Chelsea’s 2018/19 season was a remarkably turbulent one, even by their high standards.
The fanbase tore itself apart over an intransigent and widely unpopular manager, they shed senior players left right and centre for 12 months, had a player refused his manager’s orders in a cup semi final, and collapsed in the final stretch of the season but managed to make the top four anyway. Just as they were in a position to celebrate, a stunning transfer ban was handed down to send them back into a spin.
Oh, and in the midst of all that they won a major European trophy too. It doesn’t get more Chelsea than that.
When the dust settled, they had qualified for the Champions League for this season. All of that chaos was worth it for that reward, both financial and sporting. At least, in theory.
Now they’re actually in the thing, a year on from the pinnacle of their unraveling under the management of Maurizio Sarri, one wonders what all the fuss was about. They navigated the group stage – just about – with some bumps along the way, and now they face Bayern Munich in the first knockout round.
If the German side win 2-0 tonight, which is entirely possible, and then finish the job in Germany in a couple of weeks’ time, the whole thing will feel rather hollow. A nightmare year of bitter online arguments, tense press conferences and alienated players – all for a meek exit at the first major hurdle.
Nobody is expecting Frank Lampard’s team to win the tie, given the strength of the opposition and the injuries and weakness in his own squad. But a strong effort in both legs, and the signs that the team has learned and improved through this taste of Champions League football once again, will make the whole tortuous process of getting to this stage feel worthwhile.
Then they can get back to the league, and focus on getting back into the top four so they can start the whole process all over again – hopefully this time with a little more harmony behind the scenes and a more experienced and mature squad.