As Chelsea went into November, they began to build off solid defensive performances in October and mount a challenge for the top of the Premier League table. With crucial UEFA Champions League ties to come as well, the Blues looked to close out the group stage and secure qualification for the knockout rounds of Europe’s premier club competition for the second season running. Amazingly, the Blues enjoyed an undefeated month and conceded just two goals in five games. This is the story of Chelsea in November of the 2020/21 season.
Game 13/60: Chelsea vs Rennes
The third Champions League game of Chelsea’s season beckoned at the start of November, with the final opponent of the groupstage being Rennes. The French side were by no means a ‘poor’ team, but it seems clear now that they had exceeded expectations in the season prior, with the Blues running out comfortable 3-0 winners in the end. The win came the night before new lockdown restrictions were introduced in England by the Prime Minister – thankfully this time, with strict protocols and testing in place, elite sport was allowed to continue through it, though of course it meant the return of fans felt a long way off yet for most.
As for the game, it was clear Chelsea didn’t feel the need to quarantine their ruthlessness as Werner won a penalty and then took responsibility, tucking it away into the bottom left. The game ended up being a tale of two penalties, both given away by the unfortunate Dalbert. The second also saw him get a second yellow card for an extremely contentious handball via a Tammy Abraham shot which, after a check on the monitor, the referee decided was enough to connote a sending off offence, something that many fans were bewildered by regardless of who they supported. Regardless, Timo was unfazed by the controversy and rifled a rocket into the top left, getting a brace before half time.
Speaking of the interval, there was lots of action in the immediate period following it, as Ziyech somehow blazed a virtually open goal volley over the bar, to both his and teammates’ shock. Not 30 seconds later though, Reece James put a pinpoint cross into Abraham’s feet who did the rest by tapping home to secure the all important three group stage points with just 50 minutes on the clock. It’s easy to suggest that, with him not having featured in the final few months of the season, particularly under Tuchel, he doesn’t deserve a Champions League winners medal or that he barely contributed to the season.
That, however, is a beyond myopic view of a season which, in truth, has felt like it was in two parts – what’s important to remember is that you can’t have the second without the hard work in the first, and players like Tammy were crucial in ensuring that subsequent section was possible.
Game 13/60: Chelsea 3-0 Rennes
Game 14/60: Chelsea vs Sheffield United
Another home game was in front of Lampard’s side and this time it was the lowly Sheffield United who had suffered a horrible start to the season, in total contrast with the campaign they had had after coming up from the Championship. Such a fixture seemed an easy one to maintain the unbeaten streak of 10 games (not including the penalty shootout loss to Spurs), as well as a run of 5 clean sheets in a row. The latter statistic totally crumbled when, 9 minutes in, McGoldrick scored his customary goal against Chelsea with a quick reaction to a shot-cross into the box, putting the Blades ahead.
From that moment on though, it was the Hakim Ziyech show and arguably his best performance all season in a Chelsea shirt. A wonderful ball played over the top to Kovacic led to a goal from Abraham, getting things level, before a beautiful free kick was sent over to Werner who somehow hit the bar from yards out. A few minutes later, he placed another perfect ball into the box which this time Chiwell scrambled home, though to this day I’m still not certain which body part was responsible for putting the ball in the back of the net. Chelsea fans didn’t mind though as the rather expected comeback had been completed and the Blues looked in control for the remainder of the game.
They added to the scoreline in the 77th minute when yet again Ziyech swung a perfect cross into the penalty area that free transfer Thiago Silva headed in for his first goal for the club. To cap off a great display, apart from the goal conceded, Werner pounced on an unlucky back pass deflection, lashing a fierce strike past Ramsdale to secure another win for the Blues, putting them up to 5th place.
Game 14/60: Chelsea 4-1 Sheffield United
Game 15/60: Newcastle vs Chelsea
After the Sheffield United game, yet another international break occurred, with Mount and Chilwell starters in a loss to Belgium, but in the following fixture the former scored the second in a 4-0 win against Iceland.
Not long after it was another Premier League game which saw the Blues travel North to Newcastle, a team who had troubled Chelsea at St James’ Park in 2019/20. Determined to not suffer the same fate again, Lampard sent his team out to attack right from the off and this was rewarded when a Mason Mount cross was bundled into his own net by Fernandez, following two good chances for Chelsea strikers in the opening minutes. Werner himself then had another chance to get a goal but he fluffed a shot, getting a weak connection the ball and sending it wide.
This ended up being quite the pattern in the match as, in the second half, he failed to complete a simple five yard pass to give Ziyech an open goal, after doing well to win the ball and race up the pitch with it. One thing Werner must be credited with throughout this season is his determination to put missed chances behind him and always keep going, regardless of how frustrating a miss he has just conjured up. Exemplifying this, he charged forwards with the ball from his own half, using his electric pace to beat two defenders, before playing in his strike partner Tammy Abraham who slotted home to second and putting any lingering doubts about the scoreline to bed. Another clean sheet, another win and, for a few hours, Chelsea were top of the Premier League for the first time under Frank Lampard – what could go wrong?
Game 15/60: Newcastle 0-2 Chelsea
Game 16/60: Rennes vs Chelsea
With the unbeaten run still untouched, it was a European away trip for Chelsea as they travelled to Rennes. This was a strange game in which, despite being dominant for virtually the entire match, it ended up being a very narrow win, giving three crucial points in the race for the knockout stages on matchday four. Werner had the first chance when Hudson-Odoi set up what was effectively a tap in which the German skied over the bar, something that was becoming a little too common to see.
Halfway through the first 45 minutes though, Mount found a wonderful ball over the Rennes defence that the aforementioned Hudson-Odoi ran onto and expertly placed past the keeper to finish off a move made in Cobham (more on that later). There was an incredible save from Gomis to prevent the Blues from being 2-0 up at half time and early in the second half Werner did get the ball in the back of the net but, as could likely be predicted by many nowadays, he was slightly offside.
In the last 15 minutes, Mendy had a fair amount of action at his goal too, making a few fabulous saves, but one he couldn’t stop was in the 85th minute when Guirassy pulled Rennes level and it looked as though Chelsea’s grip on their group had suddenly been yanked away from them. The Blues had a fantastic chance to win it in the 90th minute when Werner was faced with only the goalkeeper but again he failed to convert, leaving most thinking it was all over. That was until the save bounced high into the air and Giroud rose up to meet it and get the winner for Chelsea with a huge header. It meant a crucial three points and saw Lampard leave France a very, very relieved man as it seemed all but certain his side would now go through to the knockout stages of the competition.
Game 16/60: Rennes 1-2 Chelsea
Game 17/60: Chelsea vs Tottenham
In what was perhaps the biggest game of the season so far, Chelsea next faced Tottenham who had enjoyed a superb start to the season, fighting near the top of the table for some weeks under the leadership of Jose Mourinho and with goalscoring heaven in the form of Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son. The suggestion by Sky Sports that this was a ‘title decider’ was perhaps a tad too premature and, as often happens when games are built up to all eternity, this one wasn’t a classic.
Both sides set up relatively defensively and played as such too, with the goal for each clearly being not to lose rather than to win. Whether that’s an acceptable tactic is up for debate but it meant that a 0-0 draw ensued – the main positive for Chelsea being that it was another clean sheet for their supposedly ‘haphazard’ defence, as well as an extension to an unbeaten run stretching back to September, an impressive feat considering it was now the end of November. The game itself only produced four shots on target in a sign of the lack of action (three for Chelsea, one for Spurs), with the most notable being a chance right at the end for Giroud when Joe Rodon misjudged the bounce of the ball, but the Frenchman ended up hitting a weak shot into his fellow countryman’s hands in Lloris.
The draw meant Chelsea’s London rivals moved to the summit of the league, at least temporarily, but it also wasn’t the worst result imaginable for the boys in Blue, given the usual tension and ‘must not lose’ atmosphere surrounding the game from broadcasters, pundits and fans alike.
Game 17/60: Chelsea 0-0 Tottenham
Month in three words: Moving On Up.
Written by Noah Robson (@noah24_)
Edited by Dan Hill (@idanknow05)
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