Chelsea 2021/22 Revisited: April 2022

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 12: Timo Werner of Chelsea celebrates with teammates after scoring their team's third goal during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Leg Two match between Real Madrid and Chelsea FC at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 12, 2022 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN – APRIL 12: Timo Werner of Chelsea celebrates with teammates after scoring their team’s third goal during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Leg Two match between Real Madrid and Chelsea FC at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 12, 2022 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Game 53/66: Chelsea vs Brentford

If the story of March was one of remaining strong in the face of unprecedented restrictions on the way the club could operate, April was very much the opposite. There were some good moments in this month, which will be discussed when the time comes, but it began in an extremely depressing fashion.

An international break had just been and gone, with England defeating Switzerland the Ivory Coast in two friendlies, but when club football returned on the first weekend of April, Chelsea fans would have wished it never had. This was set to be the final home Premier League game that was full at Stamford Bridge, with the strict sanctions spoken about last time preventing ticket sales for any further matches, so many hoped that, in front of a full home crowd for one of the final times, the Blues would put in a strong performance.

After all, the opponents were Brentford who, while by no means a poor team, weren’t exactly competing in the same area of the table as the hosts, so most were expecting a simple enough win. Of course, as those reading this will know, it turned out to be completely the opposite. The warning signs came early on, as the Bees began to swarm around the Chelsea penalty area, creating three good chances within the first quarter of an hour.

First Edouard Mendy passed straight to Ivan Toney, whose attempted chip went over the bar, then Toney had another opportunity a couple of minutes later, forcing the Chelsea ‘keeper into a good stop, before Toney once more had a sight of goal, this time heading too high from Rico Henry’s cross. That really should have been the signal to the hosts that Brentford weren’t just here to lie down and accept defeat, but they took the visitors’ lack of continual pressure in the first half as a message that they were willing to do just that, sowing the seeds for a disastrous second half.

Even then, it began well for Thomas Tuchel’s men, as an absolute stunner of a shot from Antonio Rudiger – attempting one of his trademark long shots – flew into the top corner of the net from 40 yards out, giving the Blues a sudden lead. Really, it was something of a shame that what then happened next overshadowed the goal, because after so many efforts going high, wide, or occasionally being saved, one had finally gone in by the German defender, yet it wasn’t the sort of match that Blues’ supporters would be eager to rewatch on Match of the Day later in the evening.

That’s because less than two minutes after the hosts went in front, they were pegged back level by an equaliser from Thomas Frank’s side. Coming out of almost nothing, Bryan Mbeumo knocked the ball into the path of Vitaly Janelt, who then lashed a strike past Mendy at his near post, with the home fans practically still celebrating the opener. Things were about to get even worse for Chelsea too, as just four minutes after that equaliser, they found a goal to go in front.

It was a slick counter attack by the away team, as Mbeumo turned Ziyech skilfully, then proceeded to sprint up the pitch all the way to the penalty area. For some bizarre reason, all three of the Chelsea players running back to try and defend then decided to head towards Mbeumo, leaving Christian Eriksen completely unmarked in the middle of the box. He was on the end of the cross from his teammate, and shot into the roof of the net, stunning the home fans into silence.

As if that then wasn’t bad enough, the Blues still couldn’t get themselves sorted out at the back, as an hour in Janelt got his second of the match, having been played in one-on-one with Mendy by Toney, before producing a delightful dink over the man between the sticks for Chelsea, and the Bees had scored three times in the space of ten minutes, leaving Blues fans, players and coaching staff alike all equally shocked as to what had just happened.

A brief period did occur where the hosts tried to fight back, as Havertz thought he’d got his side back in it, only for his goal to be ruled out for handball. A couple of other close opportunities to get back into the game came soon after, with David Raya almost committing a howler, and Havertz sending a shot just wide of the post. Eventually though, it came to the point where it was clear it just wasn’t going to be Chelsea’s day; as if to rub salt in the wounds, one final nail in the coffin came three minutes from time, as Yoane Wissa added a fourth.

Norgaard’s cross was headed towards goal by Pinnock, and after confusion amongst Blues’ defenders, Wissa came flying in to fire into the back of the net, signalling to the majority of home supporters their cue to leave. An utterly humiliating result in the end, providing echoes of the 5-2 home defeat to West Brom the year before, almost exactly a year to the day too.

Plus, the takeover saga was heating up, with various bidders now mentioned, with one of them – the Ricketts Family – having a protest organised against them before this game. Really, after the performance a couple of hours later, it was a miracle any bidder was still interested.

Game 53/66: Chelsea 1-4 Brentford
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 02: Romelu Lukaku of Chelsea looks dejected after his team concede a fourth goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Brentford at Stamford Bridge on April 02, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Harriet Lander/Copa/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND – APRIL 02: Romelu Lukaku of Chelsea looks dejected after his team concede a fourth goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Brentford at Stamford Bridge on April 02, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Harriet Lander/Copa/Getty Images)

Game 54/66: Chelsea vs Real Madrid

After such a huge defeat, the expectations for the next game had severely diminished, which was problematic given the importance of the fixture. It was time for the quarter finals of the Champions League, and the Blues were set to face a familiar opponent. Having beaten Real Madrid in the previous year’s semi final, the Spanish side were set to travel to London again, the only difference being this time it was for a first leg matchup.

Now, this was a frustrating result for so many reasons, but the real kick in the teeth actually came when looking back on the game a week later, following the second leg in Madrid. That will be saved for when that match is recapped, but it’s worth pointing out quite why this upcoming result proved to be so painful.

The players walked out in front of a display covering the home section of The Shed End, displaying two stars to represent the two European Cup triumphs – not that the opponents on the night would be too concerned, given their exemplary record in the competition too. In truth, the Blues actually started the game in a fairly promising fashion, keeping control of the ball well and biding their time waiting for an opening to present itself.

Unfortunately, they were perhaps a little too patient, and the man who has received many acclamations to win the Ballon d’Or this year in Karim Benzema smelt blood first, opening the scoring in the driving rain in West London. A one-two between Vinicius Junior and the French striker led to the former clipping a cross into the middle where Benzema produced a fine header past Mendy, making a very difficult chance look simple, which is huge credit to the striker.

His world class ability was shown once more just three minutes later, as Luka Modric’s first time cross came straight to Benzema, and he headed past the goalkeeper again with supreme accuracy, somehow generating enough power despite leaning backwards in the air. All of a sudden, this tie was slipping away from Chelsea and they needed something quickly to get them back into the game.

That came five minutes before the break, when Jorginho crossed in towards Kai Havertz, who bravely headed a ball which Dani Carvajal came inches away from clearing with a relatively high boot, and it nestled past Thibaut Courtois (to the delight of the fans behind the goal) to firmly make it game on at half time. That said, it was very close to being taken away from the Blues once more when in the last knockings of the first half Benzema found himself in on goal against Mendy, but he uncharacteristically missed the target, in a huge let off.

With that chance being spurned, you might have expected that the overriding message from Thomas Tuchel in the dressing room would’ve been to keep things calm and look to get an equaliser, or at the very least limit the deficit when travelling to Spain. Quite why then Edouard Mendy decided to play an underhit pass to Rudiger within the first 60 seconds after the interval is anybody’s guess, but it allowed Benzema to snatch the ball away and fire into an empty net for a 46 minute hat trick.

The first two goals were perhaps excusable for the sheer quality of the player – the cherry on top, as far as Real Madrid were concerned, was an absolute gift. It felt as though the life had been sucked out of both the home players and supporters after that goal – any semblance of a hope of a comeback appeared lost, with the mood resembling that of an old balloon: deflated.

That mood was only exacerbated by missed chances to lessen the damage, the most significant of which came to Romelu Lukaku, who had entered the pitch just over an hour in. He had a totally free header in the middle of the penalty area after Azpilicueta’s cross deflected right into his path, but couldn’t even hit the target with his effort, and if ever there was a greater contrast between two strikers playing in the same game, the juxtaposition between the Belgian and his French counterpart playing in white was stark beyond belief.

A few half chances then came and went in the remainder of the game, but as mentioned by that point there was very little, if any optimism at overturning the tie, let alone the match on the night itself. It left Thomas Tuchel’s Blues 90 minutes from elimination as holders of the Champions League, and they’d need a performance of a lifetime to progress through to the final four of Europe’s elite in a little under a week’s time.

Game 54/66: Chelsea 1-3 Real Madrid

Game 55/66: Southampton vs Chelsea

In between the two mammoth European nights, there was a trip down to the South Coast, where Southampton were the opponents. After two games at home where the Blues had conceded seven goals, scoring just two in return, it felt a welcome change to be away from Stamford Bridge, though it still wasn’t the most positive mood prior to the match.

It almost feels as though this game was something of a fever dream: it came out of nowhere, and while the performances after it weren’t terrible, there was never anything that came close to the sort of dominance shown in this seemingly innocuous Saturday afternoon encounter. In fact, there’s a very strong argument to be had that this first half was the best throughout the entire campaign. The chances for the Blues read almost as a list, given the number of them in such a short space of time too.

Three minutes in, Timo Werner sprinted up the pitch and shot against the post, with the German hitting the woodwork again in the sixth minute, after heading Loftus-Cheek’s cross towards goal. Warning signs were popping up in all areas as far as Southampton were concerned, and they didn’t deal with any of them, making the opening goal somewhat of a formality.

It came after Loftus-Cheek chipped the ball into Mason Mount in the box, who controlled it with his chest before having the presence of mind to flick it towards Marcos Alonso behind him, and the wing back smashed a low strike through Fraser Forster’s legs for 1-0. It was a familiar goalscorer against the Saints that got the second, with boyhood Portsmouth fan Mason Mount doubling the Blues’ lead a little over a quarter of an hour in.

He controlled a deflected cross on the edge of the box, before firing low and hard into the bottom left corner with spectacular technique on the half volley. It was an incessant barrage of yellow shirts flowing forwards, with a third very nearly coming when Alonso found Werner, but the German’s close range shot was saved by Forster.

He needn’t have worried about missing that chance though, because he soon got another opportunity, as he ran onto the ball in behind the Southampton defence, took it round the ‘keeper, and passed home coolly, effectively putting the game out of reach for their opponents with barely 20 minutes gone. ‘Oh when the Saints go marching out,’ was the cry from the away end, as some home fans began to leave midway through the first half, disgusted with what they’d seen from their team.

Many more got up to depart after half an hour, when Kai Havertz added a fourth, profiting off Werner’s hard work when he made a mazy run through the opposition defence, being desperately unlucky to see his strike come back off the right hand post, that his compatriot then tapped home. Havertz saw another effort saved and Mount forced Forster into a spectacular save, which led to another stop from the resultant corner as Loftus-Cheek’s header looked certain to find the back of the net for Chelsea’s fifth.

A fifth did indeed come just after half time, and it was another deserved goal for Timo Werner, who had been everywhere in this game. Kante lost out in a one-on-one with the goalkeeper, but the man in the sticks only succeeded in palming the ball straight to the aforementioned attacker, and he got his brace.

Even then the Blues weren’t done, as Pulisic’s attempt to convert Alonso’s low cross was saved into the path of Mount, and he too got two goals for his troubles on what was turning out to be a very enjoyable sunny Saturday afternoon in Southampton.

A 9-0 probably could have been well within reach, had Tuchel not been aware of the need to reduce the likelihood of any injuries ahead of a mammoth game in midweek, but it was still a performance to remember, and a much-needed boost in morale before the biggest game of Chelsea’s season so far.

Game 55/66: Southampton 0-6 Chelsea

Game 56/66: Real Madrid vs Chelsea

So here it was. It was all or nothing for Chelsea as they came out the tunnel in front of a deafening crowd at the Santiago Bernabeu to face Real Madrid in the second leg of a quarter final tie in which they were 3-1 down on aggregate. History certainly wasn’t on the visitors’ side prior to kick off: no English side had ever won at the stadium in the Champions League by more than one goal, Chelsea had only ever won by two goals away from home in the Champions League on two previous occasions and Real Madrid had progressed from nine of their 10 previous knockout ties in the competition after winning the first leg away from home.

So it’s fair to say the odds were pretty stacked against them. As mentioned covering the home game, the fact it was a two goal deficit to overturn simply in order to get to extra time made the task all the more tough, and would prove to be even more frustrating by the time the full time whistle came. That moment wouldn’t come for over two and a half hours though, with what happened in between instantly going down as a Champions League classic.

If only the Blues could have seen it that way. Everything began so, so well. Too well.

Thomas Tuchel had evidently instructed his team to go out with purpose, pressuring high up the pitch right from the off in an effort to get an early goal back. A few half chances for the German trio of Werner, Havertz and Rudiger occurred within a short space of time, but it was after just 15 minutes that Chelsea really started to think the unthinkable was potentially on.

A smart flick on from Werner set Mount running into the penalty area, and he produced a fine finish past Thibaut Courtois to cut the aggregate deficit to just one goal. The hosts then proceeded to tighten up somewhat at the back, alarmed by the fact they had been put under such pressure, and it did limit the number of chances in the remainder of the first half. Rudiger had a sighter from a long way out, attempting to recreate his thunderbolt against Brentford, and although it did worry Courtois it was always sailing over.

It was just after half time that the Blues’ real quality began to appear, as Reece James lashed a strike at goal that deflected inches wide for a corner. From that set piece, Mason Mount floated a ball into the centre of the box, where Antonio Rudiger powered a header into the bottom right corner, sending the travelling supporters way up in the gods of the Bernabeu absolutely wild.

Even getting to this point had seemed improbable – Chelsea were now level with Real Madrid, beating the serial European winners 2-0 on their own turf, with 40 minutes still remaining in the game. Even at this point, the hosts still didn’t look as though they would be able to find a goal from anywhere, with the defending from Tuchel’s men remaining resolute – a particularly impressive moment coming when Benzema was moments away from lashing a strike at goal, with Reece James nicking it away from him at the last second.

A few minutes later, there was a huge moment in the game, as Marcos Alonso thought he’d put his side ahead on aggregate, as he smashed the ball into the top right corner of the goal, the ball to him having been timed to perfection by N’Golo Kante. It seemed as though the ultimate comeback was complete, the players and staff celebrating manically, but a cruel, cruel intervention by VAR was to come, as the goal was then ruled out for a handball by the Spaniard.

It was probably the correct decision, but it didn’t stop it feeling any more painful at the time – it seemed like the wind had been knocked out of the visitors’ sails, and that things would now swing back the other way. And yet, with incredible determination, the Blues kept on pushing, and even more astonishingly they were rewarded too, as in the 75th minute they scored once more, and this time VAR would have no part to play.

Mateo Kovacic played a pinpoint pass to Werner, and he was patient, cutting past multiple Madrid defenders, proceeding to fire at goal. After a deflection, the ball bobbled into the back of the net, and this time everyone involved with the Blues went utterly mental. It had seemed impossible before the game to even consider taking the game to extra time, let alone winning the tie in normal time. Chelsea were 3-0 up at the home of 13-time European Champions Real Madrid, 4-3 up on aggregate, and were 15 minutes away from one of the greatest Champions League comebacks in history.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is where this season review becomes painful beyond belief.

It seemed that the Blues had done it. Surely they could hold on for 15 minutes – after all, Ancelotti’s men had barely offered anything thus far, so why would they start now? Then came that dreaded eyebrow raise, pointed to by the end of the campaign as the moment each and every game Real Madrid were involved in changed.

Just five minutes after going in front, the away team were pegged back level on aggregate, as Luka Modric played one of the single-greatest passes football has ever seen, effortlessly, putting a cross in with the outside of his right foot, and finding Rodrygo, who, with excellent technique, volleyed home to make it 4-4 overall. Even then Chelsea kept fighting.

Multiple chances to snatch victory came in the final 10 minutes, with the majority of them involving Pulisic, who only came on with seven minutes to go before the 90 were up. The American first found Mount, whose shot was blocked by Camavinga, and then had two massive chances for himself in injury time. Rudiger had headed the ball on in the box, and admittedly the winger was on the stretch, but there were plenty of heads in hands when his effort went over the bar.

Then, with 52 seconds remaining on the clock, Marcos Alonso’s cross was headed down by Havertz towards Pulisic, who was only a few yards out from goal. If Chelsea supporters weren’t on the knees after his previous chance, they certainly were after this one, as once more it flew desperately over the bar. At that point, as the game went to extra time, there was a sense that maybe this improbable comeback was, well, too improbable.

It proved to be so, as in the 96th minute the inevitable Karim Benzema had a free header – as a result of Rudiger slipping on the turf – from Vinicius Junior’s cross, making the scoreline an almost unbelievable 5-4 on aggregate.

Chelsea did everything to try and get a goal to send the game to penalties, but a combination of blocks, saves from Courtois, and a sense that it simply wasn’t meant to be meant the clock ticked closer and closer to the 120 minute mark, until the three long blasts of the whistle came and Chelsea were sent out of the Champions League.

No words could express the gut-wrenching nature with which the Blues had had a semi final spot snatched away from them – after all they had produced one of their best showings of the entire season – but as became clear the further the competition progressed, Real Madrid did this to everyone.

It may still hurt to remember this game, but there was to be one slight bit of relief after the semi final ties were complete: at least we weren’t Manchester City.

Game 56/66: Real Madrid 2-3 Chelsea
(Aggregate: Real Madrid 5-4 Chelsea)

Game 57/66: Chelsea vs Crystal Palace

With the emotions of Madrid still hanging over the team, and the drama of the takeover saga still continuing, there was a real sense of feeling drained beginning to overtake everyone and everything associated with Chelsea Football Club. That wasn’t exactly the ideal preparation ahead of an FA Cup semi final against a team who, unlike the Blues, don’t take trips to Wembley Stadium for granted, meaning it would mean a whole lot more to them than Chelsea.

The team in question was Crystal Palace who, after a slightly rocky start, had enjoyed a promising season under the new management of Patrick Vieira, and were hoping to cap it off in fairytale fashion by avenging their 2016 FA Cup Final defeat to Manchester United (you know, the one where Alan Pardew did *that* dance). Anyway, the post-Madrid hangover was certainly evident as far as the Blues were concerned, with a distinct lack of pretty much any opportunities in the opening 45 minutes for them.

That said, Crystal Palace didn’t create particularly much either, with their best chance coming in the 36th minute, as Cheikhou Kouyate fired a volley towards goal, forcing Mendy into a smart stop. The ball then fell right into the direction of Joachim Andersen, but from very close range he somehow couldn’t find the target, instead hitting his effort over the bar.

In the second half, while the tempo didn’t exactly increase to the degree that it had in Chelsea’s previous game, they did manage to go in front. It came from a former Palace loanee in the form of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, and it was a cracking strike from the edge of the box, as Havertz’s shot deflected back towards the Englishman, and he sent a rocket into the top corner, finally breaking the deadlock.

It sort of felt as though the Blues were sleep-walking in this one, though contrary to the usual cliche of teams not being awake conceding goals, the Blues did manage to get through this one with a victory, a sign of the fact there were still games in which the team could perform in the fashion they had done when Tuchel first arrived – even in the face of difficulty, they found a way to win.

That attitude wouldn’t exactly be commonplace as the season progressed to its final stages and Chelsea crawled over the finish line in the league, but it was still occasionally there, and it was refreshing whenever it did appear. Regardless, this game was secured ten minutes after the first goal, when Werner played a cute pass into Mount, who poked past Jack Butland, all but sending the Blues to their third consecutive FA Cup Final.

Given the general mood over the past few days, it was impressive that the squad had managed to cast aside other worries and focus purely on the game at hand, coming out comfortable victors in the end, spoiling the ‘South London Takeover’ that Palace supporters had promised in the build-up to the game too, much to many people’s enjoyment.

Game 57/66: Chelsea 2-0 Crystal Palace

Game 58/66: Chelsea vs Arsenal

It was time to return to Premier League action, and also time to return to Stamford Bridge, for a first domestic game at home since the 4-1 drubbing against Brentford. Chelsea’s next opponents were a familiar foe in North London rivals Arsenal, who were in need of a win to keep their top four hopes alive, while the Blues were now effectively just a formality away from securing Champions League football (even if that formality would stretch out slightly longer than initially imagined).

The Gunners came into the game off the back of a very poor run of results, having lost all of their previous three matches since returning from the international break. Add to that the fact Chelsea were the home team, and it seems impossible that there could be anything less than a win for the Blues in this one. As so often happens in such scenarios though, the opposite came to be true.

It was, admittedly, not without any extenuating circumstances, with this being the first home game without a full house of fans, as a result of the sanctions still on the club, so the atmosphere was diluted. That said, it shouldn’t have made much difference, given around 25,000 season ticket holders were still in attendance, so to blame the performance in this one on the crowd would be extremely disingenuous.

It seemed the flavour of the month as far as Chelsea defenders were concerned was under hitting passes when playing in defence, with that being the root cause of Arsenal’s opening goal. Andreas Christensen looked to be able to deal with Nuno Tavares’ long punt upfield, but miskicked the ball when attempting to go back to Mendy, allowing Eddie Nketiah to race through on goal and slot past the Chelsea goalkeeper.

In fairness, the hosts hit back quickly, finding an equaliser just four minutes after Arsenal’s goal, and it came through the in-form Timo Werner. It was hardly the most convincing strike – if anything, the German had scuffed his shot from outside the box – but a deflection off Ben White confused Aaron Ramsdale, and he dived too late to prevent the ball bouncing past him.

Really, all this game gave was a masterclass in how not to defend, with there not being a huge number of chances for either team, but virtually every single one was a dangerous opportunity that led to a goal – after all, by the end of the match, both sides had scored every single one of their shots on target. One moment where a chance didn’t trouble the goalkeeper was when Arsenal broke forward with pace, eventually leading up to a shot from Nketiah, but he put his effort wide.

That miss was quickly avenged though, as with less than half an hour gone the third goal of the game came, and frustratingly for Chelsea it was for the visitors again. Bukayo Saka worked his way towards the middle, passed to Martin Odegaard, who then lay the ball into the path of Emile Smith-Rowe. The Englishman struck home with a sweet strike that rolled right into the bottom corner, and the away team were ahead once more.

Yet, just like after the first goal, Tuchel’s side hit back, with a second equaliser coming in the 32nd minute. Mount persisted well to snatch the ball off the opposition and swung in a ball towards the near post, where Cesar Azpilicueta came charging in to tap home. The visitors finished the first half the stronger, taking on a couple of speculative long shots that whistled wide, but at the break both sides got the chance to take a breath after an utterly bonkers first 45 minutes that had seen the teams go in level with two goals apiece.

The period after the break did produce more goals, but they were at the opposite end to the one Chelsea fans would’ve been hoping for in the 15 minute interval. Tavares got hold of the ball on the left hand side, before squaring it to Nketiah, who attempted to swivel on the spot, only to play the ball into Malang Sarr.

Unfortunately, the centre back produced an equally heavy touch to gift possession straight back to the attacker, who was now face to face with Mendy, and Nketiah managed to get enough power on the ball to send it past the Senegalese ‘keeper.

This time there was to be no quickfire equaliser, as the Blues produced a pretty tepid performance in the remaining half an hour. As if losing this London derby wasn’t set to be bad enough though, Azpilicueta decided to really make this a night to forget as he pushed Saka to the ground when in the box, leaving the referee no choice but to award a penalty – in the 90th minute no less – to Arsenal.

The man who had won the spot kick then took on the responsibility of taking it, and he did the business, sending Mendy the wrong way, meaning Chelsea had now lost their last three games at Stamford Bridge, conceding eleven goals in the process.

So much for home comforts.

Game 58/66: Chelsea 2-4 Arsenal
LONDON, ENGLAND – APRIL 20: Martin Odegaard of Arsenal holds the ball in the corner under pressure from Thiago Silva of Chelsea and Ngolo Kante of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on April 20, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Game 59/66: Chelsea vs West Ham United

It was a third London derby in the space of a week, and another game at the Bridge (which was certainly not the positive it might have been earlier in the season). As in the last game, attendance was once more limited, meaning another subdued atmosphere was to follow in this Sunday afternoon encounter.

The opponents were David Moyes’ West Ham United, currently preparing for a Europa League semi final tie against Eintracht Frankfurt on the upcoming Thursday (that they would go on to lose), so the Scottish manager opted to reshuffle his starting eleven in this one. That meant it was effectively a B team from the East London side, so if Chelsea couldn’t win this game, then there really would have to be some serious questions asked.

For quite some time in this match, it appeared that such questions may indeed have to be asked in Thomas Tuchel’s post-match press conference. The first half was extremely sparse of any notable action, with it playing out more like a pre-season friendly than a vital clash in terms of picking up points for European football next season. There might not have been much noise due to the limited attendance, but even with a full house most would have had very little to shout about.

Really, despite the Blues having the majority of the ball, the best chance fell to Andriy Yarmolenko, when a chipped through ball from Pablo Fornals came his way, but it wasn’t the easiest opportunity, and his shot ended up going wide of the post. Thankfully for the neutral, the game did open up after half time, with both sides having various opportunities.

Timo Werner saw a volley blocked by Craig Dawson (who would remain a stalwart in the Hammers’ defence for most of the game), while Soucek saw his effort cleared by Thiago Silva, and Fabianski was finally forced to work somewhat on the hour mark, when Trevoh Chalobah had a pop from a position very similar to that of the one when he scored against Crystal Palace on the opening day of the Premier League season. Still no breakthrough could be found though, and as the game wore on the frustration only grew amongst home fans, as they saw Werner somehow hit the side netting from close range.

That came moments after Yarmolenko made Edouard Mendy make a quickfire double save, and the tension was beginning to mount as the clock continued to run up. Finally though, in the 84th minute of the game, it seemed the Blues were set to find the opener they had been pushing for all afternoon.

Romelu Lukaku, brought on as a substitute in this one, turned away from Dawson who then proceeded to drag the forward back by his arm in the penalty area, leading to a penalty for the hosts and a red card for the West Ham defender who, up until that point, had played admirably for his side. Nevertheless, the responsibility fell to Jorginho as usual, and the expectation was that with his unusual technique he would find the winner from the spot.

What followed was one of the worst penalties ever produced, as the ball pea-rolled into the grateful grasp of the diving Fabianski, and a sense of utter despair took over most of the Stamford Bridge crowd, who were probably wondering if they’d ever see their team win at home again.

As it turned out, those thoughts only stewed for around five minutes, as in the final knockings of the match Marcos Alonso delivered a low ball into the West Ham penalty area, where no fewer than four Chelsea players were waiting. It ended up being Christian Pulisic who got the decisive touch though, as he swept his shot across the goal and into the bottom right corner, immediately causing a cacophony of relief to spill out in West London.

Really, the fact it had taken 90 minutes to break down this West Ham defence was more of a concern than would be analysed after the game, but by this stage in the season, with so many games having been played, very few were particularly bothered.

Fundamentally, it was a win, and it was three more points on the road to securing Champions League football.

Game 59/66: Chelsea 1-0 West Ham United
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 24:  Christian Pulisic of Chelsea celebrates after scoring their first goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and West Ham United at Stamford Bridge on April 24, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND – APRIL 24: Christian Pulisic of Chelsea celebrates after scoring their first goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and West Ham United at Stamford Bridge on April 24, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Game 60/66: Manchester United vs Chelsea

To finish off the month of April, it was a trip to the North West on a Thursday night to face Manchester United at Old Trafford. Originally scheduled for a couple of weeks later, this game had been moved as a result of the Blues reaching the FA Cup Final, so it was now set to take place exactly five months after the return fixture back at the Bridge, when then-title-chasing Chelsea could only manage a draw against Michael Carrick’s team.

Since then, each respective team’s fortunes had continued to diverge, with the Blues looking set to finish in third place, while the Red Devils still couldn’t be certain that they’d make any sort of European competition at all next season. As it had been back in November, the onus was very much on Chelsea here to pick up a win against a side that were now, to all intents and purposes, competing at the same level as the likes of West Ham United and Wolverhampton Wanderers (with all due respect to those two teams of course).

If the previous match against the Hammers had appeared dry of too many chances in the first half, this game produced almost exactly the opposite. The visitors were on their opponents right from the off, pushing up the pitch time and time again and incessantly going on multiple counter attacks in an attempt to find the opening goal early on.

Reece James first had an effort saved by David De Gea from long range, then a few minutes later the wing back – who would put out another stellar performance in this match – saw a second attempt denied by the Spanish goalkeeper. Really, had it not been for the man in United’s net, the Blues probably would’ve won this game pretty comfortably, given the number of chances they created, but as had been the case for much of the season, De Gea looked to be the one player putting in effort throughout the 90 minutes.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – APRIL 28: Reece James of Chelsea runs with the ball from Raphael Varane of Manchester United during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford on April 28, 2022 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

It would become repetitive to simply list out the efforts on goal that the away side had in this one, as Blue shirts simply won the ball back every time Man United looked to clear it away, surrounding their opponent’s penalty area for extended periods of time, much to the home crowd’s (and Gary Neville’s) disappointment.

Yet, for all the dominance shown, it was a familiar story in terms of being unable to find the finishing touch – Havertz had two of the best chances of the first half as he was played through in on goal twice in a couple of minutes, but he couldn’t find the back of the net on either occasion. In fact, the German forward had a hat trick of opportunities, though admittedly the third one – a header from a Reece James cross – wasn’t quite as clear-cut as the previous two had been.

Somehow, despite all their best efforts, the Blues found themselves going in goalless at half time, and all those chances would, inevitably, be rued in another 45 minutes’ time. As had happened before in this campaign, Chelsea did end up going ahead, the goal coming via Marcos Alonso, who benefitted from Havertz’ flick on, firing a low strike on the volley with his left foot past De Gea.

But there was barely even any time for Blues’ supporters to revel in their enjoyment of taking the lead, because two minutes later, it was none other than Cristiano Ronaldo who brought the game back on level terms with practically the hosts’ first big chance of the game. A simple enough pass over the top of the Chelsea defence by former Blue Nemanja Matic saw Ronaldo take one touch and then leather it past Edouard Mendy, making it one goal each on the night.

Nothing could sum up the general mood at the time at Chelsea better than the acceptance after the equaliser that they simply weren’t going to win this game, despite evidently being the better team. Reece James did have a shot come back off the post with around 10 minutes to go, but unlike in the first half there was no longer the eagerness to run forward with the ball, instead a mere metaphorical shrug of the shoulders as if to say, ‘Well, it’s just not going to happen’.

Perhaps it wasn’t going to, but the pessimism amongst players and fans alike was at an all time high, and certainly didn’t provide the ideal preparation for the Blues’ one chance at domestic silverware this season, which was set to come in just a couple of weeks’ time.

April was a topsy-turvy month, but May would provide the final loop in an utterly chaotic ride.

Game 60/66: Manchester United 1-1 Chelsea
Month Statistics:
Games Played: 8
Games Won: 4
Games Drawn: 1
Games Lost: 3

Month in three words: Rollercoaster Of Results.

Written and Edited by Noah Robson (@noahrobson_)

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