Chelsea clawed back into the Premier League’s top four after a 0-0 stalemate against Brighton and Hove Albion on Tuesday, but what made headlines was the club’s role in derailing the controversial European Super League.
Just before kick-off at Stamford Bridge, it was widely reported that Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich had decided to withdraw from the controversial breakaway plan.
While there is yet to be an official confirmation from the club, the Blues are understood to be preparing documents to formally quit the tournament.
Manchester City became the first team to officially pull out, followed by Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid also reportedly set to withdraw.
Real Madrid, Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan are the remaining founder members of a Super League that now looks certain to crumble before a match is ever played.
Against that dramatic backdrop, Chelsea produced a flat performance, although the draw saw Thomas Tuchel’s side move into fourth place above West Ham on goal difference.
Chelsea visit West Ham on Saturday in a crucial clash in the race to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Just hours before kick-off, it seems Chelsea would not have to worry about qualifying for Europe thanks to their invitation to the closed-door Super League.
But after resounding condemnation from across the political and sporting spectrum, Chelsea are set to walk away.
Abramovich and chairman Bruce Buck reportedly feared staying in the Super League would seriously damage Chelsea’s reputation, therefore undermining their anti-semitism campaigning and community work.
While Stamford Bridge remained empty due to the coronavirus pandemic, around 1,000 fans had staged an angry protest before news of the Super League meltdown broke.
The cheers when Chelsea’s imminent exit became public knowledge were as loud as any that greeted goals from the Blues when they fans were last allowed into the stadium.
Chelsea supporter Dan Silver said: “I’m absolutely delighted that common sense has prevailed. The fans being at Stamford Bridge had an impact I believe.
“This is by far the best decision for the future of the beautiful game. No one should ever underestimate football fans again.”
Another unnamed supporter shouted: “The fans have won.”
Chelsea were believed to have initially agreed to sign up after fearing they would be left behind financially.
But they have back-tracked following furious criticism that culminated in the protest on their own doorstep.
Chelsea fans had unfurled banners reading: “RIP Football 1863 – 2021”, “Created by the poor, stolen by the rich”, “We want our cold nights in Stoke” and “Roman do the right thing”
Blue smoke bombs were let off and fans staged a sit-down protest in the road while police attempted to control the crowds.
By the time the players walked onto the pitch, the news had broken that the Super League scheme was in tatters.
Interviewed just before kick-off, Tuchel admitted the saga had been a distraction for his team.
“It is annoying and frustrating. From Monday we wanted to build the momentum and atmosphere and being ready. It was not our fault but we have to accept we are a bit distracted,” he said.
Brighton boss Graham Potter reflected the mood across football, saying: “Very pleased. Our feelings have been known, it stands against everything we know as football.”
Tuchel’s concern that his team would lose focus amid the Super League drama proved spot on in a tepid encounter.
With Chelsea toothless, it was Brighton who almost snatched the points in the 80th minute when Danny Welbeck’s curler smacked off the far post.
Brighton had Ben White sent off for a second booking in stoppage-time, but they held on to move seven points clear of the relegation zone.