Last Saturday, Chelsea Football Club defeated Manchester City Football Club in the UEFA Champions League Final behind a 42nd-minute winner from 21-year old Kai Havertz, assisted by 22-year old Mason Mount. This triumph was Chelsea’s second in the competition and first since 2012 when the Blues defeated Bayern Munich in their backyard at the Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany. Which begs the question: who would win between a match-up between Chelsea FC 2012 edition against the current squad?
Didier Drogba was on the mark that day with a glancing header in the 88th minute, equalizing after Thomas Muller had snuck a header into the roof of Chelsea’s net in the 83rd minute. The game would eventually advance to penalties, where CFC would prevail, 4-3. Drogba converted the decisive penalty and cemented himself as a legend in South London, while Petr Cech saved Ivica Olic’s penultimate penalty and steered Bastian Schweinsteiger’s final attempt onto the right-hand post.
The disparity in experience between the starting XI’s is the most notable difference between the two generations of Chelsea victors: whereas the 2012 club had club icons like Drogba, Frank Lampard, and John Terry (albeit who was suspended for the final), the 2021 iteration was a combination of misfits and castaways and youthful energy.
Chelsea’s backline was the most veteran part of their team against Man City, with captain Cesar Azpilicueta leading last year’s Champions League final runner-up Thiago Silva and a revitalized Antonio Rudiger in the center of defense. Academy product Reece James and 71-million dollar transfer Ben Chilwell flanked the defensive line and marked their European Cup Final debuts with tremendous performances.
2012’s team consisted of Jose Bosingwa, a young David Luiz, Gary Cahill, and Ashley Cole. As experienced as Cole and Bosingwa were, Luiz was thought to be a bit of a loose cannon, and Cahill had only joined the club four months prior. John Terry was the usual captain of the club and had been considered to be one of the best defenders in Europe, but was forced to watch the final from the sidelines after getting sent off with a red card against Barcelona in the round prior.
Last Saturday’s winners played a double pivot of Jorginho and N’Golo Kante, the latter of which ended up as Man of the Match. Jorginho has served as Chelsea’s vice-captain since arriving from Napoli in 2018, and Kante has become one of the most decorated footballers in the world, headlined by two Premier League titles (one at Leicester City and one at Chelsea), an FA Cup triumph, a Europa League Final victory, and a Champions League Final success.
As talented as this current Chelsea midfield is, the first Champions League Winners’ was even better: the greatest Chelsea player ever in Frank Lampard was partnered with Juan Mata in the attacking half of the midfield while John Obi Mikel anchored the center of the park. Mata picked up an assist with his cross to Drogba in the waning minutes of the game while Lampard, the acting captain, dominated the midfield against an imposing and relentless Bayern side.
Finally, the attackers: Chelsea 2021 let their Player of the Season, Mason Mount, float into the free spaces between their opponent’s midfield and defensive lines, while Kai Havertz occupied the right side channel and Timo Werner stretched the backline with runs in behind the defense, typically finding his success on the left flank. Havertz managed to round City’s goalkeeper for a free tap-in after Mount played a splitting through ball from his own half between the two center backs.
Meanwhile, the 2012 squad utilized Ryan Bertrand and Salomon Kalou on the wide spaces of the pitch, while Didier Drogba took full responsibility as a true center forward. Drogba would finish his career as Chelsea’s fourth all-time leading scorer with 164 goals, while his teammate, Frank Lampard, would top the list with 211. Lampard also holds the record for most Premier League goals scored by a midfielder for a career.
The recent winners made three substitutions during the game, bringing on Andreas Christensen, Christian Pulisic, and Mateo Kovacic. All three have tremendously different player profiles, but all have been in relatively excellent form since the turn of the year.
The 2012 side only made two changes during their final, switching out Bertrand and Kalou for Florent Malouda and Fernando Torres. This generation of Chelsea teams could score goals for fun, in part due to the talent on their bench.
Both sides were led by coaches that were hired during the middle of the season, with Thomas Tuchel coaching the 2021 squad and Roberto di Matteo leading the 2012 roster. Di Matteo does not have the accolades that Tuchel does and was fired the very next season, while the current manager recently signed an extension that will keep him with the Blues until 2023.
So, which side is better?
The 2012 side has the bigger names and will be remembered as the first Chelsea squad to break through and win the Champions League. There is a sense of nostalgia with this team, and with good reason, given how decorated their players were— but the Starting XI in the 2012 final had a few players noticeably worse than their teammates, namely Bosingwa and Bertrand.
The 2021 winners are much more of a team devoid of a standout star, but with no real weak link in their side: the exciting players in the team such as Pulisic, Mount, Havertz, and Werner are all very young as well, with the four not even averaging 23 years of age between them. Their stories are still being written, and for that reason, they may be remembered differently than they are right now. Mount himself has been nominated for the Premier League’s Young Player of the Season and Player of the Season award after already taking his club’s POTS honors— perhaps he can be the second coming of Frank Lampard.
Overall, the Chelsea FC 2012 squad was better in totality than the current champions of Europe; but these Blues may form a new legacy the longer they are together and could ultimately become one of the greatest modern sides assembled with a little renewed success.