Chelsea 2021/22 Revisited: December 2021

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Jorginho of Chelsea (obscured) celebrates after scoring their side's second goal with Timo Werner, Mason Mount, Antonio Ruediger and Kai Havertz during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Leeds United at Stamford Bridge on December 11, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Lee - Chelsea FC/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 11: Jorginho of Chelsea (obscured) celebrates after scoring their side’s second goal with Timo Werner, Mason Mount, Antonio Ruediger and Kai Havertz during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Leeds United at Stamford Bridge on December 11, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Lee – Chelsea FC/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Game 25/66: Watford vs Chelsea

Ah, December. Ask most people what it means to them and they’ll probably come up with a response mentioning Christmas, spending time with family, and being jolly. Then ask Chelsea fans. The first thing you’ll hear is a groan at the mere thought of the month, followed by a tirade of frustration at the collapse seen virtually every year without fail for the past five seasons.

For whatever reason, something about the final month of the calendar year seems to have an unerring effect on the Blues, which has affected multiple different managers all having varying levels of success in their respective seasons. And so, as the Blues walked out of the tunnel at Vicarage Road on the first day of December, there was a nervous tension amongst the away support, particularly after the previous game – a dispiriting 1-1 draw to struggling Manchester United.

The nerves weren’t particularly settled down by the start the hosts made either. It was a rare start for Saul Niguez, who really hadn’t had a good start to life in a Blue shirt, and once more he struggled to keep up with the tempo of the game in this one. In fairness, it wasn’t all his fault, with most of the team seemingly asleep for the first 20 minutes or so.

Joao Pedro had the first chance, as Tom Cleverley snatched the ball off Marcos Alonso and put a cross in the direction of the Brazilian, but Chalobah managed to get across and block the effort. Pedro was involved once more just a couple of minutes later, as Femenia put a teasing ball into the area, and Mendy had to leap across to his right hand side and push away a shot that looked to be heading for the bottom corner.

Thomas Tuchel’s team might well have been punished with a goal had there not been a stoppage in play due to a medical emergency in the crowd, which delayed the game for some time, and allowed the German manager to have a word with his players, and ensure that when the match restarted they were much more alert and lively.

In the 19th minute (although it had been far longer since the game began), Mason Mount unleashed a strike from a tight angle at close range which cannoned back off the post, signalling potential danger for the Hornets. It was they who got stung by the aforementioned midfielder, as Alonso found himself in a pocket of space in the box, passing across goal to Havertz, and he then did the same to Mount, who fired back across the ‘keeper to give Chelsea the lead.

The Blues thought they’d doubled their lead in quick succession, as Havertz was played in by Pulisic to fire past Bachmann but the offside flag went up immediately. Watford were far from out of the game, and they knew it, as they pushed up the pitch with the intent of finding an equaliser before half time. Danny Rose squandered an opportunity when he received the ball with not a single Chelsea defender marking him, but his shot went straight at Mendy.

The Blues probably thought they’d done enough to make it to the interval, but right on the stroke of half time the yellow and black shirts raced forwards, with Emmanuel Dennis’ strike taking a deflection off Rudiger as it went through his legs, duping Mendy and meaning the teams were level at the break.

At this point in the campaign, it hadn’t yet reached the point where Chelsea simply gave up after being pegged back and accepted a draw – something that would go on to be a familiar occurrence. Instead, they took Saul off (a wise decision), and while the game was still end to end, with chances for both sides, it was the visitors who ended up taking theirs, as Mount played a ball along the ground for Ziyech – who had only come on around 10 minutes before – to hit home.

There was still time for a very shaky end to the game, as in the final minute of injury time, with Watford desperate to snatch a potentially crucial point, they created one last opportunity. Femenia had the ball come to him on the edge of the box, and he struck it sweetly with a well-timed volley, but Rudiger got himself in the way, and secured the three points on a long evening in North London.

It was far from convincing, and certainly shows all too familiar signs when reflecting on it now, but it is important to stress that, at the time, it felt like a potentially huge win. With those three points, Chelsea stayed top of the table – for now.

Game 25/66: Watford 1-2 Chelsea
WATFORD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 01: Hakim Ziyech of Chelsea celebrates scoring their 2nd goal with team-mates during the Premier League match between Watford and  Chelsea at Vicarage Road on December 1, 2021 in Watford, England. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)
WATFORD, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 01: Hakim Ziyech of Chelsea celebrates scoring their 2nd goal with team-mates during the Premier League match between Watford and Chelsea at Vicarage Road on December 1, 2021 in Watford, England. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Game 26/66: West Ham United vs Chelsea

What followed that Watford game though, was a match which would turn the fate of Chelsea’s season from potential title hopes, to an eventual Top Four battle. Of course, it didn’t happen immediately – there were still genuine hopes of competing for the top spot even after this one – but when looking back at the form which was then developed, it’s clear where the downturn began.

The Blues were on the road once more, and remaining in the capital, in order to face their rivals in East London, West Ham United. Now, over recent seasons, trips to the London Stadium have come with a fair degree of hesitancy, not just for Chelsea but for other top teams too.

Almost a month earlier, the Hammers had beaten title-chasing Liverpool 3-2 at home, inflicting the Reds’ first defeat of the season on them. Clearly, this would not be the easiest match. Still, it started off positively enough, as after an opening half an hour with few chances, the first major one fell Chelsea’s way.

A corner came in from Mason Mount, which was met by Thiago Silva, and his header, while not the most powerful, duped Fabianski due to the bounce it took before going past the goalkeeper. That goal certainly opened the game up, after a fairly tepid first 30 minutes, and West Ham came close to responding instantly when Coufal struck a volley with a clean connection that required Mendy to get down quickly and stop.

Speaking of Mendy though, this was to become something of a horror show for the Senegal international – which, considering a chant for him had only recently been devised at the previous game, was rather unfortunate. It wasn’t all entirely his fault – Jorginho attempted a backpass towards him, which Jarrod Bowen was chasing onto, putting the ‘keeper in a difficult position.

Really though, his first instinct should have been to simply boot the ball away, wherever that might be, in order to clear the immediate danger. As has become common amongst those between the sticks though, he instead opted to try and play his way out of trouble with his feet. After a heavy touch though, that failed miserably, with Bowen being taken out in the box by the flailing legs of the Chelsea man.

He could do nothing to prevent the dispatching of the spot kick either, as Lanzini sent him the wrong way and smashed the ball into the back of the net, five minutes before the break. Now, while the eventual outcome of this game was a disappointing one, there was one positive, which was that of Mason Mount who looked as though he was near enough the only attacker offering anything going forwards.

In fact, despite there only being a couple of minutes before half time, he put the visitors back in front, beautifully directing a volley low past Fabianski, following an excellent crossfield pass from Hakim Ziyech. It was sublime technique from the Englishman, and it had the Blues in front, albeit unexpectedly, after an action-packed first 45 minutes.

That lead didn’t last particularly long though, as in the 56th minute, the ball fell kindly to Bowen on the edge of the box. Even so, he still had quite some work to do, and after opening up his body for the shot, he sent the ball into the bottom left corner, while simultaneously sending the West Ham fans wild. Really, the game should’ve been won for the home side by the aforementioned Bowen with around 15 minutes to go before the end.

Michail Antonio used his strength to hold off Hudson-Odoi, before firing across the face of goal into the path of the oncoming Bowen, but he somehow sent his shot wide, in what appeared to be a major let off for Thomas Tuchel’s team. Alas, even that slice of fortune didn’t end up being enough, and the horror show for Edouard Mendy was set to be capped off late on.

With the game still level at 2-2, there was a general feeling that, while not the result they had hoped for, Chelsea could accept a draw against such a resilient opponent. If only they’d have held on for that.

Inexplicably, an attempted cross from Arthur Masuaku on the left hand side of the penalty area, went wayward and looked to be a simple enough catch for Mendy. Whether his weight was going in the wrong direction, or he simply didn’t expect it to go on target is still uncertain.

Whatever the reason, the goalkeeper ended up pushing the ball into the inside netting of his own goal, and by utter fluke David Moyes had masterminded another 3-2 victory against a potential title winner.

Except, he hadn’t – because from this game onwards, the Blues would never top the Premier League again this season. Things were about to change, and not for the better.

Game 26/66: West Ham United 3-2 Chelsea
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 04: Edouard Mendy of Chelsea fails to stop West Ham's third goal scored by Arthur Masuaku during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Chelsea at London Stadium on December 04, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 04: Edouard Mendy of Chelsea fails to stop West Ham’s third goal scored by Arthur Masuaku during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Chelsea at London Stadium on December 04, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

Game 27/66: Zenit St Petersburg vs Chelsea

A third away game in a row was to follow, coming in the form of the sixth and final matchday of the Champions League group stages. Owing to the spectacular performance against Juventus a fortnight before, all the Blues had to do was match or better the Italian side’s result in the early evening kick-off slot.

Chelsea had the tougher game, being away to Zenit St Petersburg, compared to Juventus being at home to Malmo, but there was still an expectation that they should be able to get the job done with relative ease. After all, the Russian outfit knew their third place spot was sealed, meaning, to all intents and purposes, they had nothing to play for but pride in this one.

Evidently though, just that was enough, as a game that would’ve been thrilling as a neutral was played out, in the city that would have been set to host the Champions League Final, had other events not shifted the landscape of European football.

Back to this game though, and if there was ever a more end-to-end first half then you’d be hard pushed to find it, as the match developed more as a training drill of ‘next goal wins’ rather than any semblance of organisation at the back for either side. Just 83 seconds in, a corner went through multiple bodies in the Zenit penalty area, before falling to the feet of Timo Werner, who physically couldn’t miss, and it appeared to be the perfect start for the Blues.

A second very nearly came less than a minute later, as Lukaku looked to square the ball to Werner, but the ball was cleared away just in time. The momentum began to swing the other way though, towards the home side, and they had a flurry of opportunities in a very short space of time midway through the first half.

Malcolm had two shots in two minutes, the first of which was blocked by Saul, and the second smothered by Kepa Arrizabalaga, who had been drafted in for a rare appearance. Next, it was Azmoun’s chance to go close, as he was unable to direct a header on target, but it was clear that a goal was effectively inevitable for the hosts at this point, the Chelsea defence in disarray every time Zenit ran at them.

The equaliser ended up coming in the 38th minute, as Douglas swung a ball into the area which was met by Claudinho, who headed past Kepa. It was shocking defending, but that wasn’t particularly surprising given the performance shown by the English side up until that point.

In fact, with the smoke machines still being reset after that first Zenit goal, they needed to be fired again, as Malcolm played a perfect through ball to Azmoun, and he took it round Kepa to complete the sudden turnaround – not that it was any less than Zenit deserved. Azmoun almost got a second before half time too, if not for the outstretched hand of Kepa which kept Chelsea in the game heading into the interval, and it’s fair to say Tuchel did not look happy.

His mood would have improved just past the hour mark though, as a fluid Blues’ move, started by Timo Werner, led to a one-two with Ross Barkley, before the German squared it to Romelu Lukaku, and he brought the game back to level terms. Still Zenit did not back down though, and Kepa was forced into another excellent save, getting down low to his left to deny Azmoun once more, who must have been sick of the sight of the Spaniard by the end of the game.

In an eerily similar parallel to that of the game against West Ham, it appeared to be Chelsea this time on the right end of a 3-2 win after being 2-1 down at half time, as in the 85th minute Pulisic found Werner in the box, who turned inside and fired past the Zenit ‘keeper, rounding off a stellar performance in front of goal from the often-criticised forward. And yet, in a scenario which could probably only happen to him, Werner’s showing ended up being overshadowed by an injury time equaliser from the hosts.

Malang Sarr’s headed clearance from Claudinho’s cross fell nicely to Ozdoyev, though the Russian still had plenty to do as he lashed a strike right into the top left corner, out of reach of Kepa. A third goal conceded was very harsh on Arrizabalaga, who had, like Werner, been looking to prove some doubters wrong, but the 3-3 draw did somewhat overshadow that.

With Juventus beating Malmo, it meant the Blues finished second in Group H, which did feel like a relative failure after the big win against the Italian group rivals so recently. Really though, when it came to the Round of 16 draw, nobody was too concerned, as Chelsea were drawn against Lille, and then drawn against Lille again in a redraw later on the same day.

But in terms of the context of the game itself, it was another case of dropped points, and another worrying sign of what might be to come.

Game 27/66: Zenit St Petersburg 3-3 Chelsea
SAINT-PETERSBURG, RUSSIA – December 08: Players of Chelsea FC celebrates his goal during the UEFA Champions League Group H football match between Zenit St.Petersburg and Chelsea FC at the Gazprom Arena in Saint-Petersburg , Russia on December 08, 2021. (Photo by Igor Russak/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Game 28/66: Chelsea vs Leeds United

For a team who, until late November, were being heralded as one of, if not the best defensive unit in the league, conceding six goals in two games didn’t paint the best picture. And in the next game, the perspective was arguably worsened yet further, in a high-scoring encounter against old foes Leeds United.

It was a rivalry which hadn’t been a regular occurrence for some time, owing to Leeds’ recent history being out of the top flight, so tensions were high right from the start. For Chelsea fans, the opening half an hour felt like deja vu, as a shambolic defensive display was evident once more, and it was Leeds who took a deserved lead.

Marcos Alonso put in a ridiculous challenge on Daniel James in the box, which led to Chris Kavanagh awarding the visitors a penalty. That was tucked away by Raphinha, as Mendy did his best frog impression in a bizarre attempt to save it, and the Brazilian’s samba dance celebration was not met with the kindest response by the home fans who were the primary audience.

Chelsea did finally show a bit of fight in the first half, and as was so often said throughout this campaign, it came from Mason Mount. The eventual player of the year oftentimes appeared to be one of the only members of the squad putting in effort, the others around him on some sort of rota, or so it appeared. Regardless, the Blues equalised three minutes from the break, as Marcos Alonso found Mount free in the penalty area, and the midfielder put away a tidy finish past Meslier.

The game was ultimately decided by multiple spot kicks, though not in the traditional shootout format, as instead three separate fouls were penalised by the referee, and by extension VAR. Raphinha had the first, and the second was won by Rudiger, who was fouled by the man who had scored Leeds’ opening goal, despite his heavy complaints.

Jorginho did the business, and for much of the remainder of the second half, while Leeds did have chances, it seemed as though Tuchel’s team were happy enough to just see out a 2-1 win. By not pushing for a two goal cushion though, the hosts were punished, and once more it was a late equaliser to dash hopes of a win.

Tyler Roberts was set free on the left wing, crossed towards the middle of the penalty area and Joe Gelhardt, who had sprinted his heart out to get there, got his foot on the ball ahead of Thiago Silva, to the utter delight of Leeds’ supporters. Chelsea had dropped yet more points at home to a team they really should be beating, and home supporters were set to leave the ground frustrated.

Or so it seemed. In the last knockings of the game, Rudiger went down under pressure from Klich in the area, and having blown his whistle, the referee pointed to the spot for a third time in this match. All that remained was for Jorginho to keep his cool, and he did exactly that, sending the home fans absolutely wild.

It felt as though, by the end of this game, the rivalry between the fan bases had made its way onto the pitch too, as the players got into a melee on the full time whistle, Antonio Rudiger the main protagonist from a Chelsea perspective, much to the delight of the Stamford Bridge crowd.

And on that full time whistle, the sound of ‘One Step Beyond’ came blaring out of the loudspeakers – it says quite something about the home form this season that it was the only occasion on which the traditional song played after a big win was heard.

There were few moments of positivity at the Bridge this season, but this was certainly one of them. It was fierce, fiery and furious – three qualities that were severely lacking in many other games this year.

Game 28/66: Chelsea 3-2 Leeds United

Game 29/66: Chelsea vs Everton

It may seem strange to even consider the prospect of Covid-19 impacting upon football, given the lack of restrictions (in the UK at least) for some time now. In fact, with fans having been in grounds all season, the notion of Coronavirus being more than a reference to the previous season may be an odd one.

But, back in December 2021, there was the thought that we may be heading back to behind-closed-doors matches, given the rising number of cases, not only in the country, but amongst players and coaching staff too. It was beginning to become quite the problem for the Premier League, with games being called off at just two hours’ notice at some points.

As such, until the referee blew his whistle to begin Chelsea’s next game, nobody was quite sure whether it would even be going ahead, especially with other fixtures on the same night being postponed throughout the day. As if to add to the strangeness of the situation, it was a Thursday night Premier League fixture, as often happens in the build-up to Christmas, and the Blues were set to host struggling Everton at home.

Under the unpopular leadership of Rafa Benitez, the Toffees arrived at Stamford Bridge with a reduced squad to choose from, due to multiple positive covid tests, meaning they were relying on youth. What followed was perhaps the single most frustrating game of football Chelsea played all season.

By far the favourites regardless of team selection, the odds of a home win had only increased with news of so many absences for the visitors, and as was pointed out by many after the game, it is in moments like these that the difference between Chelsea and the two teams fighting for the title in Manchester City and Liverpool was most stark.

The latter duo would’ve swept Benitez’ team aside, picking up a simple enough three points in their pursuit of perfection. What prevented the Blues from keeping up with them in that race, were games epitomised in this depressing Thursday evening matchup. The first half was one in which the Blues looked promising, creating a number of chances but never able to find that finishing touch, as Everton sat back, seemingly destined to concede eventually.

That they did, although it took until the 70th minute for Chelsea to get the breakthrough. In fairness to Benitez, he had set his team up well defensively, and they had played resiliently, but it seemed once the goal went in – a cracking finish from Mason Mount – that the dogged showing the visitors had produced was to be in vain.

And, quite frankly, if the hosts had been even mildly concentrating to hold onto their lead, it would’ve been. Barely four minutes after the long-awaited opener though, Everton, with their 19% of possession, won a free kick which was put in by Anthony Gordon.

It should’ve been cleared by any one of the many Blue shirts supposedly defending the set piece, but managed to go all the way through to the back post, where a young stand-in centre back in the form of Jarrad Branthwaite was, ironically enough, waiting to tap home.

Cue bedlam in the away end, and an all too familiar sense of pessimistic expectations being fulfilled amongst home supporters, as this dismal December continued.

Game 29/66: Chelsea 1-1 Everton
LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 16: Jarrad Branthwaite.of Everton celebrates his goal with Michael Keane Anthony Gordon Lewis Dobbin Alex Iwobi Ben Godfrey and Abdoulaye Doucoure during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Everton at Stamford Bridge on December 16, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images)

Game 30/66: Wolves vs Chelsea

If it was the opponents who had covid problems in the previous games, it was Chelsea who were suffering from a wrath of enforced self isolation for multiple members of their ranks as they prepared to face Wolves. So bad was the outbreak, that the Blues requested the fixture be postponed, something that had been allowed for every other team that had written to the Premier League with the same question.

The league however, opted to deny that request, meaning Thomas Tuchel had to try and make a starting eleven out of a very thin squad of players. It speaks volumes that on a bench of just six players, two were goalkeepers. There were plenty of other reasons for the disappointment in the league this season for the Blues, but being one of just two teams not to have a single fixture postponed definitely won’t have helped, as they ended up playing the joint-most games out of any team in English football this year too.

In all honesty, it is a struggle to remember anything from this game, not least because the pitch was shrouded in a low fog for the majority of the 90 minutes, masquerading the very few number of chances beneath weather that felt rather appropriate for a stretched and exhausted squad that really shouldn’t have been playing this game.

With the Premier League introducing a whole host of awards at the end of the season, many of which seemed extremely arbitrary (‘Most Improbable Comeback’ for example), it’s a surprise they didn’t include one for the ‘Most Boring Game’. Had they done so, this game would have been a prime candidate.

Just read the statistics: only 12 shots altogether between the two teams, and each side only managed a single shot on target too. The only slight moment of excitement came for the home side, when they thought they’d gone ahead a quarter of an hour in, as Marcal fired in a cross which Podence tapped in at the far post.

Thankfully for the Blues, VAR intervened and ruled that, while he hadn’t scored the goal, Jimenez had got involved in play from an offside position, meaning it remained goalless. Wolves’ singular attempt on goal came in the 41st minute, as Podence swung in a cross towards Dendoncker, but Mendy held onto the header easily enough.

Had it been another game, there might have been more questions over why the Blues couldn’t break down their opponent’s defence, but it really did feel as though this was simply a game they had to get through unscathed more than anything else, and in all fairness they did so well enough.

The away side even had an opportunity to snatch a win, with their one and only shot on target of the match, as Kante played in Christian Pulisic one-on-one with Jose Sa. His shot was saved by the onrushing ‘keeper, and after 10 more minutes of utterly mind-numbing nothingness, the referee blew for full time.

It was the only goalless draw in the league that the Blues would play out this season – you can’t say they didn’t entertain us.

Game 30/66: Wolves 0-0 Chelsea

Game 31/66: Brentford vs Chelsea

Just three days on from that bore draw, the situation with the options for Thomas Tuchel to choose from hadn’t improved much, but the show had to go on, and it was time for a change in competition. The quarter finals of the prestigious Carabao Cup were upon us, and it was another West London derby against Brentford, for the second time this season.

Circumstances were pretty different at this point – back in October, the Blues held out for a tough but rewarding three points to keep themselves at the top of the table. Now, just a few days before Christmas, they were being forced to play Jude Soonsup-Bell and Harvey Vale up front, as a result of the plethora of absences.

Also in the side was Xavier Simons, and while it may have been an unorthodox set up, there was something quite refreshing about seeing so many youth talents playing for the first time, even if it was purely by necessity. Plus, with it being so close to Christmas Day, most fans were in a positive mood, regardless of who was listed on the team sheet or the display they might put out.

With it being a cup game, it was always going to be Kepa in goal, and as had on all the occasions when he had been given a chance this season, the Spaniard performed well in net, keeping out a close-range header from Yoane Wissa and one from Mathias Jensen, both in the first half.

Another save came when Rico Henry was played in with an excellent ball over the top of the Chelsea defence by Jensen, and so while the youth in attack hadn’t done too much wrong, it was clear reinforcements were needed at the break, so Tuchel made the required changes, bringing on more experience in the form of Jorginho and Pulisic, as well as Mount and Reece James in the 65th minute.

The latter two changes appeared to have the greatest impact, as 15 minutes after being substituted on, James put in a teasing delivery from the right hand side of the box which Pontus Jansson attempted to block. Unfortunately for the Swede, he could do nothing as his deflection sent the ball past his own flailing goalkeeper, and while it had taken quite some time, the Blues were finally in front.

It was their first goal in over three hours of football, but it had come at a good time, as despite a relatively strong showing from the hosts, it was Chelsea who looked to be progressing to the semi finals. They secured their status in the penultimate round of the competition just five minutes later, as Pulisic was taken out by Alvaro Fernandez in the box, which allowed Jorginho to tuck away the spot kick, and while it wasn’t quite deserving of the status of a ‘Christmas Cracker’, it was a job well done in tough circumstances, which set up a tasty tie against Tottenham in just a couple of weeks time.

Game 31/66: Brentford 0-2 Chelsea

Game 32/66: Aston Villa vs Chelsea

Before that two-legged affair could take place though, there was still plenty of Premier League action to be played, as the festive season continued to be powered through. Right at the peak came a Boxing Day fixture against Aston Villa, and the Blues travelled to Villa Park for their first ‘return’ game of the season – that is, they had already played Villa once in the league, back in September.

Now under the management of Steven Gerrard, chants mocking the former Liverpool midifelder’s slip which cost his team the title were expected. However, to the travelling support’s disappointment Gerrard had tested positive for Covid, meaning it was his assistant boss – Gary McAllister – who was on the touchline instead.

A member of the backroom staff was relaying with the Head Coach, who was presumably holed up in his house watching the game, and it was he who would’ve been the happier of the two managers with the start his team made. A couple of dangerous counter attacks from the hosts early on led to corners after deflections off defenders, and it set the tone for the opener to come for The Villans to find the opener.

It was an unfortunate way for the Blues to go behind, as Matt Targett sent a first time cross into the penalty area, but in his attempt to block the delivery coming in, Reece James sent the ball looping over Edouard Mendy. The Chelsea goalkeeper could do nothing but watch as the ball sailed into the net out of his reach, and while it was unlucky, it was deserved on the balance of the game up until that point.

What followed was – and this statistic is pretty astonishing on reflection – one of just two occasions when the Blues came from behind to win in a league game this campaign (the other being around a fortnight before against Leeds United). The equaliser came relatively soon as Matty Cash took out Callum Hudson-Odoi in the box, it being such an obvious foul that the defender didn’t even bother protesting the decision.

After Jorginho had scored the penalty, Villa looked to regain the lead before the break, but more important blocks from Blues bodies at the back meant they held on until half time, at which point Thomas Tuchel evidently gave a strong team talk, because they came out for the second 45 minutes with far more intent than they had shown at any point in the first half.

The other important thing that Tuchel did was bring on Romelu Lukaku, and the Belgian instantly made Chelsea’s attack more threatening, as a couple of opportunities were missed by the Blues. One that wasn’t missed though was by the striker himself, as he connected with a cross in from Hudson-Odoi, heading past Emiliano Martinez who remained rooted to the spot between the sticks.

A more controlled second half from the away side followed, though the game really should have been out of sight when Mount, who had managed to take the ball past the opposition ‘keeper, somehow hit the side netting with a practically open goal to aim at. His worries about potentially leaving Villa in the game were eventually put to rest by the aforementioned Lukaku.

In the 92nd minute of the game the number nine sprinted forwards with the ball on a counter attack, easing Targett away with his strength, before winning Chelsea’s second penalty of the game as Ezri Konsa put in a cynical challenge that he somehow wasn’t sent off for.

Perhaps unfairly on Lukaku, it was still the designated penalty taker in Jorginho who took on the responsibility from 12 yards, but at that moment all that counted was that, after two disappointing draws in league action, the Blues had picked up a much-needed three points.

Game 32/66: Aston Villa 1-3 Chelsea

Game 33/66: Chelsea vs Brighton

To round off the year, Chelsea were back on home turf at Stamford Bridge, ready to host Graham Potter’s Brighton in their final game of 2021 – an extremely successful 12 months by all accounts. Lest anyone forget, this team had won the greatest prize in European club football exactly seven months to the day that this match was set to take place.

Quite how then the home side looked so average, being outplayed by their opponents, is something of a mystery. Still, as often happened in these sorts of games during this season, Tuchel’s team started off promisingly enough, hitting the post in the 17th minute via a deflected shot.

They even went ahead a little under half an hour in, Mason Mount’s delivery from the corner being met by Romelu Lukaku, who was fast becoming a man in form. Just prior to his goal though, there was a problem for Tuchel which ended up being decisive in the end result of this one. Reece James had to be substituted off with a hamstring injury (putting him out for many weeks), with Alonso coming on in his place.

That meant Tariq Lamptey – the former Chelsea player – had plenty of joy on the right hand side of the pitch from that point onwards, tormenting the Blues’ back line time and time again, with Alonso in particular the most prone to being shown up. Mendy was forced into a couple of saves in the first half after the opener, though they were stops you’d expect him to make – the real problems started emerging in the second half.

Brighton dominated possession, and a seemingly unsustainable pattern of play began to emerge, with Chelsea camped inside their own half, almost inviting pressure from the away side onto them. In complete fairness, that strategy almost worked, with Mount thinking he’d secured all three points when he took the ball off Veltman before doing what he’d failed to do at Villa Park and rolled it into an empty net, but the goal was ruled out for a foul on the Brighton defender.

That clearly gave the visitors one final bit of hope that they had a chance of taking something from this match, which they deservedly did, though it was in painful fashion for those on the Chelsea side. Marc Cucurella put in a pinpoint ball towards former Arsenal man Danny Welbeck, and he beat Trevoh Chalobah to the header, placing the ball back across Mendy to snatch a late, late point.

As mentioned, the Seagulls had warranted taking at least a draw back to the South Coast, but the nature in which that equaliser occurred prompted even greater frustration amongst Blues’ supporters than it may otherwise have done if it had come earlier in the game.

And so, to complete 2021 – a year in which Chelsea had been crowned Champions of Europe – was another infuriating two points dropped at home, something bemoaned by Thomas Tuchel in his post-match interview. And speaking of interviews, a seismic revelation was hours away from dropping after the final whistle – more on that next time.

Game 33/66: Chelsea 1-1 Brighton
LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 29: Mason Mount of Chelsea looks dejected as Danny Welbeck of Brighton & Hove Albion celebrates scoring their sides first goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Brighton & Hove Albion at Stamford Bridge on December 29, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)
Month Statistics:
Games Played: 9
Games Won: 4
Games Drawn: 4
Games Lost: 1

Month in three words: Forget The Title.

Written and Edited by Noah Robson (@noahrobson_)

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