Chelsea bounce back to claim stunning Champions League title: 2021’s top ‘I was there’ sporting moments

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  • Chelsea
    Chelsea
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  • Frank Lampard
    Frank Lampard
    English association football player and manager (born 1978)
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

From a bitterly cold morning in January to a barmy night in Porto – even the most optimistic of Chelsea fans could not have imagined the season would end in this fashion.

Not when Frank Lampard was so ruthlessly shown the door at Stamford Bridge at the start of the year.

Chelsea supporters were still onboard with the legendary midfielder’s cultural reset – even if the season had begun to unravel.

Crucially, Roman Abramovich was not. And while the Russian billionaire might have given up on Lampard, he certainly was not giving up on the season.

It was brutal. But wind the clock forward four months and Abramovich was on the pitch at the Estadio do Dragao, embracing Thomas Tuchel and savouring a second Champions League triumph of his reign.

For those who made it to Portugal, it was a night they will never forget.

Only 14,000 were in attendance at a time when stadiums were only just reopening to fans – but the noise inside made it feel like three or four times that number.

This was the end to a chaotic, congested season that had seen fans locked out for virtually the entire campaign in the wake of Covid – and this trip to Portugal felt like a promise of things to come.

Foreign travel was back on the agenda – and while Portugal was still observing curfews there was a party atmosphere in the air leading up to the big night.

Tuchel had exceeded expectations just getting to the final. Chelsea were undoubtedly the underdogs, with the general feeling that this would be Pep Guardiola’s crowning moment at Manchester City.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Add to that the fact that the wheels had come off for Chelsea in the final weeks of the season – losing the FA Cup final and stumbling over the line to get fourth after defeats to Arsenal and Aston Villa – and this was set up to be City’s night.

But that only added to the rapturous celebrations when Kai Havertz’ goal three minutes before half-time saw them crowned kings of Europe.

It was game defined by Tuchel’s masterful tactics, which saw him get the better of Guardiola for the third game in succession in only four months in English football. But it was also marked Guardiola’s own gaffe by remarkably opting against playing a holding midfielder.

That Mason Mount’s through ball exploited that precise area only confirmed the City manager’s error, for which he was roundly criticised by his own fans afterwards.

While the expected onslaught from City came in the second-half, there were rarely moments when Chelsea felt like they were holding on for dear life.

After the trials of Covid it was a moment of blessed relief.

Riyad Mahrez’s late strike that whistled past the post had hearts in mouths – but Chelsea were well worth their win.

It prompted celebrations on the pitch, in the stands and throughout the night.

After the trials of Covid it was a moment of blessed relief for those who had made the journey and reminder of the joy football can bring.

As big as winning the Champions League is, this felt like so much more than that.

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