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Chelsea 2021-22 season review - star player, best moment, standout result

:Headline: Chelsea 2021-22 season review - star player, best moment, standout result:
Sports Mole takes an in-depth look at Chelsea's 2021-22 season, which saw the Blues have to settle for Champions League qualification and a global trophy.
Sports Mole

On the back of winning last season's Champions League, everyone associated with Chelsea would have been optimistic about launching a sustained bid for the Premier League, maybe even defending their European crown.

However, despite ending the campaign with two trophies having being added to their ever-growing cabinet, the Blues have been left to feel more disappointment than jubilation at a time when there has rarely been a quiet day behind the scenes since the back end of February.

Here, Sports Mole takes an in-depth look back at Chelsea's 2021-22 campaign, one which has had as much drama off the pitch as there has been on it.



SEASON OVERVIEW

Final league position: 3rd

EFL Cup: Runners-up

FA Cup: Runners-up

Champions League: Quarter-finals

Club World Cup: Winners

UEFA Super Cup: Winners

Top scorer: Romelu Lukaku (15)

Most assists: Mason Mount (16)

Where to start? When Thomas Tuchel agreed to become manager of Chelsea in January 2021, he would have been aware that life is never quiet at Stamford Bridge, but the German would not have expected to be fending off questions about military invasions, government-imposed sanctions and changes of ownership.

To his credit, Tuchel has been exemplary when it has come to talking about such matters, particularly at a time when Chelsea have played a total of 63 matches in all competitions this season.

The season started with success in the UEFA Super Cup final against Villarreal, Kepa Arrizabalaga the hero in a penalty shootout, and collecting 13 points from an opening five-game streak in the Premier League which included meetings with Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur was regarded as a hugely positive start.

At this stage, club record signing Romelu Lukaku had fitted seamlessly into the attack, scoring three times, but ending the month with a 1-0 defeat at home to Manchester City suggested that Pep Guardiola's side were better equipped to maintain an edge in the title race.

Chelsea responded with 20 points from a possible 24, putting them in top spot ahead of a December 4 showdown at West Ham United, but the Blues' domestic campaign began to unravel after they lost 3-2 at the London Stadium.

Tuchel's side were also becoming less convincing at Stamford Bridge. Everton and Brighton & Hove Albion scored late equalisers in December, and a total of seven home draws this campaign ultimately proved pivotal as they gradually dropped out of the title race, instead left to focus on achieving third place.

From the start of November, Chelsea only recorded back-to-back league wins on one occasion, although that particular streak between January and March lasted five games. There have been times during the closing weeks of the campaign when Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have threatened Chelsea's top-four standing, but that quintet of victories ensured that Chelsea got over the line with two games to spare.

As far as domestic cup competitions are concerned, Chelsea reached the final of each of them. The EFL Cup was far less straightforward, Chelsea only playing Premier League clubs and requiring penalties to see off Aston Villa and Southampton, before eventually losing out 11-10 to Liverpool in the same scenario after a goalless draw in the final.

Chelsea's route through to the FA Cup final was far more favourable, Tuchel's side's only game against top-flight opposition coming against Crystal Palace in the semi-finals. As soon as another engrossing final with Liverpool had finished goalless, there was the distinct possibility of lightning striking twice, and their rivals again prevailed from 12 yards, this time by a 6-5 scoreline.

In February, Chelsea were able to add another piece of silverware to their collection in the form of the Club World Cup. For all of the criticism directed his way, Lukaku scored in both games against Al-Hilal and Palmeiras, while it was Kai Havertz who was the hero in the final as he netted the decisive goal from the penalty spot with three minutes of extra time remaining.

Chelsea would have fancied their chances of a second successive Champions League crown, despite only finishing as runners-up to Juventus during the group stages. However, after disposing of Lille, the English side were paired with Real Madrid, who blew them away in the opening 46 minutes of the first leg at Stamford Bridge. To their credit, Chelsea were sensational in the reverse fixture at the Bernabeu, overturning a 3-1 deficit to lead 4-3 on aggregate, but Rodrygo and Karim Benzema broke their hearts as Real eventually progressed 5-4 on aggregate to eliminate Chelsea at the quarter-final stage.

That game, along with many others, have taken place while government-imposed sanctions have been placed on the club, a consequence of owner Roman Abramovich having links to Russia president Vladimir Putin who ordered the military invasion of Ukraine. The change of ownership remains an ongoing progress, but a consortium led by Todd Boehly hopes to take over by the end of the month.

Naturally, the seemingly daily developments have led to Chelsea becoming hindered and distracted both on and off the pitch. Being prevented from holding negotiations with soon-to-be out-of-contract players has led to the likes of Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen already opting for pastures new, and the uncertainty surrounding the situation has ultimately affected Chelsea during the run-in.



PREMIER LEAGUE STATS

Wins: 21 (5th)
Draws: 11 (=5th)
Losses: 6 (18th)
Goals scored: 76 (3rd)
Goals conceded: 33 (3rd)
Yellow cards: 63 (=10th)
Red cards: 1 (=15th)
Passes: 23,171 (3rd)
Shots: 592 (3rd)
Big chances missed: 53 (4th)
Saves: 84 (18th)
Tackles: 622 (9th)
Own goals: 1 (=12th)
Hit woodwork: 17 (4th)
Clearances: 615 (17th)



HOW DID IT COMPARE TO LAST SEASON?

The perception will be that Chelsea have under-performed this season and while that is technically true to a certain extent, the Blues have accumulated seven more points and finished one position higher than 2020-21.

Tuchel has frequently been left frustrated with the amount of chances that have been wasted in the final third, but scoring 76 goals is 18 better than their previous effort, an impressive feat when only Mount has reached double figures.

Defensively, there can be few complaints either with three fewer goals being conceded since last August, while Man City and Liverpool only shipped seven fewer strikes.

The obvious difference in terms of cup performance is a quarter-final exit in the Champions League for the 2021 winners, but a third successive FA Cup final appearance means that they matched their runners-up spot from last year.

Less disappointment would have been taken from losing in the EFL Cup final with it representing a far better effort than going out to Tottenham Hotspur on penalties in the fourth round in September 2020.

More goals were expected from Lukaku on the back of his £97.5m arrival, but the Belgian topped the goalscoring charts for all competitions with three more strikes than the 12 that Timo Werner and Tammy Abraham scored last season.



PLAYER OF THE SEASON - MASON MOUNT

There are a few contenders for this award. When they have not played through injury, the absences of Reece James and Mateo Kovacic have been felt, particularly the former who has still managed 14 contributions (five goals, nine assists) from 25 outings, largely from wing-back.

However, this accolade must go to Mason Mount, who has recorded the best numbers of his career. Although he would not have contended for the main Premier League and PFA awards this season, it is staggering that the academy graduate missed out on a nomination having contributed 11 goals and 10 assists from a playmaker role.

Of course, there have been disappointments, most notably his decisive penalty miss in the FA Cup final shootout, but on average, the England international has provided a goal or assist every 112 minutes in the top flight this campaign.

Behind Rudiger and Thiago Silva who occupy less energy-sapping responsibilities, Mount also accumulated the third most minutes of any Blues outfield player, a further statistic that highlights that he deserves to be regarded as one of the first names on the team sheet.



STANDOUT RESULT

Throughout this season, Chelsea have beaten Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur three times on away territory without conceding a goal, as well as thrashing Juventus by a 4-0 scoreline during the Champions League group stages.

However, despite the overall disappointment which is associated with their Champions League exit at the Bernabeu, Chelsea won 3-1 after normal time and 3-2 after extra time, the performance being far too strong to be ignored even when assessing the bigger picture.

Mount, Rudiger and Timo Werner got on the scoresheet and for 75 minutes, this was as impressive as any English team have performed in Europe this season, Chelsea only being denied a spectacular comeback victory in the tie through the brilliance of Luka Modric and Rodrygo.

It was also a display which offers plenty of hope for the future. In terms of consistency, Man City and Liverpool have been untouchable on the domestic front this season, but Chelsea showed enough at the Bernabeu to suggest that a summer of transfer activity is all that is required for them to close the gap.

> Click here for a full list of Chelsea's results from the 2021-22 season



BEST MOMENT

A left-field choice here would be the sight of probable new owner Todd Boehly attending games at Stamford Bridge, something not seen in recent years with Abramovich unable to acquire a British visa.

However, we have opted for Chelsea becoming world champions in February. Chelsea were far from their best in either of their fixtures in the Middle-East, but Havertz's coolly-taken spot kick in the dying embers of extra time earned the Blues more success and cemented club and individual legacies.

Not only did it complete the set since Abramovich's arrival in 2003, it ensured that Cesar Azpilicueta had won every trophy before his likely departure in the summer. Coincidentally, it was around that time that the legendary Spaniard activated a 12-month extension to his contract, but such is his status at the West London outfit that he is still expected to be allowed to depart for a new challenge.



TOP PRIORITY FOR SUMMER

With Rudiger and Christensen already confirmed to be leaving and Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso potentially joining their teammates in heading through the exit door, Chelsea and Tuchel will naturally be moving to sign new defenders once a takeover is complete.

Of all the players to have been linked with Chelsea, Sevilla's Jules Kounde appears to be the most likely to make the switch to Stamford Bridge, and other suitable targets will need to be identified in order to close the gap to the top two.

However, while defenders are the obvious priority, there is the potential for sweeping changes to be made to many areas of the squad, with replacements for backup goalkeeper, central midfield, creative positions and centre-forward all expected to be required over the coming months.

Tuchel may want to solve some of those issues by promoting academy graduates into his senior crop at Cobham. Conor Gallagher is a near certainty to challenge for a midfield spot after starring on loan at Crystal Palace, with Armando Broja also doing his chances no harm with a number of imposing showings at Southampton.

The Blues boss may consider including young defender Levi Colwill in his plans after a season on loan at Huddersfield Town a step too far at this stage, but it is a natural avenue that Tuchel must contemplate with a transitional period seemingly on the horizon.

Tuchel's remit may also include lowering the age of his squad, something which will be achieved if Jorginho, N'Golo Kante and Ross Barkley follow Azpilicueta and Alonso out of the club.



FINAL VERDICT

On more than one occasion, Tuchel has insisted that Chelsea's season will not be regarded as a disappointment just because they have lost two cup finals on penalties, nor challenged for the Premier League title when two of the best teams in its history are competing for the crown.

With two pieces of silverware to their name, Tuchel and his squad can be relatively happy, but that is not to say that there should not be an air of frustration. While at times they have showcased their qualities on the biggest stage, they have been undermined by calamitous performances on other occasions.

That said, this has been a season like no other. Chelsea have played over 60 matches and encountered several extra-time periods, dealt with a significant coronavirus outbreak heading into the Christmas fixtures, travelled to the Middle-East in February and encountered the kind of restrictions and distractions which appeared more suited to a television drama series until they actually occurred from February 24 onwards.

Tuchel is a winner, but he is also a realist. There have been reasons why Chelsea have not been able to keep pace with Man City and Liverpool, but he knows that a fresh slate under a new, equally-ambitious owner will put him under pressure to impress both on and off the pitch.


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