With numerous revisions to Lampard’s first season made since the game against Wolves, most Chelsea fans are on the same page: it was exceptional. Not brilliant, but exceptional. The light now shifts to the Premier League that starts tomorrow, and rightly so as well. The big four is now the big seven (a non-big seven club is managed by Ancelloti), Chelsea’s patience is constantly related to a Liverpool model, and most importantly, because we haven’t been relevant in Europe since 2015.
But if there ever was a resurgence of a dark-horse-shaped giant, and if there ever was a night too lengthy to be swayed by the dawn of the nostalgia of a manager’s legacy, it simply resembled September of 2020 – when I sit and write this. The European nights are back at the Bridge and for the first time since Oscar ran around the now-Juventus manager, do I value it more than the league. Here’s why.
For starters – the cause and consequence of the pull. Each of Werner, Havertz, Pulisic, and Ziyech had ‘playing for a European giant’ in their career’s to-do list. However, the cause of their move now becomes the hunger that drives our UCL run. No one in this squad – barring Kovacic’s bizarre hattrick – has won the elite trophy. Our latest transfers are all passionate youngsters who live for the biggest club prize in football. To make matters more interesting, we are joined by a man who collected the silver medal as captain a month back. If there was a Kung Fu Panda-esque secret ingredient list for a decent UCL run, we have all of them ticked.
Further, the local difference between us and Liverpool and Manchester City has been realized by fans, pundits and Frank alike. No one (but idealists) expect Azpilicueta to be lifting the Premier League trophy in 9 months. However, each time an ambitious club becomes realistic does it become unpredictable. Our expectations out of the PL season only push our continental agenda further. We don’t need to be the most consistent or the most skillful in the 13 matches we’ll potentially play in Europe, we just need to be the smartest. Not the most far-fetched thought for a 150-IQ manager.
The way UCL has aligned itself in seasons post the Ronaldo-at-Madrid-era is unpredictable. We’ve had Ajax, Tottenham, Roma, Atalanta, Leipzig and Lille – all making the fantastical the mathematical. A young squad with the right mix of experience, who can switch their ball-playing method based on who they face, and a manager who holds his nerves on the big day – it’s somewhat what we have at the Bridge.
Football being the mood swing that it is, no result is easy to foresee. An energy, however, can be felt. A timing, however, can be clocked. Ever since Costa’s penalty in ’14, and Luiz and Silva’s headers in ’15 (all three have now been Chelsea players), the stars have just not aligned. Finally, we don’t have the debacle of ’16, the no-UCL in a good season of ’17, the rigidity and antics of ’18, the second-favoured competition of ’19, and the inexperience of ’20. It’s 2021; men who became boys have grown-up again.
As much as I despise nostalgia, it’s time to pull the rabbit out of the hat again.