Champions League: Review of the 2020-21 season
With Chelsea having been crowned European champions for the second time last weekend, now is the time to take stock of what has been another sensational Champions League campaign. Each year, Europe’s premier club competition throws up plenty of drama, and the fact that Chelsea, a team no-one would have backed on the betting exchange, got their hands on the trophy is proof of this tournament’s ability to thrill.
So, starting with the group stage, let’s look back at some of the key talking points and dramatic moments of the 2020-21 Champions League campaign.
Following the draw for the group stage, all eyes were on Group H, where 2019-20 runners up Paris Saint-Germain had been drawn alongside Manchester United and RB Leipzig, with İstanbul Başakşehir making up the quartet. It was the English side that made the strongest start, defeating PSG and Leipzig in their opening two games, but the wheels soon came off for Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side, losing three of their remaining four matches to drop into the Europa League.
Elsewhere, Inter Milan were the shock casualties of Group B, finishing fourth behind Real Madrid, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Shakhtar Donetsk. Meanwhile, Juventus pipped Barcelona to a first-place finish in G, with eventual finalists Chelsea and Manchester City both progressing to the last 16 as winners of their prospective groups.
As always, the last 16 pitted the eight group winners against the eight runners up. There were several attractive ties, not least the clash between PSG and Barcelona, where the French side ultimately ran out 5-2 winners on aggregate. Chelsea’s tie with Atlético Madrid was another intriguing encounter, and despite the Spanish side being tipped as favourites, it was Thomas Tuchel’s Blues who progressed to the quarter-finals, winning 3-0 on aggregate.
Manchester City sealed their progression with successive 2-0 wins over Borussia Mönchengladbach, while Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid, Liverpool and Porto also advanced, the latter upsetting the odds by knocking out Juventus.
The quarter-finals saw a repeat of the 2020 final, as Bayern Munich and PSG were paired up against each other yet again. But this time it was the French side who prevailed, producing a fine display in the first leg in Munich to eventually advance by virtue of away goals.
Manchester City survived the efforts of a spirited Borussia Dortmund to win out 4-2 on aggregate, and progress past the quarter-finals for the first time since 2016, and it was clear that there was an extreme hunger among Pep Guardiola’s squad to go all the way.
Chelsea were handed the easiest draw of the round on paper, and they duly breezed past Porto with a professional 2-1 win on aggregate. 2019 champions Liverpool fell at the hands of Real Madrid, who produced a sensational home display to spark dreams of a fifth Champions League crown in eight years.
In a clash of European football’s new money, Manchester City and PSG went head-to-head for a place in the final. Despite the French side getting off to a good start in the first leg at the Parc des Princes, through Marquinhos’ header, City fought back in style, emerging from Paris with a 2-1 win thanks to goals from Riyad Mahrez. The Algerian was on target again in the second leg, as City notched another 2-1 victory to reach their maiden Champions League final.
With Real Madrid the favourites having played so well against Liverpool, few expected Chelsea to play as confidently as they did in the semi-finals. A professional away performance in the Spanish capital yielded a 1-1 draw and a precious away goal to take back to Stamford Bridge, and in the second leg Tuchel’s men turned on the style, dominating the Spanish giants to win 2-0 on the night and set up a second all-English final in three years.
Manchester City were understandably the market favourites heading into the final, which was ultimately moved to Porto instead of being held in Istanbul as originally planned. But following a strange team selection from Guardiola, which saw City line up with no recognised holding midfielder, Chelsea emerged with the trophy.
Kai Havertz’s first-half goal was the difference in the end, and despite plenty of huffing and puffing from City, Tuchel’s side held fast to win the club’s second Champions League title, nine years after they defeated Bayern Munich to claim their first. It was tough to take for Guardiola and his City side, but there’s no doubt that they’ll be back in the final soon.