to overcome.
Runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City have got their mojo back, following a disappointing 2019/20 campaign. Pep Guardiola’s men are in formidable form domestically, winning their last 18 games ahead of a trip to Borussia Moenchengladbach. They are heavy favourites to beat the German outfit and make the quarterfinals.
Chelsea have lost once, a dismal 1-3 reverse that was the beginning of the end for Frank Lampard, against Manchester City this season while losing four of the last six meetings between the sides. Despite this, Manchester City’s lack of European pedigree points to a mental block in Europe. There’s a disparity in quality between Chelsea and Manchester City but the pressure would all be on Guardiola’s men were they to face-off in the Champions League.
Meanwhile, Liverpool’s European record is infamously formidable. Two finals, including a title, under Jurgen Klopp points to a team that knows how to get the job done in Europe. Their comfortable first-leg victory against RB Leipzig makes them heavy favourites to quality for the quarterfinals.
Despite poor recent form and injury concerns, Liverpool are likely to be a stronger opponent when the quarterfinals come round. Having met the Merseyside club in five successive seasons between 2004/05 and 2008/09, the clubs have history in the Champions League. Another chapter of that European rivalry would be a huge challenge but not as daunting as it could have been in previous seasons.
While domestic threats are valid, the glamour of winning the Champions League comes from beating the elite from the continent. Chelsea’s Champions League triumph in 2012 featured victories over Napoli, Benfica, Barcelona and Bayern Munich and this opposition provided the glamour as opposed to domestic opponents.
While Barcelona are unlikely to progress any further, Bayern Munich look formidable once again. A comfortable 4-1 win first leg win in Rome against Lazio all but secured their quarterfinal place. With Robert Lewandowski’s 30 goals already this season, the current holders possess a superstar. The holders look like a real force once again as they look to defend their crown. Elsewhere in Germany, Erling Haaland and Borussia Dortmund are dangerous in a single game. They have striking power to fear.
Speaking of young superstars, a certain Kylian Mbappe has his eyes on the big prize. Having fallen short last season, Paris Saint-Germain look to be saving their best for Europe this time around. Thomas Tuchel’s old side romped to a 4-1 victory in Barcelona with Mbappe the star. With Neymar to come back, the Parisians look dangerous. Chelsea would be underdogs were they to meet their old nemesis.
While Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain will represent the continent’s major threat, Spanish clubs look to be suffering a period of struggle. Barcelona, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid all suffered first-leg defeats which look difficult to overturn.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid do not have the same aura as in recent years. Eden Hazard has failed to replace Cristiano Ronaldo thus the attack has fallen almost solely on Karim Benzema. An ageing midfield of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric is experienced but lacks in energy and running power. Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane are not as reliable as they have been in defence. Scraping through the group evidences Real Madrid’s lack of authority under Zinedine Zidane.
Real Madrid face Atalanta, a side whom Tuchel knows well having scraped past them in 2019/20 with PSG. Gasperini’s men represent a unique proposition. However, Chelsea would be favourites against them while Real Madrid should not be feared. Chelsea should also face no fear of Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus. While Ronaldo’s superstar qualities can turn a tie on its own, Andrea Pirlo’s side are malfunctioning and must overturn a first leg deficit against Porto.
As it stands, Chelsea are not one of the big favourites to win the competition. However, Tuchel’s arrival heightens the Chelsea Champions League hopes. Of all the remaining sides left in the competition, Chelsea should not any of them, with the exceptions of the outstanding Manchester City.
Bayern Munich and Liverpool are formidable but not as strong as in previous seasons. Paris Saint-Germain would be difficult opponents but Tuchel’s inside knowledge of their squad could be advantageous.
The rest of Europe’s elite, the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus, are suffering. Chelsea’s resurgence in form under Tuchel should give them a sense of cautious optimism.
Chelsea’s Champions League chances are decent. In a competition which can turn on a moment of magic or a slice of luck, to be in the quarterfinals is a chance of glory. Nine years after defying the odds in 2012, Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea are looking to repeat the feat. Tuesday’s victory in Bucharest over Atletico Madrid should provide a catalyst for a real shot at success.