We all know that Chelsea’s best run in the Champions League was in 2012, when we lifted the trophy. As the players from that triumph are long gone, we’ve investigated to find out the furthest the current first-team squad have gone in the competition.
Since we were crowned champions of Europe nine years ago, we’ve not enjoyed much luck in the Champions League, with a semi-final appearance in 2013/14 the best we had to show for our efforts prior to this season.
Of course, our head coach Thomas Tuchel is no stranger to this stage of the competition, having reached last season’s final with Paris Saint-Germain, but how do his players match up in terms of their best runs?
We’ve got all the answers below, looking at the Blues’ current men's first team squad members who had appeared in the Champions League prior to this season. That excludes Edouard Mendy, whose only European experience before joining Chelsea came in the four matches he played in the Europa League group stage with Rennes!
It seems progressing from the first knockout round had been a big hurdle for quite a few of our players to overcome, which makes the quality and calmness on display in our win over Atletico Madrid in this season’s last 16 all the more impressive.
No fewer than six of our players came up short at that stage in their first crack at the competition last term, and five of them were Academy graduates who stepped up under Frank Lampard’s tutelage.
Tammy Abraham, Billy Gilmour, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Reece James and Mason Mount were those homegrown youngsters, while the sixth on the list is Kepa Arrizabalaga. They all helped us to progressed from a tricky group, before we fell to eventual winners Bayern Munich.
That was Kepa’s first elimination from Europe as a Blue, as in his previous campaign we had gone all the way in the Europa League, a run that included a decisive contribution from the Spanish keeper in the penalty shoot-out triumph over Eintracht Frankfurt in the semi-finals.
Olivier Giroud must have been cursing his Champions League luck prior to this season’s run to the final. In five attempts with Arsenal, he got no further than the last 16, a round at which his previous two attempts with the Blues also came to a halt. He did finish as the Europa League’s top scorer when we won the competition in 2019, however, and his 11 goals included one against his former club in the final.
Kurt Zouma also came up short three times in the last 16 with the Blues prior to this season, suffering elimination at the hands of PSG in back-to-back years in 2014/15 and 2015/16, before last term’s loss to Bayern Munich.
Another to struggle at that stage three times was Toni Rudiger, who had one exit at that stage with Roma before two with Chelsea, which came against Barcelona in 2018 and then Bayern last year. Marcos Alonso, Andreas Christensen and N’Golo Kante were also alongside him for those two last-16 defeats with the Blues.
Continuing the theme of those who had not passed the last 16, Jorginho suffered one defeat there with Napoli before last season’s loss here, which Emerson was also involved in, although that was his best run in the competition as he had previously only reached the group stage with Roma.
Finally, Kai Havertz had his first taste of the Champions League as a 17-year-old, with Bayer Leverkusen, when he came on in a 1-0 win at White Hart Lane. That season the German side reached the last 16.
Now we move on to those who made it to the final eight, which could be considered the ‘business end’ of the competition, for those of you who enjoy a cliché. There are three players among this group, the first of whom was taking his first steps in the professional game.
Ben Chilwell came into the Leicester set-up during the 2016/17 season, when they made their first foray in the Champions League, and he appeared twice as they reached the quarter-finals of the competition before coming unstuck against Atletico Madrid.
Another who reached that same stage during their formative footballing years was Christian Pulisic, who came into the Borussia Dortmund side under the tutelage of Tuchel. The pair of them were at the club when the German outfit reached the quarter-finals in 2016/17, when they lost to Monaco. Pulisic had previously been on target in their last-16 triumph over Benfica, which was his first-ever Champions League goal and just so happened to be scored past current Manchester City keeper Ederson.
Timo Werner was at RB Leipzig last season when they reached the semi-finals, but his personal journey in the Champions League ended at the quarter-final stage, after he had helped them see off Tottenham Hotspur in the last 16, as he signed for Chelsea during the summer.
Three players had previously experienced Champions League semi-finals in the past, starting with one of our back-up goalkeepers.
Back in 2012/13, Willy Caballero was between the sticks in his first-ever Champions League campaign with surprise qualifiers Malaga. Had it not been for a dramatic late collapse against Dortmund, they would have reached the semi-finals, which is the furthest he went in the competition during his time at Manchester City, albeit as back-up keeper.
Having joined us shortly after our triumph in the 2012 final, Cesar Azpilicueta’s best run in the competition came in the 2013/14 season, when he helped us to the semi-finals, although we were beaten by Atletico Madrid in a hard-fought tie. It should be noted that our skipper has also won the Europa League twice with Chelsea, in 2013 and 2019.
Ajax’s stirring run to the 2018/19 semi-finals owed much to the brilliance of Hakim Ziyech, who was named in the Champions League squad of the season for his efforts. He was on target in their last-four tie against Spurs, but our London rivals produced an incredible turnaround to take their place in the final instead.
Considering he debuted in the Champions League with AC Milan back in 2009, and subsequently highlighted his status as one of the world’s best defenders in the world by being selected in the UEFA team of the year three times, Thiago Silva has not had the best of luck when it comes to Europe’s premier club competition.
He regularly reached the knockout phase of the competition with both Milan and Paris Saint-Germain, but it was not until last season that he finally made it to the final, albeit in a losing cause against Bayern Munich. That game was shortly before his 36th birthday; now, just a few months shy of his 37th, he is set to play in his second final in as many years. Cue another cliché about London buses…
While the Brazilian defender will be desperate to add his name to the illustrious list of winners of this competition, one of our players is bidding to join an elite group of players to have won it four times or more.
Even as things stand, few players in world football can match Mateo Kovacic’s haul of Champions League winner’s medals. The Croatian international won the competition in each of his three seasons with Real Madrid, which he followed by winning the Europa League in his first year as a Blue. Can he make it four Champions League triumphs on Saturday?