Oh how the mighty have fallen. It seems like just yesterday we were celebrating the fact that we had finally won the Holy Grail of European club football: the Champions League. But now, the harsh reality has finally sunk in: we couldn’t successfully defend our Champions League trophy. To be perfectly honest, no one really expected to retain the trophy (no team has managed to do it in the Champions League era). But to become the first holders of the trophy to not qualify for the knockout stages…. that’s a bitter pill to swallow.
Nevertheless, the whole ordeal was a harsh reality check for us all, and there are three major lessons to take from the rather tame defence of our Champions League crown. They are :-
1) Home matches MUST be won at all costs– Our form at the Bridge wasn’t actually that bad (W2 D1). In fact, our home form was better than Shakhtar’s (W2 L1), who qualified from Group E as runners up. Ignoring the various unnecessary permutations and combinations, let’s focus on the important one: if Chelsea had to beat Juventus at the Bridge, we would have topped our group and comfortably sailed through to the next round. Instead we had to hope results went our way on Matchday 6, which didn’t happen. It’s a well-accepted fact that away fixtures are always tricky in Europe. Last season we had a 100% record at home in the group stages and topped the group despite our away form being indifferent. Clearly in the Champions League, home is where the heart is.
2) Don’t let anyone else decide your fate– This ties in with my first point. If we had beaten Juventus at home on Matchday 1, we would have been in control of our own destiny come Matchday 6. But we had to beat Nordsjaelland while simultaneously hoping that Shakhtar beat Juventus at the same time so that we could qualify. This is the type of situation no club likes to find itself in. Chelsea duly beat Nordsjaelland 6-1, but Juventus beat Shakhtar 1-0 and sealed our exit. It’s never fun to lose, but this defeat was particularly hard to stomach because we were depending on factors beyond our control. We were unable to celebrate a comprehensive Champions League victory because we knew that in the end, it just didn’t matter how many goals we scored. We were out nevertheless.
3) Solidity at the back is key– It’s easy to get away with a slightly weak defensive showing in the Premier League (Manchester United do it week in and week out). However, it’s a whole different matter in the Champions League. One can ill-afford defensive lapses against any European team, especially the top teams. Chelsea scored 16 goals in the group stages, which is the most number of goals scored by any team in the group stages this season. But we were poor at the back, conceding 10 goals in 6 matches (our defensive record is the second worst in Group E after FC Nordsjaelland). Our defence leaked goals in 5 out of 6 matches. In comparison, group toppers Juventus only conceded 4 goals. It’s obvious that we have to work much harder at the back.
Here’s hoping that we learn from our mistakes and return to Champions League football next season, better and stronger than ever. And despite what Spurs fans may think, we’re still the Champions of Europe!