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Champions League

Chelsea ousts Real Madrid to set up all-English Champions League final vs City

Chelsea's Timo Werner, center, scored a key goal in Wednesday's win.
Chelsea's Timo Werner, center, scored a key goal in Wednesday's win.Alastair Grant/Associated Press

Chelsea’s decision to fire a club legend suddenly doesn’t seem so callous after all.

While Frank Lampard’s name has hardly been forgotten by the Chelsea fans — who were chanting it outside Stamford Bridge before kickoff Wednesday — new manager Thomas Tuchel is quickly creating his own legacy after leading the London club into the Champions League final.

Chelsea even made 13-time European Cup champion Real Madrid look ordinary as goals from Timo Werner and Mason Mount sealed a 2-0 victory that ousted Madrid on aggregate, 3-1.

Perhaps the stragglers leaving the bars near Stamford Bridge could hear the roar Tuchel let out on the field inside the empty stadium long after his players had departed the field. It will certainly have been heard in the Chelsea boardroom by the directors whose decision to dismiss Lampard in January and hire Tuchel now appearsvindicated.

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“I am very grateful and thankful to have this opportunity,” said Tuchel, who was dismissed by Paris Saint-Germain in December despite leading the French club to last year’s Champions League final. “You can never be ahead of plan as a manager and as a player — it does not exist.”

Just as when owner Roman Abramovich made mid-season managerial changes in the 2007-08 and 2011-12 seasons, Chelsea will end the campaign by contesting the biggest game in European football. And by the end of the month, two Champions League trophies could be at Stamford Bridge, with Chelsea the first club to reach the men’s and women’s finals in the same season.

Even though the men’s showpiece will be an all-English encounter with Manchester City May 29, the Premier League rivals will have to fly four hours to play the UEFA showpiece in Istanbul, which is currently in a coronavirus lockdown.

“It’s going to be a stunning game,” Mount said.

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But unlike last season’s final — when Tuchel’s PSG lost to Bayern Munich — fans are set to be allowed in. Chelsea supporters have yet to see Tuchel managing their team in the flesh because of England’s ongoing coronavirus restrictions. But they can’t deny the impact he has made.

Chelsea was five points outside the four Champions League qualification places when he was hired, but heads into the final four games of the Premier League season in fourth place with a three-point cushion. There’s a chance to pick up a trophy before the trip to Turkey, too, with an FA Cup final against Leicester on May 15.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane is left to focus on trying on wiping out Atletico Madrid’s two-point lead in Spain to win La Liga, rather than adding to the three Champions League titles he won from 2016 to 2018.

After conceding a costly away goal last week, Madrid lacked the attacking nous or threat to turn this semifinal around.

Karim Benzema was denied by the first in a series of fine saves by Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy before Werner’s opener but the visitors were sluggish, lacking a creative spark from Eden Hazard on an ineffective return to his former home.

Even in a debut season of misfortune, not even Werner could miss in the 28th minute when presented with an unguarded net to head into from close range after Kai Havertz had lobbed former Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and hit the crossbar.

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The chants of “Timo” from the substitutes’ bench reflected the delight from his teammates that the Germany forward had scored only his fourth goal since November. For all the scrutiny faced, though, Werner has still managed 12 goals and 10 assists for Chelsea.

For all Chelsea’s threat, Madrid only needed to score once to force the second leg into extra time. When the second half opened with Havertz heading against the crossbar and having a low shot saved it looked like the misses could prove costly.

“Keep on pushing guys,” Tuchel urged from the sideline.

Mount also lifted a shot over Courtois but he did turn in a shot in the 85th minute after substitute Christian Pulisic and N’Golo Kante combined. After being taken off by Tuchel, Mount got to savor the closing minutes from the stands while being hugged by teammates already celebrating a shot at adding to Chelsea’s lone Champions League title from 2012.

“We were dangerous on counter attacks,” Tuchel said, “but never lost the desire or hunger to defend.”

In fact, it was Chelsea’s 18th clean sheet in 24 games under Tuchel.