Holding fourth: Chelsea clinch Champions League football next season as Tottenham Bale Blues out with final day win at Leicester
Entering the finale in third place, Chelsea knew that a win would guarantee a place in Europe's flagship competition next season and avoid heaping more pressure on their Champions League final against Manchester City on Saturday, when they would have been relying on victory to qualify again had they finished outside the Premier League top four.
2-0 down at Aston Villa and with the pretenders for their places in the highly lucrative top four, Liverpool and Leicester, both winning, Chelsea were heading for a frustrating fifth-placed finish that would only have secured a Europa League place on the merit of their league position.
Chelsea have been bailed out by Bale! 👀 pic.twitter.com/csFtG7AjFc— 90min (@90min_Football) May 23, 2021
Gareth Bale.Wales, Golf, Chelsea. In that Order.— ExpectedChelsea (@ExpectedChelsea) May 23, 2021
Rivals Tottenham came to the rescue at Leicester, forcing goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel into an own-goal to make it 2-2 with less than 15 minutes of normal time remaining in their season swansong.
At that stage, Chelsea were heading for the Champions League by virtue of having a two-goal superiority on goal difference against Leicester, who they were level on points with.
So Mourinho brought back Bale who then gave Chelsea top 4.... pic.twitter.com/ZvdB6vN8EO— Chris. (@EmenaIo) May 23, 2021
Chelsea have announced that Gareth Bale has won their Player of The Season award after he has secured Champions League football for Chelsea.— Footy Humour (@FootyHumour) May 23, 2021
The unlikely Chelsea savior of Gareth Bale, the Real Madrid superstar who has returned to Spurs on loan, then scored twice late on at the King Power Stadium to put the Blues a point clear in the race for qualification and ensure the Foxes fell out of the top four as the full-time whistle blew on a surprisingly nerve-wracking afternoon for manager Thomas Tuchel and owner Roman Abramovich.
In an underwhelming performance that did not bode well for their clash with champions City in Porto, captain Cesar Azpilicueta was sent off late on for a daft altercation with England midfielder Jack Grealish.
Liverpool finished third by beating Crystal Palace 2-0 at Anfield in a result that did not matter to Chelsea because of Leicester's loss.
🗣 "We were lucky to escape."Thomas Tuchel on Chelsea finishing inside the top 4 despite losing to Aston Villa pic.twitter.com/34EYyM1anM— Football Daily (@footballdaily) May 23, 2021
Appreciation tweet for this Chelsea legend 🙏🏾💙💙 pic.twitter.com/0iqPsWQYKb— Chelsea Babe🇿🇦 (@Boitumelo_MB) May 23, 2021
"We're in the Champions League next season so we have to be happy," defender Ben Chilwell told Sky Sports, speaking after the 2-1 defeat at Villa Park in which he pulled a goal back in the 70th minute.
"We were nowhere near good enough today, we have to take that. It's been a difficult, long year for every team.
"It's not how we would have wanted today – we were nowhere near our best – but we have to take it.
"We created chances during the whole game and didn't put the game to bed when we should have. I don't know how many chances [Villa] had but it seemed like they scored with their only two chances.
G. Bale 87', 90+6' scoresChelsea fans:pic.twitter.com/QUluT46UV0— txtdaricelsi (@chelseaindo) May 23, 2021
"They played well and we didn't but we're in the Champions League so that's a great feeling."
Chilwell admitted Chelsea were "angry" at half-time and felt they should have been winning.
"It was literally all to play for today," he reflected. "It's not down to ourselves – thankfully it's down to Spurs but we're through and that's the main thing."
While fans watched in horror as their side slipped out of the top four for the majority of the 90 minutes, Chilwell said Chelsea's players were not informed of their predicament.
Ben Chilwell was Chelsea’s best player on the day:1 goal44/52 passes completed4 chances created3 shots on target7/9 ground duels won4 tackles1 clearance1 interception1/1 dribble completedThe only W from today👏🏼#CFC | #AVLCHE | @BenChilwellpic.twitter.com/U796pEOl0j— ChelseaFCBlogs (@ChelseaFCBlogs_) May 23, 2021
"We didn't know until the last two minutes of the game," he confessed. "We didn't have a clue. You could see in the second half that we were fighting to get back into the game.
"We could have scored a number of goals in the second half, especially. Their goalkeeper's made a few good saves and we could have had a penalty.
"It was a 38-game season with a lot of games in a small amount of time. The main thing is that we finished the season in the top four."Also on rt.com Rising Roman: Chelsea owner Abramovich adds more than $2BN to his vast wealth as midfielder Kante joins him on annual UK rich list