Who Are Chelsea’s Biggest Rivals?

Unlike fellow London sides, Arsenal and Tottenham, the Blues do not have a long-established, undisputed great local rival, and therefore any number of clubs could be classed as their “biggest rivals”, depending on which Chelsea fan you ask. Geographically speaking, Chelsea’s local rivals are Fulham, yet this rivalry has lacked intensity due to the gulf in quality between the two sides, who have very rarely met each other due to Fulham often playing in the second tier.

There is also a local rivalry, to some extent, between Chelsea and QPR, and Chelsea and Brentford, as these are both fellow West London clubs, but these rivalries similarly lack any real intensity for the same reason. This has, therefore, led to Chelsea forming rivalries with several other sides that are more within their weight category, so to speak, rather than just their neighbours, such as teams like Leeds, Man Utd, Arsenal and Tottenham.

West London Derbies

Before we look at some of the Premier League rivalries the Blues have, let’s take a look at their local rivals in the western part of the capital.

Chelsea vs Fulham

Fulham FC logoFulham’s Craven Cottage ground lies just 2.2km from Stamford Bridge, meaning that the two clubs are among the closest in England, which you would think would be all it takes to create a fierce rivalry. However, Fulham have typically played in the second tier of English football, whilst Chelsea have been a long-established top flight side, meaning that meetings between the two have been relatively few and far between.

In fact, between 1968 and 2001, the two West London teams only spent five seasons in the same division, which thoroughly prevented any sort of genuine rivalry from forming. The two have only met 70 times in their entire history (at the time of writing), and there have been very few high-profile or important matches between the two, largely due to the Cottagers’ lack of any real success. In comparison to other rivalries, those 70 meetings are a meagre total, given there have been over 200 north London derbies, and this shows the importance of regular fixtures in ensuring a rivalry remains fiercely contested.

Chelsea vs QPR/Brentford

QPR & Brentford logosIn a very similar vein to Fulham, Chelsea’s rivalries with the other fellow West Londoners, QPR and Brentford, have also been limited due to the gulf in quality between them, and the lack of regular fixtures this causes. Both the Rs and the Bees have spent the vast majority of recent years in lower divisions, meaning that they have very rarely played Chelsea, especially not in important matches.

There was an unsavoury flare-up between Chelsea and QPR in 2011, however, as Blues skipper, John Terry, was alleged to have racially abused Anton Ferdinand in a game that the newly promoted Rs managed to win 1-0. However, due to the sheer lack of fixtures between the two, this rivalry has now fizzled out in terms of being something that many Chelsea fans can get too excited about.

Other Rivalries

Much as we might love Chelsea, there is no doubt that over the years they have managed to create some rather heated rivalries with other sides. There are many factors that explain this but let’s just say that being successful tends to make other teams envious, shall we?

Chelsea vs Leeds United

Leeds United logoA fierce rivalry between Chelsea and Leeds United arose in the 1960s and 1970s, as a consequence of a number of important and similarly controversial games between the two, as both sides were competing for major honours. The pinnacle of both controversy and competitiveness has to be the 1970 FA Cup final, which has been dubbed the “most brutal game” in English football history.

In 1997, referee, David Elleray, rewatched the match, declaring that there would have been six red cards and 20 yellows awarded, according to modern rules. This violence and brutality on the field was echoed in the clashes between football hooligans from both sides, with a number of violent incidents between Chelsea and Leeds “firms” occurring throughout the 70s and 80s. This rivalry was characterised by some as a conflict between “Yorkshire grit” and the “flash cockney”.

However, despite animosity remaining between the two, the rivalry itself has almost completely died out, as Leeds were relegated from the Premier League in 2004 and didn’t return to the top flight until 2020/21. In this time, Chelsea established themselves as one of the best teams in the country, backed by the investment of Roman Abramovich, whilst Leeds struggled, even spending a period in League One.

Chelsea vs Arsenal

Arsenal logo

A mixture of location and mutual success has led to a strong rivalry emerging between Chelsea and Arsenal, with the 2012 Football Rivalries Survey concluding that Blues fans see the Gunners as their second biggest rival, behind Tottenham. This rivalry between the two London sides has significantly grown in intensity over the last 20 years or so, with the two teams facing each other in five major finals since 2002.

These finals include the 2019 Europa League and the 2002, 2017 and 2020 FA Cup finals, all of which have been fiercely contested. Under Jose Mourinho, Chelsea brought an end to the Wenger/Ferguson era, and it could even be argued that Chelsea replaced Arsenal, considering that since Chelsea first lifted the Premier League title, in 2004/05, Arsenal have been unable to do so.

This rivalry also intensified due to the controversy surrounding the transfer of Ashley Cole, who decided to make the journey from north to west London in 2006, leading to many Gooners branding the England left-back a “Judas”, or “Cashley Cole”. However, the hatred and animosity between the two sides and their fans has most likely cooled, especially considering that a number of ex-Chelsea players have moved to Arsenal, without too much controversy, such as David Luiz, Willian and Petr Cech, with Olivier Giroud also moving the other way without too much fuss.

Chelsea vs Manchester United

Manchester United logoWhilst this is certainly not a historically significant rivalry, especially considering the geographical distance between the two, it is one that emerged out of mutual success from two great managers. In 2004/05, backed by the skilful management of a young Jose Mourinho and the almost endless investment of Roman Abramovich, Chelsea pipped Man Utd to the title by a singular point, preventing the Red Devils from clinching a fourth consecutive Premier League.

This was Chelsea’s first title since 1955, and it announced them as the new big hitters in the league, who were willing to take on Fergie’s super-team and even beat them, starting an intense rivalry between the two. In the 2000s and early 2010s, Chelsea and United were both at the top of their game, clashing in a number of key games as they both challenged for Champions League and Premier League titles. However, this remains a secondary rivalry for both teams, and has cooled in intensity, with the Red Devils having fiercer rivalries with Liverpool, Leeds United and Man City.

Chelsea vs Tottenham

Tottenham Hotspur logoSimilar to the west London side’s rivalry with Arsenal, although maybe slightly fiercer, the rivalry between Chelsea and Tottenham is also founded on a combination of relative geographical closeness and them meeting in a number of high-profile and often controversial games. This rivalry originated in the 1967 FA Cup final, which was the first between two London teams. It was a tough physical game that had over 100,000 spectators and finished 2-1 to Spurs.

Although Tottenham were successful on this occasion, Chelsea have utterly dominated the rivalry since the 1990s. The North Londoners have struggled for silverware, whilst Chelsea have won the lot! On the pitch, this rivalry came to a head at Stamford Bridge in 2016, in a game dubbed the “Battle of the Bridge”, that saw Spurs given nine yellow cards and Chelsea three, as a late-game scuffle saw players on both sides physically attacking each other. In fact, according to the Football Rivalries Survey, 58.6% of Chelsea fans declared that they saw Tottenham as their main rival, above Arsenal and Man United, who placed second and third.

Honourable Mentions

Liverpool FC logoChelsea have tended to have a fairly significant rivalry with West Ham over the years, despite the grounds being around an hour apart when the Hammers played at Upton Park. The clubs have often been in the same division, be that the top flight or second tier, whilst there have been some big transfers between them, most notably, in recent times, Frank Lampard and Joe Cole, both heading from the Hammers to the Blues. Off-pitch tensions have added to that derby feel, with fights frequently breaking out between fans of the clubs.

Another rivalry of note for Chelsea is with Liverpool, though this is possibly more a thing of the past now. It developed at a time when both sides were enjoying domestic and European success, with Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez at the helm. The bosses did not get along, and the clubs seemed to play each other several times a season over a sustained period. Indeed, they met an incredible 24 times in five years under the Iberian managers, the rivalry growing after Luis Garcia’s infamous Anfield “ghost goal” that went a long way to stopping Mourinho claiming the Champions League with Chelsea.

Who Are Chelsea’s Biggest Rivals?

Crowds at Tottenham & Chelsea game
Crowds at Tottenham & Chelsea game (sarflondondunc | Flickr.com – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Although this is a tough question, as Chelsea have had rivalries with a number of different clubs over the years, it is hard to ignore the opinion of the majority of their fanbase, meaning that the answer would have to be Tottenham. Furthermore, as well as the on-field rivalry between the two London clubs, there have also been several controversial incidents involving fans of the clubs.

For example, in 2015, having just won the League Cup final, a group of Chelsea fans were chanting racist and antisemitic songs on the London Underground, directed towards Spurs supporters. By and large, the rivalry has stayed on the pitch but there have certainly been minor incidents requiring the local constabulary and all in all it is certainly fair to say that Spurs are Chelsea’s biggest rivals!