There’s this weird argument that Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea side of 2020/21 weren’t actually good enough to win the Champions League.
Sure, they lacked potency in attack, but when you put together an elite defence that can stifle Porto, Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Manchester City, you don’t need to score two goals a game. Chelsea conceded just twice in their seven knockout games, and that’s why they won the title.
This year, Tuchel’s backline is looking as strong as ever. The Blues have conceded just once in the Premier League so far – a penalty from Mohamed Salah – and they’ll be looking to carry that over to the European stage when the defence of their Champions League crown kicks off with a game against Zenit on Tuesday.
The biggest difference between last season’s Chelsea and this year’s version, however, is that they don’t even need to keep clean sheets anymore.
In their four league games so far, the Blues have fired home nine goals, three of which have been scored by one of the deadliest finishers on the planet, Romelu Lukaku.
Last year, without Lukaku, there was a feeling that Chelsea needed a clean sheet in every game because their chances of scoring twice were slim to none – only against Atletico and Porto did the Blues actually net more than one in the knockout stages.
This time around, things have completely shifted. Chelsea can score goals with the best of them now, and they can do that while simultaneously boasting one of the meanest defences on the planet.
The Blues are elite in defence and excellent in attack, so how could they not feel confident about retaining their Champions League crown?
Chelsea have every right to claim they are among the best sides on the planet these days. Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City are obvious contenders for that title, but the Blues have proven that they can beat anybody.
The quest to prove that starts on Tuesday.
Chelsea will face tougher tests than Zenit this campaign, but Sergey Semak’s side are unbeaten so far this season and have more than enough firepower to cause the Blues problems. In-demand striker Sardar Azmoun and former Barcelona winger Malcom are integral parts of an intriguing forward line.
Tuchel’s men are expected to win this one, but an emphatic victory would send a message that they are not going to give up their big, shiny trophy without a fight.
Lukaku is expected to start and we are likely to see the well-rested duo of Mason Mount and Timo Werner come in behind him, so Chelsea will have every reason to think they can get their Champions League journey off to a hot start.