24 Nov 2021 | 08:48
With 28 minutes gone and Chelsea deservedly a goal to the good on a thrilling evening at Stamford Bridge, Thiago Silva could be seen racing back towards the Matthew Harding Stand, his eyes fixed on the ball as he prepared to pull off a piece of defending that would have left most men of his age vowing never to try anything so ridiculous again.
It should not have been possible. For once Chelsea’s imperious defence had been caught out. Alvaro Morata must have thought he was about to silence the taunts from the home fans after reaching Manuel Locatelli’s pass a split second before Edouard Mendy, who was powerless to stop the Juventus forward lifting the ball over his desperate lunge.
Booed every time he touched the ball on his return to west London, Morata could not have done much more with the chance. The shot was high, Mendy was beaten and 1-1 was on the cards. Like everyone else inside Stamford Bridge, Morata could not have predicted that he was going to be denied by Silva producing a moment of astonishing athleticism, the 37-year-old defying logic by hurtling back to hook the ball to safety with a spectacular overhead clearance.
For Juventus the moment had gone, their belief ebbing away once Silva had shown that the normal rules do not apply to him. They would not threaten again and Chelsea did not look back after that scare, sealing their place in the last 16 after increasing the intensity in the second half. The quality of their football was nothing short of sensational as they handed Max Allegri’s side their heaviest ever defeat in the Champions League.
There are barely any weaknesses in Tuchel’s team. Silva, so cool at the heart of the back three, cruised through the game and will surely be handed a new contract when his current deal runs out at the end of the season.
Trevoh Chalobah, who lashed in the opening goal, was outstanding as the right-sided centre-back. Antonio Rüdiger never wasted a chance to rumble forward from the back, at one point forcing Leonardo Bonucci into a desperate goal‑saving challenge early in the first half.
It so often comes back to the defence with Chelsea. There have been 16 goals from their defenders this season and it was hugely satisfying for Tuchel to watch his team overwhelm Juventus not only with the creativity of their attacking but also with the intelligence of their overall approach, the way that every player looked prepared to leave his starting position and surprise their opponents by popping up in unexpected parts of the pitch.
Take N’Golo Kanté, who spent much of the first half drifting from central midfield to take up a role as an inside-right forward before going off injured in the 37th minute. Kanté was impossible to pin down before making way for Ruben Loftus-Cheek and his movement meant there was plenty of space for Hakim Ziyech, whose influence grew as the game wore on, the range of his passing making life miserable for Juventus’s defenders.
Then there was the role of the wing-backs, Ben Chilwell and Reece James.
They were more like No 10s at times, their ability to move inside and burst into the area a ploy that Juventus were incapable of handling.
Chilwell should have scored in the first minute and it was not a surprise when James got on the scoresheet, blasting in the second after Matthijs de Ligt’s attempted headed clearance had fallen to him on the right.
It was a stunning goal from James, who has been in superb form this season, and Tuchel did not hold back as the ball flew into the net.
Chelsea’s manager was on the pitch, pumping his fists, and he was at it again three minutes later, celebrating lustily when the impressive Callum Hudson-Odoi finished off another flowing move.
This was a glimpse of Chelsea at their best and the scary thought for the rest of Europe is that there is more to come. Romelu Lukaku was an unused substitute. Kai Havertz was missing with a hamstring injury. Mason Mount was not required until the second half and there was the added bonus of a late goal for Timo Werner, who tapped home from close range after coming off the bench.
The sense is that all the parts are starting to come together. Chelsea have conceded only 24 goals in Tuchel’s first 50 games in charge. The hunger to keep a clean sheet, epitomised by Silva, makes them even more dangerous.
The European champions will take some stopping.