In a year which has seen the Special One successfully begin to implement his style at Stamford Bridge once again, we take a look at 12 months in which Chelsea have slowly begun to assert their dominance of England once more.
2014 stared with relative optimism as Jose Mourinho, beginning his second spell at the club, had kept Chelsea in the title race and eased through to the last 16 of the Champions League. The top end of the Premier League was as competitive as it ever had been. City, Arsenal and Liverpool were all challenging alongside the Blues at the mid-way stage. However, as Arsenal and Liverpool begun to fall away, it appeared that City were their only remaining rivals. Pellegrini’s side had the lead for most of the campaign but a good run of form saw Chelsea begin to catch the Mancunian outfit.
Arguably Chelsea’s best game of Mourinho’s second reign came at a time when his side were on this seeming march towards first. On a cold Monday night in Manchester, they put in an outstanding away performance of which top tactician’s dreams are made of, to secure an invaluable 1-0 against City. The Londoners were now the new hot favourites to win the league and the hunting had become the hunted.
Although they didn’t really push on from then on as despite impressive form against the divisions elite, Chelsea inexplicably struggled against the lower teams. Dropping points against the likes of West Ham, West Brom, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, Sunderland and Norwich. This calamitous record vs sides they should have been dispatching with ease, ultimately cost them a Premier League title which surely would have been theirs to claim.
A 2-0 win at Anfield despite fielding what was effectively a reserve side, raised hopes late on that the title race wasn’t quite over. A loss against Sunderland ended Mourinho’s magnificent home league record without defeat and a draw at home to eventually relegated Norwich City then put the final nail in their coffin as Chelsea looked desperately short of a world class striker.
Having been knocked out of the FA Cup by Manchester City, the Champions League was Chelsea’s last hope of silverware. They breezed past Galatasaray in the last 16, before being handed a difficult tie against PSG. They appeared to be on their way out after a demoralising 3-1 defeat in Paris, which saw the Blues’ usually highly reliable defence in tatters. However, this Chelsea side is made of stern stuff and they turned the tie around in London, albeit fortuitously, to go through on away goals. After that inspired comeback, many backed them to perhaps secure a second European crown. A 0-0 draw away to Atletico Madrid, in a typically Mourinho defensive performance raised hopes further. Stamford Bridge would this time not serve them so well though, as despite taking an early lead they ended up losing 3-1 on the night. The equaliser coming from Eden Hazard’s inability to track his man and it all unravelled from there as Chelsea were out-thought, outplayed and out-classed by the Spanish side. This crushing defeat ensured that Mourinho and Chelsea faced the rare feet of a trophy less season.
As we all know Roman Abramovich is all about trophies and highly driven by instant success, so any season in which Chelsea don’t win any silverware, will always leave the manager under pressure, even Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese knew that he had to start winning the next season or risk losing his job and acted swiftly in the summer transfer window. He identified early on that new forwards were needed and brought in Diego Costa from Atletico Madrid, for a large fee. Later on he would also resign Didier Drogba on a free and Loic Remy from QPR to bolster his striking options. He also targeted a new creative play maker as a priority and swooped for Cesc Fabregas after his old club Arsenal had remarkably turned down the player, in arguably the signing of the summer. Felipe Luis was also added and Thibaut Courtois crucially retained in somewhat of a raid of Atletico. Such was the buzz at signing one of the world’s best midfielders and striker that Chelsea began the season as favourites and started like a team worthy of that tag. All these players added to the revelation of a signing that was Nemanja Matic in January, meant the Blues looked very impressive indeed.
Costa and Fabregas were the final pieces in the jigsaw and it seemed as Chelsea started the season like a complete team. They stormed to an early Premier League lead, with both Spaniards displaying fantastic form and no troubles in adjusting to a new country. The Blues won their first 4 matches in impressive style, racking up the goals and playing football pleasing to the eye. Unlike last year, they continued to turn over the division’s lesser teams with ease. Against the bigger sides they coped well also when the time came to take on such company. Hard fought draws at the Etihad and Old Trafford were followed by wins against Arsenal and Liverpool.
However, eventually a mini blip was bound to occur and it came in the form of 2 consecutive away trips to the North-East. A frustrating 0-0 draw at Sunderland was followed by a first loss of the season at Newcastle. This coming just as an unbeaten season was being contemplated for Chelsea. Although since those minor slips they have continued where they left off before, winning their next 4 games. Manchester City now pose a threat though after the league had threatened to be all but over going into the New Year at points. The Citizens recent run of good form seeing them creep up to just 3 points behind Mourinho’s side.
Chelsea breezed through the Champions League group-stages, qualifying as leaders with games to spare. What’s more they have also made the league cup semi-finals and have been handed a favourable FA Cup draw against Watford at home. Also top of the Premier League pile, they are still competing on all fronts and an unprecedented quadruple could be on the cards for the Special One, despite his continuously cynical attitude towards the idea. They look very strong and could be the most complete team in Europe as their defence, midfield and attack are all outstanding. Most of Europe’s best teams such as Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid – don’t have that impressive balance due to their sometimes shaky defences. All squad players also seem to impress when given the opportunity and that gives you confidence that they could well have the strength in depth to compete for so many honours at once.
The most impressive aspect of Chelsea this year has been the fantastic football they have played. They are still compact at times, as seen at Manchester City, but generally they play attractive and expansive football now. It appears Mourinho has finally created a side that is pleasing on the eye and if he can win playing as such, then he surely silences a lot of his critics? Strong all over the pitch, tactically organised, skilful and star-studded – expect Chelsea to win at least 2 trophies this season. It could be an historic second half of the season for the West-London side after a year of huge progression under the Special One!