Chelsea: Not a shabby season, despite turmoil and patchy performances

There was a buzz around Chelsea football club in the summer of 2012. Winning the Champions League against all odds made many feel that this would be a season in which Chelsea would really challenge for the title, especially with exciting, young and creative talents Eden Hazard, Oscar, Victor Moses and Marko Marin as well as right back Cesar Azpilicueta all joining the team.

A comfortable 2-0 win away to Wigan and two home victories against Reading and Newcastle meant a successful start for Chelsea, with Eden Hazard and Fernando Torres both looking exceptionally sharp in the new 4-2-3-1 formation.

After that, things took a turn for the worse; Radamel Falcao tore Chelsea apart in a 4-1 Atletico win in the UEFA Super Cup in Monaco. A frustrating 0-0 draw away to West London rivals QPR followed by a home draw to Italian champions Juventus after a late Fabio Quagliarella strike completed the turnaround for Conte’s team after Chelsea lead 2-0 thanks to two wonderful strikes from Oscar. However, ugly wins against Stoke and then Arsenal proved Chelsea’s knack of being able to win without playing well was still present, while the 4-0 and 4-1 wins against FC Nordsjaelland in the Champions league and Norwich in the Premier league helped the Blues’ confidence.

Heading in to the London derby away to Tottenham, Chelsea were at the top of the table, and in a crazy game that featured a thunderous volley from Gary Cahill, Tottenham coming back from 1-0 down to go 2-1 up as well as some excellent link-up play between Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata, Chelsea ran out 4-2 winners to strengthen their position as leaders. Shakhtar Donetsk away was a torrid night for Chelsea, as Willian and Fernandinho starred in a 2-1 victory for the Ukranian outfit.

Another loss followed on the Sunday after, with a highly charged and controversial game at home to Manchester United. Goals from Juan Mata and Ramires had cancelled out two early Robin van Persie strikes (one of which came off David Luiz) when Branislav Ivanovic grappled Ashley Young down and received a straight red. Then a supposed Fernando Torres got the Spaniard his second yellow, although footage showed contact with Jonny Evans and Chelsea couldn’t keep Javier Hernandez and Manchester United at bay as the game finished 3-2 with United now hot on Chelsea’s heels at the Premier League summit.

Revenge was somewhat exacted by Chelsea as they beat a youthful Manchester United team 5-4 in the League Cup, but a draw away to Swansea and a disastrous 2-1 loss away to in-form West Brom meant manager Roberto Di Matteo’s job was being questioned by the media as Chelsea lost their confidence and Fernando Torres looked more frustrated than ever.

Torres was dropped for the all-important game in Turin against Juventus, where despite Oscar, Hazard and Mata looking bright early on, Juve’s power and energy proved too much with Sebastian Giovinco’s late goal being the icing on the cake for the Italian side who were comfortable 3-0 winners, effectively dumping Chelsea out of the competition in the group stage, the first side to exit at this stage after winning it the season before. Roberto Di Matteo, who guided Chelsea to the club’s first Champions League, was then sacked, with his tactical understanding being questioned.

In came Rafael Benitez as interim manager, but the Spaniard received a heavy chorus of boos upon his first two appearances in the Stamford Bridge dugout, due to comments he’d made in previous years about the Chelsea fans. Both games were drab 0-0 draws against Manchester City and then Fulham, while a 3-1 loss away to West Ham showed discontent in the squad and amongst the fans.

The Club World Cup, a tournament in which many expected Chelsea to win fairly comfortably went horribly wrong too, with Brazilian outfit Corinthians defeating the Blues 1-0 in a lackluster Chelsea performance. As David Luiz sobbed, the season looked as if it was going downhill, and fast.

Upon arriving back in England, Chelsea saw off old rivals Leeds 5-1 in the Capital One Cup much to the delight of the travelling Chelsea fans, while Aston Villa were thumped by an incredible eight goals to nil in a league match. In this game, Chelsea had their old swagger back while looking much more assured at the back, Juan Mata was looking even more as impressive as he was last season, and Frank Lampard was looking like his old self. Yet, in the first game of 2013, Benitez decided to rest several key players, including Eden Hazard and Juan Mata as Chelsea missed the chance to go third in a shock 1-0 home defeat to QPR. Inconsistency was again holding Chelsea back.

The 4-0 win away to Stoke was the ideal performance for a team in Chelsea’s position, solid and looking threatening when on the attack. But, in what was becoming a theme throughout the season, Chelsea threw away a 2-0 lead against Southampton who managed a 2-2 draw. A 2-1 win at home to fourth place rivals Arsenal was a boost, but losing to Swansea in the Capital One Cup, losing Hazard for three games for kicking a ballboy, a 2-2 draw away at Reading, a 3-2 loss to Newcastle were further indications of inconsistency holding Chelsea back.

Advancing in the Europa League thanks to a late, great Eden Hazard goal against Sparta Prague showed Chelsea were vulnerable to any team, while a Rafael Benitez rant against the Chelsea fans after a 2-0 FA Cup win against Middlesbrough didn’t help matters.
Chelsea met Manchester United for the third time out of five in March in the FA Cup in a truly remarkable encounter. 2-0 down at half time due to goals from nemesis Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney put Chelsea in dire straits, but the introduction of John Obi Mikel gave Chelsea’s attackers a new lease of life in the second half with Ramires, Hazard and Mata bombing forward as Chelsea were unlucky to only leave with a 2-2 draw.

Frank Lampard scored his 200th goal for Chelsea against his former club West Ham in a sublime Chelsea performance with Mata and Hazard again starring. Despite a surprise 2-1 loss away to Southampton, Chelsea entered April in a respectable fourth with a game in hand, while still in the Europa League and FA cup after a sublime Demba Ba streak saw off United in the replay.

Lampard.... Chelsea's all time top goalscorer.

Lampard…. Chelsea’s all time top goalscorer.

A pivotal, albeit not pretty 2-1 win at home to Sunderland meant Chelsea were looking just about good enough for Champions League qualification, but the 2-1 FA Cup semi-final loss to Manchester City was a real blow and meant only the Europa League was within Chelsea’s grasp. A stunning David Luiz strike helped Chelsea to a 3-0 win away to Fulham, but a controversial 2-2 draw at Anfield after Luis Suarez appeared to bite Branislav Ivanovic angered Chelsea who had led twice in the game thanks to goals from Oscar (1-0) and Hazard (2-1).

Seeing off Basel in the Europa League put Chelsea in a European final for consecutive seasons, while wins away to Manchester United and a draw at home to Tottenham put Chelsea on the brink of guaranteeing Champions League football next season. Frank Lampard’s two goals against Aston Villa in a fierce game where both teams had a player sent off, made him Chelsea’s all-time leading goalscorer on 203 goals, coincided with the signing of his new contract.

Then in Amsterdam, a last minute, towering header from Branislav Ivanovic won Chelsea the Europa League in a 2-1 win over the Benfica side that dominated most of the match.

Finishing third and winning the Europa League may not have been the season Chelsea fans dreamed of, but given the managerial upheaval and oh so bleak midwinter, this season didn’t turn out too bad for the Blues.

 

End of season awards

 

Player of the season: Juan Mata
Goal of the season: Oscar’s 2nd vs. Juventus (H)
Best performance of the season: vs. Aston Villa (H)
Worst performance of the season: vs. Corinthians (N)

 

Written by Joshua Sodergren

Follow Joshua on Twitter @chelsealad1365

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