Chelsea pipped Leicester to a spot in next season’s Champions League despite losing to Aston Villa on the final day of the Premier League season.
The Blues had started the day in third spot, knowing victory over their mid-table opponents would guarantee a place in the group stage of Europe’s prestigious knockout club competition.
Thomas Tuchel’s side carved out the better chances but fell behind when Bertrand Traore’s attempt went in off the underside of the crossbar following Matt Targett’s corner.
It went from bad to worse for Chelsea when Edouard Mendy was injured, making him a doubt for next Saturday’s Champions League final with Manchester City.
Substitute keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga was beaten by Anwar El Ghazi’s second-half penalty after former Chelsea player Traore was fouled by Jorginho, before Ben Chilwell pulled one back for the visitors from close range.
Chelsea finished the game with 10 men after captain Cesar Azpilicueta’s straight red card for a foul on Jack Grealish, but Leicester’s home defeat by Tottenham means Tuchel’s side finish the season in fourth on 67 points – one more than fifth-placed Leicester.
From ninth to Champions League spot
On a dramatic final day, Tuchel and his players experienced a full range of emotions before it was finally confirmed they had secured a Champions League group place.
It is an impressive achievement considering the Blues were ninth when Tuchel took charge in January, and of course his side could yet end the season by being crowned champions of Europe.
But they will have to play better – and show more discipline – than they did against Villa if they are to win in Porto next weekend after their first Premier League away defeatunder the German.
Traore was unmarked when he fired Villa ahead, while Jorginho’s foul on the Villa midfielder gifted the hosts a second goal from the spot.
Azpilicueta can have few complaints about his red card but most worrying for Tuchel will be the fitness of Mendy.
The Senegal keeper has settled well since arriving from Rennes in September and proved a calming influence on the defenders in front of him. Tuchel will hope his injury does not hamper his plans for next weekend.
Testing summer for Villa
Villa ended a highly satisfactory season with a thrilling win in front of their own fans, and their total of 55 points is 20 more than they managed last season when they escaped relegation on the final day of the campaign.
In front of England boss Gareth Southgate, who names his squad for the European Championship on Tuesday, Villa produced a performance oozing character – but manager Dean Smith faces a big summer.
Grealish’s return from injury has added energy to the side but will the captain be at his hometown club next season?
The midfielder, who finished the league season with six goals and 10 assists, continues to attract attention which will no doubt only intensify should he be picked for England for the delayed Euro 2020.
Fellow midfielder Ross Barkley looks likely to return to Chelsea now his loan is over but Villa’s future appears to be in good hands.
Ollie Watkins has ended his debut top-flight season with 14 goals while goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez has proved a bargain, the Argentine keeping 15 Premier League clean sheets since arriving for £17m last September.
‘Massive positives’ – what they said
Aston Villa boss Dean Smith: “I think the fans helped us over the line against a very good Chelsea team. The first 20 minutes I had to count there wasn’t more than 11 of them as they seemed to get overloads all over the pitch.
“It’s been a season of progression and to finish six places and 20 points higher than we did last season is a sure sign.
“There are massive positives to take from this season but we know we must get better.”
Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel: “I knew three or four minutes before our game was over [that Chelsea had made the top four] because the game at Leicester was over a bit earlier and it was clear we were through.
“We did not prepare for the occasion today, we prepared for the match. It’s normally hard to create chances against Aston Villa but we created a lot.”