Adventure Fraught With Danger: The 2012 Champions League Story

This Saturday Chelsea face their biggest game for nearly a decade since the 2012 Champions League Final. After limping over the line last weekend in the race for Champions League qualification, Chelsea have the chance to turn a good season into a truly sensational one by overcoming fellow English side Manchester City in the Champions League final itself. There is no doubt that Chelsea will be heavy underdogs going into the final showdown, but previous results against our opponents this season will give the Blues confidence, having beaten them twice since April.

Thomas Tuchel’s side should also take positive feelings from Chelsea’s last Champions League success, where they overcame all the odds and beat Bayern Munich in their own backyard. That special night in Germany is highly regarded as one of, if not the best night in Chelsea’s history. So, to get you in the mood for the occasion this Saturday, I am going to take you back in time to the 2011/2012 season, and the quite staggering Champions League campaign that followed. 

2012 Champions League – Group Stages

The Champions League group stages begun well for Chelsea where they overcame German opposition Bayer Leverkusen, with a routine 2-0 victory at Stamford Bridge. Goals from David Luiz and Juan Mata were enough to give young boss Andre Villas-Boas a perfect start in the competition.

Two weeks later, Chelsea were unlucky to come away from Valencia with only a point after Frank Lampard’s typically clinical finish was cancelled out by a late Soldado penalty. Following the international break, Chelsea put Belgium side Genk to the sword, with a convincing 5-0 victory. This was particularly pleasing for Struggling striker Fernando Torres, who managed to grab a first-half brace.

Chelsea now had seven points from a possible nine and were seemingly cruising towards the last 16. The next two group games, however, perhaps summed up Chelsea’s inconsistencies under Villas-Boas, where they were held to a 1-1 draw by Genk, before losing to an injury-time header from Friedrich at the BayArena in Leverkusen. This gave Chelsea all to do going into the final group game vs Valencia at Stamford Bridge. Bayer Leverkusen started the final round of fixtures in pole position with 9 points, with both Chelsea and Valencia 1 point behind. Chelsea knew that they had to beat Valencia to guarantee progress into the next round. In moments like this, you need your big players to step, and of course, Didier Drogba did.

Didier Drogba celebrates scoring his 2nd goal against Valencia.
Didier Drogba celebrates his 2nd goal against Valencia. Image Credit: Glyne Kirke/Agent-France Presse via Getty Images.

Not for the first time in his illustrious Chelsea career, Drogba produced for Chelsea when they needed him most, scoring twice and dragging Chelsea to top spot in the group. The Blues had qualified for the knock-out stage of the 2012 Champions League.

Last 16 – Chelsea vs SSC Napoli

Chelsea’s reward for winning the group was a tie with Italian side Napoli, who were building a reputation as one of the best-attacking sides in Europe. Walter Mazzari’s side had an abundance of offensive threat, led predominantly by South America forward’s Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi and club captain Marek Hamsik. Despite an early Juan Mata goal, Napoli’s attacking trio were in full flow in the first leg, as Napoli caught Chelsea cold with two goals before half-time from Lavezzi and Cavani. They added a third through Lavezzi after the break and gave Chelsea a mountain to climb for the return leg in London. Manager Villas-Boas received heavy criticism following the game for not Starting experienced regulars Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard. John Terry was also absent through injury. The decision to not rely on these Chelsea heavyweights and the subsequent manner of the defeat ultimately cost him his job. He was replaced by his assistant and former Chelsea midfielder, Roberto Di Matteo. The Italian had it all to do going into the second leg, where he had to overturn a two-goal deficit from the first leg in Naples. Unlike his predecessor, Di Matteo chose to start all of the perceived ‘old guard’ players, who all came together and performed in one of the greatest comebacks in Chelsea’s European history. 

The game itself was very tense. You could feel the pressure within a packed-out Stamford Bridge. Napoli had a couple of decent early opportunities to put the tie out of reach, but it was Chelsea, and that man again, Didier Drogba who swung the pendulum back towards the Blues. A superb cross from Ramires was headed perfectly beyond Napoli’s outstretched keeper to give Chelsea a lifeline going into the break. The second half began in perfect fashion, when John Terry steered his header home to make it 3-3 on aggregate, whilst putting us ahead on the away goal rule. At this point, Chelsea fans were starting to dream of the quarter-finals, but it’s never that straightforward when Chelsea are around. A superb finish from Swiss midfielder Gokhan Inler put Napoli back in pole position, but a Frank Lampard penalty with fifteen minutes go meant the game would be going into extra time. Tension was building within Stamford Bridge and I am sure both managers were starting to think about potential penalty takers. This scenario however, was swiftly ruled out on the brink of half-time when stalwart defender Branislav Ivanovic popped up in the eighteen-yard box at the perfect opportunity to fire home and give Chelsea a slender advantage.

Chelsea's players celebrate their comeback against Napoli.
The Blues players celebrate a remarkable comeback against Napoli. Image Credit: Michael Regan/Getty Images.

A long and nervy second of extra time followed, but Chelsea held on and defied all odds by making it through to the quarter-finals, where they would face Portuguese opposition in Benfica. 

Quarter Finals – Chelsea vs Benfica

It was a gruelling period of the season for Di Matteo and his men. Still fighting on three fronts, trying to secure a top four finish, whilst seeking progress in both domestic and European competitions. Something had to give in terms of team selection. He went with out of favour forwards Fernando Torres and Salomon Kalou, and his selection was justified when the two linked up to score the only goal in a game full of caution and defensive precision. An away win. An away goal. Just what the manager would have wanted from a tactical away Champions League performance. Now back to Stamford Bridge to get the job done. A textbook away performance in the 2012 Champions League.

Raul Meireles taunts Benfica fans after the former Porto man scores an incredible solo goal.
Raul Meireles taunts Benfica fans after the former Porto man scores an incredible solo goal. Image Credit: Clive Rose/Getty Images.

Despite a valiant display from Jorge Jesus and his Benfica side, it was Chelsea who came out on top in the second leg. An early Frank Lampard penalty and a red card before half time for right back Pereira, gave Chelsea a feeling of comfort going into the latter stages of the tie. A late goal from Garcia made for a nervy ending for fans at Stamford Bridge, but a wonderful solo piledriver from Raul Meireles in the final few minutes of proceedings gave the crowd exactly what they wanted to achieve – a place in the semi-finals. Barcelona awaits.

Semi Final – Chelsea vs FC Barcelona

The first leg took place in late April, when Pep Guardiola rolled into town with his team of superstars. Once again, the odds were stacked firmly against Chelsea. During the game, Barcelona had six shots on target, whilst also hitting the woodwork on several occasions. Chelsea on the other hand, were only able to trouble the Barcelona goal once. The one moment of magic, where Lampard stole the ball from Lionel Messi and found Ramires on the outer left side of the field. The Brazilian took the ball in his stride and squared it to you know who, Didier Drogba. One shot. One moment. This is all it took for the Ivorian talisman to stamp his impact on the game. A heroic defensive display followed, that at times, had to rely on woeful finishing and the woodwork. Chelsea managed to survive the first leg, with a slender lead, whilst not conceding that all-important away goal. This was just about as good as Chelsea fans and players could have dreamt it the night before. 

Didier Drogba scores the 1st goal against Barcelona in 2012 Champions League semi-final 1st leg.
Chelsea’s Ivorian forward Didier Drogba celebrates after opening the scoring. Image Credit: GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images.

Despite Chelsea’s lead, Barcelona would have still been confident that they could turn things around. Barcelona at Camp Nou were a completely different proposition. Prior to the second leg, Barcelona had played thirty games at home that season, winning twenty-seven, drawing three and losing zero. Scoring 104 goals along the way. Chelsea knew this was far from over, and when Sergio Busquets of all people gave them the lead ten minutes before half-time, everyone connected with Chelsea would have been expecting the worst. A red card for captain John Terry and another goal from Iniesta two minutes before the break all but ended the contest. A goal down, a man down, against the best team in the world. Nobody can overturn this. 

Ramires scores a stunning chip at the Nou Camp against Victor Valdes.
Ramires scores ‘that’ goal. Image Credit: Getty Images.

Step forward, Ramires. What a goal. A superb through ball from stand-in captain Frank Lampard, lead to one of the most beautiful chips in Champions League history. Ramires has dinked the ball over Valdes and given his side a chance. Half time. Chelsea know what they have to do. Defend for their lives for 45 minutes. Chelsea knew how to be pragmatic but this was a completely unique scenario. The second half begins. 4 minutes have passed and Chelsea’s Champions League campaign is thrown back into disarray. Penalty to Barcelona. A tired Didier Drogba clips Cesc Fabregas who goes down and earns his side what would have surely been the decisive goal. It was at this moment, that it really felt that the stars were aligning for Chelsea. Lionel Messi steps up and hits the crossbar. What an incredible let off. Despite Messi hitting the woodwork again from distance, and Barcelona missing another handful of chances, Chelsea are now just minutes away from reaching their second Champions League final. We are now into added-on time. Every Chelsea fan hiding behind their sofa, taking a brief look up every so often, see the ball lofted high into the air by Ashley Cole. After what feels like an eternity, Fernando Torres brings the ball down, runs into an empty half all alone, and rounds the keeper to send Chelsea through to the final in Munich. What a moment for Torres. What a moment for Chelsea. Next up. Bayern Munich. Bring it on.

2012 Champions League Final – Chelsea vs Bayern Munich

It’s the 19th of May, 2012, and after years of European heartbreak, it felt like now or never for this group of players. This group had come so close four years previously. They were not going to let this happen again. Just like the rest of this European campaign, everything seemed to be against them. Incredibly, Chelsea had to play Bayern Munich, one of the best teams in Europe, at Bayern’s stadium. Chelsea were effectively the away team for the final. Manager Roberto Di Matteo threw an early curveball, by giving 21-year-old Ryan Bertrand his Champions League debut, providing extra solidity in front of Ashley Cole in an attempt to stifle former Blue Arjen Robben. The first half was all Bayern. Although Chelsea were extremely resolute, they were fortunate that Mario Gomez seemed to be having an off day in front of goal. Arjen Robben also came close, but was denied by the feet of Petr Cech. Chelsea’s only attempt in the first half was a neat bit of play that lead to a shot from Kalou being comfortably saved by Manuel Neuer.  

The second half continued in a similar fashion. It felt like attack vs defence at times and Bayern were really starting to turn the screw. We are nearly ten minutes into the second half, and Bayern finally have the ball in the net. Frank Ribery thinks he has turned Arjen Robben’s deflected shot past Petr Cech to give Bayern the lead, but the offside flag comes to Chelsea’s rescue. This was a let off for Chelsea, and you could really start to sense the frustration from the Bayern players. Despite missing several further opportunities, Bayern finally found the goal they craved through a Thomas Mueller header. Bayern Munich 1 Chelsea 0. Seven minutes to go. Chelsea players and fans alike are crushed. All the hard work to get here, destroyed in a second. Even the King of Stamford Bridge, Didier Drogba looked defeated. The one player that still believed, despite everything, was Juan Mata. Before Chelsea could kick off, Juan Mata put his hand on Drogba’s shoulder and said ‘Look around, Didier. Look where we are. Keep believing… just believe’. Five minutes later, you know what happens. Juan Mata swings in a corner right onto the head of that man, Didier Drogba. What a moment. Right in front of the Chelsea faithful. 1-1.

Didier Drogba scores for Chelsea in the 2012 Champions League Final.
Didier Drogba rises to level the score in the 2012 Champions League Final… Image Credit: Getty Images.

Into extra time now, and Drogba went from hero to Villain in the opening moments by conceding a penalty. Up steps Robben, looking into the eyes of his former team-mate Petr Cech. How he would have loved to have the final say against his old team. But not on this occasion. Cech keeps the penalty out. Another massive moment from Chelsea’s shot stopper. Chelsea held out for the rest of extra time. Penalties.

Petr Cech saves Arjen Robben's penalty in the 2012 Champions League Final.
And Petr Cech denies Arjen Robben from re-taking the lead from the spot! Image Credit: Getty Images.

Flashbacks of 2008. The heartbreak in Moscow. Losing to Manchester United by the barest of margins. Chelsea had to avenge that night. Things didn’t start well for the Blues when Juan Mata’s tame penalty was saved by Neuer. Bayern scored their next three penalties and were 3-1 up. Surely Chelsea were dead and buried. Surely this was the end of the road for the old guard. Frank Lampard steps up and smashes his penalty down the middle to give Chelsea a lifeline. Ivica Olic then steps up. Chelsea need a save. Cech delivers. Ashley Cole then shows ice cold composure and slots it home to make it 3-3. Here we go. Schweinsteiger is next for Bayern. The German icon scored the winning penalty in Madrid to get Bayern to the final. This time, however, Petr Cech saves his penalty onto the post. Advantage Chelsea. 

This is it. The moment Chelsea have been waiting for since Moscow. Up steps Didier Drogba. The man who got sent off in Russia and couldn’t take the winning penalty. This was his time. He takes a small run up, and sends Neuer the wrong way. It’s all over. Chelsea are Champions of Europe. Blue is the colour for the 2012 Champions League.

Years and years of heartbreak for Chelsea’s squad is finally over. Everyone that part in Munich will go down in Chelsea history forever. We are now nine years on from this special evening. We have new group of players. It is their time to rise up and put their names into Chelsea’s history books. Good luck lads, we are all behind you. 

Chelsea celebrate the 2012 Champions League Victory.
Chelsea celebrate the most unlikely Champions League triumph ever. Image Credit: Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC Via Getty Images.

Written by Aaron Lally (@aaronlally)

Edited by Rob Pratley

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