CHELSEA and Bayern Munich are supposed to be in transition, two teams in reconstruction mode. Of the two, on the evidence of their UEFA Champions League meeting at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea look a long way off moulding a team capable of living up to the heights of the Abramovich era, while Bayern look to be heading in the right direction.
Watching the Germans pull Chelsea apart, inflicting on them their worst-ever home defeat in European competition, we may have been witnessing the germination of another outstanding Bavarian side that could lift the club’s first Champions League title since 2013.
The tie is over after one game, make no mistake. London certainly belongs to Bayern – their last three visits have seen them beat Arsenal 5-1, Tottenham 7-2 and now Chelsea 3-0. And Serge Gnabry, week-by-week, is reminding Arsenal that he could have saved them quite a bit of cash if they could have stuck by him. Chelsea didn’t know how to deal with Gnabry and the imperious Robert Lewandowski on a miserable and sobering night for Frank Lampard’s outplayed team.
Chelsea looked makeshift compared to the thoroughbreds of Munich, a team without punch – notwithstanding Alonso’s elbows – and without purpose. Too many of the current squad look like their time has passed and the others don’t know if their time will ever truly come. They need reinforcements and a proper rebuild.
Not since their last title win in 2017 have Chelsea had a decent attack and over the past few years, most strikers have looked like ageing make-dos or expensive short-term hires – Higuain, Remy, Batshuayi, Ba, Giroud, the short-lived Diego Costa and the lost soul that is Alvaro Morata. Eight years after he won the Champions League for the club against Bayern, the talismanic Didier Drogba has not been replaced. And, increasingly, it seems as though Tammy Abraham may not, after all, be their man, despite his eagerness. The commitment to the “youth revolution” and new culture of tolerance will be severely tested this summer when the wallet is opened once more and Lampard’s second year carries that toxic drug, expectation. In all probability, Lampard will go the same way as other “nice guys” like Carlo Ancelotti, Claudio Ranieri and Roberto Di Matteo. It will be tougher to swallow as he’s very much the “favourite son”.
Chelsea were swept aside by Gnabry and Lewandowski as well as the excellent Alphonso Davies, whose pace troubled the Blues’ defence. Jonathan Liew of the Guardian called Bayern’s football “a mesmeric game of perpetual motion, a sort of attack by nuclear fission, in which every run seems to detonate two more”. It was true the fluidity of Bayern’s movement was in marked contrast to Chelsea’s hopeful approach, but the bottom line was that Lampard’s side, at this stage of its evolution, was simply not ready for a team of Bayern’s dexterity.
If you examine Chelsea’s European campaign so far, their limitations have been there for all to see. They were outplayed by Ajax at home for long periods, a team that is now in the Europa League after being shorn of its two best players from last season. They lost at home to Valencia, a side that was mauled by Atalanta in the Champions League round of 16. In the Premier League, Chelsea have blown hot and cold and their current high placing may have as much to do with the current weakness of the field as their own occasional glimpses of top form. Against the leading sides, they have rarely performed, although they won away at both Arsenal and Spurs. Their home performances have often been uncharacteristically poor, suffering five defeats in 14 games. They will be happy with fourth place, but there’s no guarantee that will be the end result. If the introduction of youth and appointment of Lampard was meant to be a holding strategy while the Financial Fair Play punishment was endured, then the outcome will probably justify these decisions, even if Sam Wallace of the Telegraph’s assessment that Chelsea “looked like one of the annual round-of-16 lightweights” was just about right.
It will take a shock result that would eclipse even Liverpool’s astonishing turnaround against Barcelona if Chelsea are to have any interest in the competition beyond the second leg in the magnificent Allianz Arena. Chelsea still have plenty to play for, a top four place in the Premier and Champions League qualification, the FA Cup (Liverpool at home in round five) and the prospect of bringing in some top talent in the summer. But there will be no fairytale in the stadium where they achieved their finest moment in 2012, that path to glory was dug-up by Messrs Gnabry and Lewandowski as they buried Chelsea’s Champions League hopes. It would be nice to be wrong.