I cannot believe that I am actually typing these words, but Chelsea is in the Champions League final. The Blues, who sat ninth place in the Premier League only four months ago, have reached the pinnacle of European competition against one of the biggest clubs on the continent, Manchester City. Chelsea has beaten some of Europe’s best, including Real Madrid on Wednesday by an aggregate score of 3-1, en route to the final. It is truly incredible what Thomas Tuchel has done to transform this team, and we as fans owe him everything for it.
There are so many players to pick out who performed well in the semifinal. N’Golo Kante was obviously Man of the Match again, completely dominating the Real Madrid midfield trio. Timo Werner deserves plaudits for putting Chelsea ahead with a finish that made me more nervous than it probably should have. The entire defensive back line was superb. This was easily the Blues’ best team performance of the season. One other player who was absolutely crucial on Wednesday was Edouard Mendy. The Senegalese goalkeeper had one of his best games of the season, making five total saves on the way to yet another clean sheet.
Especially in the first half, Mendy made some incredibly acrobatic stops that preserved Chelsea’s lead at moments when it looked to be in real jeopardy. This performance on the biggest stage should put to bed any questions about whether or not Mendy will be the Blues’ No. 1 next year.
When he was first signed from Rennes for £22 million over the summer, many supporters (myself included) looked at the 29-year-old as a stopgap keeper who could provide some semblance of stability to the rapidly deteriorating Kepa Arrizabalaga situation. Some were upset that Roman Abramovich had not continued his spending spree between the sticks by signing a big name like Gianluigi Donnarumma or Jan Oblak. Since his arrival at Stamford Bridge though, Mendy has been a revelation. He has kept 24 clean sheets in 40 starts and made 81 saves in total. Considering his price, Mendy might seriously be Chelsea’s best signing of the season.
Two saves in particular stood out from the second leg against Real Madrid that displayed Mendy’s goalkeeping ability. Both came off shots by Karim Benzema, one of the most lethal strikers in Europe this season. The first happened in the 25’, when the score was still level at 0-0. Benzema made a great turn outside the box and fizzed the ball towards the lower-left corner of the Blues’ goal, but a dramatic dive and firm left wrist from Mendy pushed the shot aside. Madrid would have taken all the momentum if that attempt had found the back of the net, so that save was huge.
Less than 10 minutes later, Chelsea had gone ahead, but Real was on the attack again. This time, Luka Modric picked the ball up on the left side of the pitch and sent a teasing cross toward the box. Benzema had found some space away from Antonio Rudiger and looked to be in prime position to finish off the move with a clean header from only a few feet out. Mendy’s reflexes were astounding though, with the 6’6 giant able to punch the ball over the crossbar as he soared through the air.
There is no more disputing who will be starting in Chelsea’s goal next season as Mendy has thoroughly earned the position. Hopefully the Blues will be able to recuperate some of the money lost in the Arrizabalaga transfer by selling the Spaniard this summer, but the team’s larger issue of not having a top-level keeper is no more.
It would be poetic if Mendy, a Petr Cech recruit, ends up becoming the legend’s long-term replacement. Everything that we, the supporters, have seen so far proves that he is up to the challenge.