Chelsea will be back in the Champions League again next season after securing a fourth-placed finish in the Premier League despite losing 2-1 at Aston Villa on the final day of the campaign.
Thomas Tuchel’s side, who went into the weekend third, looked to be facing the tricky position of needing to win the Champions League just to qualify for it in 2021-22, but Tottenham rescuing a late win at Leicester means Chelsea pipped the Foxes to fourth by a point.
Chelsea had the better chances in a first half they largely controlled but went into the break trailing as Bertrand Traore, who spent four years at the club, netted from a well-worked corner.
Clever play from Traore then earned Villa a penalty, which Anwar El Ghazi scored, early in the second half and that proved to be the winner as all Chelsea – who had Cesar Azpilicueta sent off late on – could muster was a Ben Chilwell goal.
Nevertheless, Leicester’s inability to take advantage of Chelsea’s slip-up ensured Tuchel’s side will be back at Europe’s top table next season regardless of their result in the Champions League final next weekend.
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) May 23, 2021
Given the onus was on Chelsea it was unsurprising to see them dominate the ball in the first half with 68 per cent possession, and they did create chances: Mason Mount first smashing a volley over before then sending another just wide.
But Villa started to look a little more at ease as the half-hour mark approached and the breakthrough finally arrived just before half-time, Chelsea’s position in the top-four race suddenly becoming a worry.
Traore met Matt Targett’s low corner with a scuffed volley into the ground and it bounced in off the crossbar with results elsewhere not in the Blues’ favour at the time.
Chelsea suffered the blow of losing goalkeeper Edouard Mendy at half-time and his replacement Kepa Arrizabalaga had an early opportunity to inject some hope as Villa were awarded a penalty, Traore again the inspiration as he was caught by Jorginho having flicked the ball through his legs.
Kepa was powerless, however, with El Ghazi confidently sweeping home the spot-kick as Leicester went ahead against Tottenham almost simultaneously.
Timo Werner tapped in at the other end soon after only for the goal to be disallowed for an offside in the build-up, though Chelsea did pull one back 20 minutes from the end when Chilwell knocked in Christian Pulisic’s low cross.
But as Spurs surged into a 4-2 lead at the King Power Stadium, Chelsea were able to relax in the latter stages, though not before Azpilicueta was dismissed for catching Jack Grealish in the face with a swipe of the hand.