Chelsea went back to Seville six days on and back to the Champions League semi-final seven years later. A 2-0 win over Porto here last week was enough, Thomas Tuchel’s team returning to the same stadium to defend that lead and ease their way into the next round, where Real Madrid or Liverpool will await them. Where they would be entitled to believe that their journey may not end; there will be tougher tests but this is not a team that is easily undone nor distracted.
Ultimately, this never really looked in any doubt. Not in this second meeting at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, at least. Only very occasionally did Porto threaten, their chances of advancing from this tie effectively ending with Ben Chilwell’s late goal in the first leg. Here there were none, which was how Chelsea wanted it, in control throughout. Tis is very much a team with a plan and everything had followed that plan, everyone had.
Don’t lose your heads, Thomas Tuchel had urged his players. Although they had a 2-0 lead from the away leg in this same stadium eight days ago, he insisted it wasn’t a good idea to get tied up in possible permutations. “In terms of adapting to the result, it is easier for Porto because they know they need to score three goals,” he claimed, as if those three goals, which need only be two, were going to be easy to get or there was only one way to go about getting them.
The first-leg score had flattered Chelsea; it had also put them in an almost unassailable position. Besides, Porto still had to exert some caution, still had decisions to make and moments to choose, Sérgio Conceição warning that they must avoid conceding. As for Chelsea, they were hardly likely to have doubts when their natural style suited this scenario, organisation above adventure. And even if Porto’s first advance into their area took just 43 seconds, Tuchel’s side were entitled to be confident they could keep their opponents at arm’s length.
Porto did start brightly, if not all-out, Jesús Corona mobile and keen to run on the right and Moussa Marega a presence around the area, a battle building with Antonio Rüdiger. His first shot though was scuffed, an echo of the first leg. Like last Wednesday, Chelsea were comfortable waiting for their moment to head forward, whether that was a quick ball to the front three or the typically impressive N’Golo Kanté dashing through carrying it.
Christian Pulisic found Mason Mount for a shot that deflected over the bar before the Frenchman twice led them out. The first time, he raced almost to the byline, turned Wilson Manafá and set up Pulisic to roll across for Reece James to pull a shot wide. The second saw him release Kai Havertz into the area, Pepe having to dive before him.
At the other end, Corona had the best opportunities, the first gifted to him by Edouard Mendy on the edge of the area, Jorginho reacting quickly to close him down and deflect into the side-netting. That was after 10 minutes; for a long while, for all Porto’s possession, not much else was happening, and that was just fine by Chelsea.
Then suddenly, just after the half hour, Corona brought down a high ball and turned Ben Chilwell in one smart movement. Behind the left-back, he might have pressed on but the ball sat up, asking to be struck, so he did, taking it in the air. It flew into the Pride of London banner in the empty stand.
Shots were few, stoppages many. As half-time came and went, Porto did have a decision to make: at what point should they risk exposing themselves to the goal that would end this in order to seek more insistently the goal that would truly put them in it? How long too before Mehdi Taremi was introduced? He eventually made an entrance on the hour, and was almost immediately on the end of a neat move from Corona and Otávio, Mendy diving low to save his header.
Porto had needed that, if only to believe this was possible. They had started brightly enough, pressing higher, but had been limited to hopeful crosses. Chelsea consistently worked the ball out well, tidy in possession and slick when they attacked, which was more often now. There was a warning when Pulisic couldn’t get a full contact on Chilwell’s cutback by the six-yard box. Then another one when they again worked the ball from right to left, Kanté playing Mount into the area. He was pulling the trigger when Manafá made the block.
Next, Pepe blocked Pulisic, that header all that Porto had managed, hope slipping away with the time. There was little in the way of ideas, not much inspiration, their limitations a reality and Chelsea’s defence a formidable barrier, Thiago Silva was forced to stretch to clear close to goal.
A triple change followed with 15 minutes to go, Conceição having to try something; Nanu, Luis Díaz and Evanilson all introduced. It seemed like nothing would change Chelsea dealing with them like they had dealt with everyone else, exuding a sense of total control that few teams will be keen to come up against, until the very last minute.
And then Taremi leapt to smash an astonishing overhead kick into the net, the best moment of the tie not affecting its outcome.