But now, after a thrilling 5-2 win over Leicester City, Chelsea are back.
By all accounts, it’s been the turnaround of all turnarounds, masterminded by none other than AVB’s former number two, Roberto Di Matteo.
Let’s take a look at what the interim Chelsea manager is doing that his predecessor didn’t do—and, as usual, feel free to have your say in the comments below.
Perhaps Jose Mourinho’s win-at-all-costs policy didn’t sit well with club owner Roman Abramovich, who wanted a pure footballing style implemented on his team.
But what Mourinho did—with great aplomb—was instill a winning mentality and set up a team shape that is still in Chelsea system.
So after a quick reversion to their tactics of old, Chelsea came on top in a hustle-and-bustle encounter with Stoke, while their physical dominance earned them an impressive win against Napoli.
Because for all of Villas-Boas’ offensive and passing ambitions, this Chelsea team still has physical dominance and a deep containing defensive style written all over it.
Di Matteo realized this, took the shackles off his players and returned their focus back to what they do best—winning.
Andre Villas-Boas’ forward-looking and forward-thinking philosophies were well-known, and indeed he might have been recruited by Abramovich because of them.
But any seasoned manager—in any field, not just in football—will tell you that change needs time.
And at Stamford Bridge, time is not an abundant commodity.
Before any dynasty can be established, you first have to get the transition period right, and you start with making sure the present is well taken care of.
Roberto Di Matteo has brought the vision of the club back to the present, where Chelsea are still fighting on several fronts.
So far, it’s worked a treat.
Villas-Boas perhaps erred in wanting to usher in his own playing philosophy too soon, as the Jose Mourinho-shaped blueprint was still embedded too deeply in the Chelsea team.
It’s all well and good aiming for a new Blues dynasty with bright new youngsters in the team, but when you have players with the quality of Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and John Terry, why not use them?
Since stepping into AVB’s void, Di Matteo has placed his full trust in the established, reliable old-timers.
The trio have all scored already under Di Matteo—and Gary Cahill, Fernando Torres and Raul Meireles proved on Sunday that the new boys aren’t half bad either.
Having satisfied his old-timers with a renewed confidence in their roles and having gotten the new boys firing, Di Matteo might be achieving something that Villas-Boas struggled with during his time at Chelsea.
He might just be waging a winning player relations campaign.
This is important, because players need the confidence from a manager, and certainly prefer to know why they are on the bench when they can be starting.
Communication is key, and Di Matteo seems to have his players on his side.
Perhaps the dressing room unrest is finally over.
And in doing so, he might also be doing something his predecessor couldn’t do towards the end of his reign: winning the public relations campaign.
All the talk and press conferences with Villas-Boas became obsessed with his style, philosophy and long-term focus, which detracted from the team’s performances.
Chelsea fan and ex-Blues player Di Matteo has returned all of that emphasis onto his club’s performances and welfare.
For once, the discussions are about whether Chelsea will win, not which factor is preventing Chelsea from winning.
And for once, the talk is about whether the manager will stay on, not whether he will leave.
If you liked this article, you might also be interested in What This Season's Results in Europe Reveal About English Football and Why Fernando Torres Should Never Have Signed for Chelsea. Please also check out my writer’s profile, where you can find more of my work, and my blog, The Red Armchair, for Liverpool match reactions and opinions.