It was the greatest night in Chelsea’s history.
Chelsea edging favourites Bayern Munich out on penalties on their home turf in a packed Allianz Arena on the 19th May 2012 will forever be embedded in European football history.
Reflecting on that night, just over eight years on it’s easy to forget the truly torrid season Chelsea had endured before that historic night; with managerial changes, dressing room unrest and intense media criticism rife throughout a rather tumultuous campaign.
Chelsea’s Ivorian forward Didier Drogba
Two of the influential figures from that night – stand-in captain and current Chelsea coach, Frank Lampard and talismanic striker Didier Drogba – have recently spoken of their memories of that night and how it was made all the more impressive, owing to what had transpired before.
Chelsea had started the domestic season well below par and were struggling to even hold a top four place when they met Napoli in the first leg of their Champions League knockout tie in late February. Manager André Villas-Boas’ position was under serious scrutiny and the regular spine of the previous title winning team was disbanded. Several key experienced players had been left out the XI, and Chelsea stumbled to a 3-1 defeat in Naples.
Villas-Boas was sacked the following week and replaced by Roberto Di Matteo and this is where, Lampard and Drogba (speaking on Twitter) highlight the importance of understanding what had gone wrong, and how everyone involved needed to band together.
We decided to all give this competition everything, despite our defeat 4-1 against Napoli.
We had been chasing this trophy for eight years and couldn’t do better than runner up.
Everyone agreed to put egos aside and challenge each over for the same goal.
— Didier Drogba (@didierdrogba) May 19, 2020
Reflecting on the defeat to Napoli Lampard said, speaking to cousin Jamie Redknapp on Sky Sports’ Football Show. “Now doing the job that I do, I now understand it would have been tough for the manager. “Looking back, I was disappointed on the night. You can see why the game went the wrong way for us, it was a tough atmosphere to go into, and we weren’t solid, we weren’t right.”
The overturning of the deficit to take the tie 5-4 on aggregate, less than three weeks after Di Matteo’s arrival, was remarkable.
Lampard and Drogba both remarked that egos were pushed aside, past disappointments forgotten and everyone refocused.
“One of the great nights at Stamford Bridge” said Lampard.
“To go in 3-1 down, with the talent they had, and the circumstances of Robbie coming in. He spoke to the players individually and garnered a spirit. Big names step up, and we stepped up that night with the help of an amazing crowd.”
FC Barcelona v Chelsea FC – UEFA Champions League Semi Final
After sweeping past Benfica in the quarter finals, Chelsea met their European nemesis Barcelona in the semi finals.
Barca had thwarted Chelsea before, having dumped them out of the competition controversially in 2009. But with a 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge under their belt, Chelsea were confident going into the Camp Nou decider. Two goals from the home side and the sending off of captain John Terry, however, seemed to seal their exit, but Ramires’ crucial away goal gave them a foot in the final on the stroke of half-time.
Ramires then joined the back four, due to Terry’s sending off, thus forming probably the most makeshift defence to ever keep a Barcelona side out.
“I hardly got past my 18-yard box in the second half, we couldn’t even get up to people, if you got up to Iniesta he’d just go past you! It was a real dig in scenario” Lampard chuckled.
With Barca swarming the Chelsea box, they left themselves exposed and Fernando Torres scored his most famous goal and sent Gary Neville and the Blues fan into delirium.
But more drama was to follow.
?️ May 19th, 2012: 8 years ago today…
? UCL Final: Bayern Munich vs. Chelsea (+330)
▫️Drogba equalizes in the 88th minute.
▫️Peter Cech saves the game in ET.
▫️Chelsea 4-3 in penalty shootout.
The Blues win it all in dramatic fashion. ?pic.twitter.com/nkjsXfrtB3
— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) May 19, 2020
The build up to the final in Munich couldn’t have been worse for the Blues. Four players suspended including captain Terry, and both centre halves recovering from injuries. Terry’s replacement David Luiz later confessed that he played the final on one hamstring.
“We were aware of being underdogs, and missing huge players” said Lampard. “Di Matteo called us in for a pre-game meeting, and he actually had videos of all our family members sending good luck messages, we sat there and it was tear after tear, emotion after emotion, and I thought it was amazing team management from Robbie.
“But we had something about us, and obviously we had the King in Didier. He came up with a header that nobody I think in world football could have scored, and then the winning penalty.”
— Chelsea FC (at ?) (@ChelseaFC) May 20, 2020
Didier Drogba also revealed a heartwarming encounter from earlier that season, with teammate Juan Mata, where the young Spaniard has assured him that he would win the famous European trophy. Drogba then insisted that it would only be possible if Mata helped him achieve it.
And it was indeed Mata who produced the match saving corner that Drogba powerfully headed home in the 88th minute.
The 2012 final had so many other subplots: the miraculous saves of Petr Čech, the outstanding display from Ashley Cole and Ryan Bertrand to subdue Arjen Robben, and the fact Chelsea had just one corner in the entire match and scored from it.
It is a night that has defined Chelsea’s recent history, and the trophy that had for so long eluded owner Abramovich as well as countless past managers. But there was so much more to this night than just a penalty shootout. It was determination against all the odds; the belief that it was this teams year despite everything stacked against them. Still sends the chills and probably always will.