Chelsea's Juan Mata (C) celebrates his goal against Manchester United with teammates Oscar (L) and Cesar Azpilicueta during their English Premier League soccer match at Old Trafford in Manchester, northern England, May 5, 2013. (Photo : REUTERS/Darren Staples (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT SOCCER) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO USE WITH UNAUTHORIZED AUDIO, VIDEO, DATA, FIXTURE LISTS, CLUB/LEA)
A year ago, Chelsea won the Champions league with a tremendous victory over Bayern Munich. A year later, Chelsea will play in another European final, but it will not be the UCL. Here is how Chelsea went from a potential Champions league repeat to a potential Europa league championship.
Champions League Group Stage
Everything was going well for the Blues. They were atop the premier league and were battling in a relatively easy group with Juventus, Shakhtar Donetsk, and Nordsjaelland. Few expected Chelsea to do worse than second in the group. The team started off blowing a 2-0 lead against Juventus in a 2-2 draw, but responded with a 4-0 win against Nordsjaelland.
Then came the fateful matchup with Shakhtar Donetsk. Chelsea lost the opening leg 2-1, but rebounded with a 3-2 victory; this series would define the group. With Chelsea's EPL campaigning falling apart, the team would lose 3-0 to Juventus in the match that likely cost former manager Roberto Di Matteo his job. The team responded with a terrific 6-1 win against Nordsjaelland but a Juventus win over Shakhtar left Chelsea and the Ukrainian team tied in the standings. The extra away goal scored by Shakhtar against Chelsea eliminated the English team from the knockout stages.
As a consolation, the Blues headed to the Europa League's Round of 32.
Round of 32 vs. Sparta Prague
The English side actually struggled with the Czech side and passed on a 2-1 aggregate. The Blues won the first game 1-0 thanks to an 82nd minute away goal from Oscar before drawing 1-1 at home. In that game, Chelsea trailed 1-0 until Eden Hazard managed a 92nd minute goal to avoid extra time. Chelsea did not look like a team primed for a deep run.
Round of 16 vs. Steaua Bucharest
The first leg of this matchup only supported the aforementioned notion that Chelsea would be out of the tournament quickly. A 34th minute goal gave the Romanian side a 1-0 victory and sent Chelsea to Stamford Bridge with their backs to the wall. The team responded with a huge 3-1 win in what was the turning point of the tournament.
Quarterfinals vs. Rubin Kazan
Chelsea made quick work of the Russian side at home with a terrific 3-1 win that saw striker Fernando Torres elevate himself to the status of hero. Chelsea lost the second leg 3-2, but put themselves through thanks to well-timed away goals.
Semifinals vs. FC Basel
Few gave the Swiss team a chance in this matchup, but they responded well in the first game with a late penalty goal that tied the game at one. However, Chelsea scored in stoppage time to steal two away goals and put themselves in an easy position to start the second leg at home. Not content to sit and defend, the team earned a terrific 3-1 victory that ended the aggregate at 5-2 and launched them to the Europa League final.
The final match takes place on May 15.