Well, that was nothing if not fun. Chelsea were just -- and I mean just -- edged out by Bayern Munich as the Champions of Europe took home the 2013 Super Cup via penalty shootout. It was as entertaining a game as you'll see all season, with two very good (if slightly under-strength) sides going at it from the beginning. Sure, losing on penalties is a tough way to go, but that the Blues managed to hold their own against a side that breezed their way to a treble last season is impressive.
The fireworks started early. With Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thiago Alcantara ruled out through injury and Javi Martinez not fit to start, Pep Guardiola's hands were somewhat tied in midfield, and he eventually gave the nod to Philipp Lahm as lone holder. That worked about as well as one might expect.
Eight minutes in, Chelsea showed their stuff with a wonderful finish from Fernando Torres, but his delightful strike only came after Eden Hazard breezed through what Bayern were optimistically calling a midfield and set up Andre Schurrle on the right. Schurrle fired in a first time cross that Torres met on the half volley. Manuel Neuer had no chance at all, and the Blues took a surprise early lead.
The counterattack was, rather naturally, Chelsea's main outlet. Bayern, even without Schweinsteiger and Martinez, are excellent at keeping the ball, and the Blues were always going to have to soak up pressure and hit them on the break to get anywhere. They had two more chances in the first half, thanks to industrious work by Hazard, Schurrle and Oscar. Unfortunately, Torres couldn't make the most of them, twice shooting when he might have done better with a pass.
That Bayern failed to do much in the first half wasn't really down to good defending. In fact, they opened up Chelsea on several occasions only to be thwarted by some rather poor finishing. David Luiz had a wobbly start with some overly aggressive challenges, but the main threat came on the left, where Franck Ribery and David Alaba were overlapping against Branislav Ivanovic, occasionally with Mario Mandzukic also in attendance.
Time after time Alaba would send in a dangerous cross that had to be dug out at the back post or Ribery would mis-hit a shot (he did have one well saved by Petr Cech), but that they were so routinely able to cut Chelsea open was a hugely worrying sign.
There wasn't much to be done about it, though -- there's a reason Bayern won the Champions League last season, and that's because they're fantastic, and sometimes they can do things like that to you. Chelsea just had to hope that Ribery wouldn't hurt them too badly.
Unfortunately, the Frenchman found his shooting boots just after halftime. Toni Kroos laid the ball off to Ribery, and with Gary Cahill not quick enough to close him down Ribery lashed in a shot that beat Cech -- he did manage to get a hand to it -- at his near post.
Guardiola immediately deployed Martinez to secure the centre, and for a little while it looked as though Bayern would be able to grab two or three more before full time. They were putting a lot of pressure on Cech's goal, and it felt like a second was coming. And then we got a minor miracle in Dante falling over just in front of Schurrle. Yes, Oscar's shot was fantasically saved by Neuer, but that seemed to remind Chelsea that they weren't totally doomed, and they started to come out of their shell a little more.
Ivanovic hit the crossbar from a corner. Hazard had a shot blocked by Dante's afro. David Luiz momentarily looked like he'd grabbed the winner before Neuer clawed away his header. And just as things were going well, disaster.
It had been a contentious game, with a tonne of niggly fouls on both sides and a lot of yellow cards to boot. Ramires, on a booking, went in for a challenge with Mario Goetze rather too enthusiastically, clipping the ball before catching the midfielder's ankle with his studs. Out came the second yellow, and off went Ramires.
Playing against Bayern with eleven is problematic; playing with ten is nearly impossible. The excellent Schurrle was removed for John Obi Mikel as Mourinho shifted the side into something akin to a 4-2-2-1, and the Blues settled in to defend. Until penalties, if necessary. There was one late chance to win it in normal time, but David Luiz hit the wall with a free kick and we went to extras. 90 minutes in against Europe's best team, and Chelsea had held their own.
With ten men, it didn't seem likely that we'd be able to seize the lead in extra time, but thanks to a clever ball by David Luiz, a cut inside by Hazard and a mistake by Neuer Chelsea went ahead again in the 93rd minute. From then on, it was all hands on deck defending. Romelu Lukaku came in for Torres and ended up playing right about where Ramires started the match, as a central midfield-right back hybrid. John Terry was introduced for Hazard.
It looked as though Cech was going to save the day for the Blues, much as he had the last time these two teams met. The big goalkeeper came up with brilliant saves against Ribery, Mandzukic and Martinez as the minutes ticked away, but in the dying seconds, with the last kick of the match, Gary Cahill lost Martinez and allowed him to smash home the equaliser after a deflection.
The hard work was undone, and Chelsea had to face the gauntlet of the shootout. By now, this was just for the €800,000 in prize money -- the Super Cup itself is an irrelevance to a team that's already won it before, and the pride had been reinstated in full effect after hanging in against Europe's best side for 120 minutes, 45 of which were spent a man down.
And so, penalties. Four brilliant kicks from Bayern were matched by equally superb (better, probably) hits from Chelsea. We went to round five at level pegging. Xherdan Shaqiri's poor penalty was tipped by Cech, but went in anyway. And Lukaku's was saved.
Bayern had won the Super Cup after an excellent match. Congratulations to them*; they're an amazing team and it's impossible to begrudge them silverware. Chelsea, on the other hand, go home with something more than the 2.2 million they got for turning up (which is a pretty neat consolation price) -- they reestablished that, after the embarrassment of Europa League exile, they can hang with the big boys. In friendlies, anyway.