The dream of Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich, when he took over West London side Chelsea back in 2003 was very clear. To one day to be European Champions.
9 years later, his fixation with Europe’s most prestigious trophy was getting close, as Chelsea met Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena in the 2012 Final and broken hearts of 2008 could once again be rekindled.
Against all odds, and unpredictable circumstance through their turbulent journey to reach the final, the blues had an opportunity to create history. We take a look at that famous 2011-2012 Chelsea Champions League campaign.
Before we start, the first and obvious problem at Chelsea that season was the aging squad. Petr Čech, Ashley Cole, John Terry, Frank Lampard, and Didier Drogba were all over 30, with the last two over 33. Mismanagement and bad planning within club recruitment, a common topic in modern football, had set Chelsea up for a rather peculiar season.
For this reason, to even have mumbled that this would be the year Chelsea could do it, you would’ve been kicked out of a room and had the door shut on your face. But this only made the story more beautiful.
On to the group stages now. Chelsea won all three home games, but their away form was questionable, to say the least at this stage. Two difficult trips against Valencia and Genk ended in draws. This was quickly followed by old foe Michael Ballack and his Bayer Leverkusen beating Chelsea in Germany with a 2-1 victory through a late Manuel Friedrich header.
With one game to go, a nervy Group E encounter with Valencia was next, where defeat could end Chelsea’s hopes early, savings fans pain and money. However, a Drogba-inspired victory, something you’ll be hearing more of, allowed this story to continue.
A double from the Ivory Coast centre-forward that included a tidy finish for his second and Chelsea’s third was enough to climb out of this tightly congested group. Chelsea finished top of Group E, one point ahead of Leverkusen and 3 ahead of Valencia. If small margins were to be the epitome of this famous story, it was here where it was first evident.
A visit to Naples awaited Chelsea. Juan Mata, a summer purchase from Valencia, and an integral part of the success Chelsea enjoyed in 2012, would give them the lead early on. The famous Napoli Trident at the time was, Edison Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi, and Marek Hamšík. On this particular night, the damage was done by Cavani and Lavezzi, in a comfortable 3-1 win for the home side in the end.
This would spell the end of Villas-Boas’ reign, rightly or wrongly. In stepped, Roberto Di Matteo, previously assistant manager, sprinkling some magic to this deadbeat team. He would overcome the first-leg deficit with a 5-4 score on aggregate. Club legends, Drogba, Terry, and Lampard would strike in the return leg before Branislav Ivanović would put the nail in the coffin for Napoli in the 105th minute.
In the last eight, they would avoid some of the big boys in Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and initially Barcelona. Away from home at the Estadio da Luz, Di Matteo produced somewhat of an odd team selection by leaving a number of key players on the bench. Nevertheless, a late Salomon Kalou goal was enough. 0-1. Back at Stamford Bridge, Benfica made it difficult for Chelsea but a Lampard penalty and late Meireles goal took Chelsea one step closer.
Barcelona were next. Looking back, a 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge through a Drogba goal doesn’t tell the story well enough. Chelsea were practically held at gunpoint all game and took a hammering from the Spanish side. 20.9% to Barcelona 79.1% is one way of explaining this abuse.
Then came that famous night at the Camp Nou. The fact Sergio Busquets scored the opener, was a sign of strange things to come. Not soon later, John Terry was sent off for attempting to stick his knee in Alexis’ Sanchez backside. Till today, still unexplainable.
Andres Iniesta gave Barcelona the advantage before an audacious chip from Ramires gave Chelsea hope for the second half. Chelsea remained resilient and with a lot of luck found Fernando Torres late on, at the time, not the man you would have wanted in this situation, 1-on-1 with Victor Valdes. He rounded his Spanish amigo before finding the back of the net to write the headlines.
Final. Bayern Munich had a unique advantage for the Final as it was being held at the Allianz whilst Chelsea found themselves without suspended club captain, Terry and Ryan Bertrand was making his CL debut. Circumstances were heavily against them which might be why Bayern had 35 shots to Chelsea’s 9. After 88 minutes of tenacious defending, Drogba smashed home a header from a Mata corner kick to level it at full-time. A missed Arjen Robben penalty in extra time took the tie to penalties.
Fast forward to the final kick just after Bastian Schweinsteiger had hit the post, and Drogba found himself one kick away before his contract would expire to end his Chelsea career in style. He would personify this special night for Chelsea fans, alongside Cech if he can just get this ball in the back of the net. Two steps is all it took to wrong-foot Manuel Neuer and slot home Chelsea’s most important ever goal.