Chelsea FC: 10 Reasons It's Been a Very Bipolar Season at Stamford Bridge
If Chelsea’s season were a trip on a cruise ship, Blues fans would have likely overdosed on Dramamine months ago.
The ups and downs for management, players and fans over this past eight months have been so drastic that it only seems only fitting a team seemingly destined for Europa League play would have a chance at qualifying for the UEFA Champions League next season by beating Bayern Munich in Germany on Saturday.
And it’s not just Chelsea management, players and fans that have been thrust onto this roller coaster ride of change.
Even the longtime home of the Blues, Stamford Bridge, may be a future memory with the club making a recent bid on the Battersea power station.
Here are 10 other realities that have made this season one we will want to forget but will always remember.
The Record and the Team’s Confidence
Chelsea started off English Premier League play as expected, going 5-0-1 in its first six matches, losing only at Old Trafford to Manchester United and outscoring opponents 17-5 as everything seemed normal in west London.
But it seems the wheels fell off and the doubts started to creep in on Oct. 23, when the Blues lost 1-0 at QPR in a London derby nobody thought the Blues could lose.
The team tail-spun badly for several months while sides like Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Newcastle United thrived and passed Chelsea in the league table.
Then, when it seemed the team was old and needed a major reboot, the Blues found some life and its form improved in the league. While in the UEFA Champions League, Chelsea surprisingly showed it could still hang with the best teams in Europe.
Nobody feels the pain of their team like the diehard fans do and Chelsea backers, used to seeing their team in the top four in the league and perennially in the Champions League, have been through the whole gamut of emotions this year.
And to think the team that lost to QPR and Aston Villa at home is the same side that ousted Barcelona from the Champions League and will be playing Bayern Munich for the European championship this weekend, is simply mind-blowing.
Nobody would blame Chelsea fans for having that extra beer or six after matches this season to deal with the schizophrenic nature of this team.
Hopes were high for Chelsea when it snatched André Villas-Boas from Porto in the Portuguese Liga for £13.3 million in the most expensive transaction ever made for a manager.
It all seemed good for owner Roman Abramovich at first, but in late fall, the grumblings started in west London and AVB started feeling the heat.
By winter, fans, players and management all started having their doubts, although the latter two couldn’t really come out and say so, wanting to give the highly-thought-of new guy a chance to prove his mettle.
But by February and March, the doubt really peaked and on March 4 the move was made to make assistant Roberto Di Matteo interim manager at Stamford Bridge.
It proved to be the right move to date, with the team regaining its form in the EPL, winning the FA Cup and, of course, making it all the way to Saturday’s big game.
The core of Chelsea’s recent success, the back line, was very inconsistent and still may be the big reason the Blues are under the gun at Munich on Saturday.
David Luiz and Gary Cahill are still nursing hamstring injuries and still are questionable against Bayern Munich (though they should play) while two other starters, captain John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic, will miss the match (along with with midfielders Raul Meireles and Ramires) because of red and yellow cards obtained in Champions League play.
That leaves Ashley Cole, who has also had his moments of embarrassment and brilliance this season, as the only sure thing for Chelsea on defense meaning Di Matteo may have to turn to defenders like Jose Bosingwa, Ryan Bertrand and Paulo Ferreira in the biggest match of the year.
Overall, the silly things Terry (red card for knee vs. Barcelona), Luiz (temper, rough tackling early in season) and Ivanovic have done over the last eight months are a big reason the season has been so choppy.
Goalkeeper Petr Cech, on the other hand, has been as stellar as ever in the face of all this change and rough waters. He is hardly to blame for the Blues' defensive inconsistency.
The poster boy for Chelsea’s bipolar season is Fernando Torres, the most expensive ($80 million) acquisition in club history.
After a sluggish start last season, El Nino’s playing time became sparse and Chelsea fans were strongly divided about what Abramovich and management should do with its new Spanish toy.
Torres went months without scoring before breaking out of his funk then notched a hat trick against QPR and a match and UEFA finals appearance clincher at Barcelona.
Heading into next season, it seems the Blues will be keeping Torres in an effort to give the striker a chance to prove his worth on a rebuilt side where he may be the focus up front should Didier Drogba leave Stamford Bridge.
Whatever happens, you can bet Torres, who has scored six goals, will be glad that this torturous season will finally be coming to an end in a few days.
The 34-year-old Ivorian showed both his vulnerability and value this season for Chelsea.
Often injured, off in form and spending way too much time on the pitch faking injuries only to be better minutes later, Drogba still showed he can be Superman for the Blues with huge goals against Tottenham and Liverpool in the FA Cup and an even bigger goal against Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League.
But despite his worth to the club, it seems Chelsea may be looking to let Drogba go and they reportedly have not made any real effort yet to try to sign the star player who has an uncharacteristic five goals to date and who has been rumored to go to as many as 10 different clubs, including Barcelona.
If Chelsea is to beat Bayern Munich on Saturday (FOX, 2:30 p.m. ET/11:30 a.m. PT) at Allianz Arena, then it will need Drogba to again wear that Superman cape and be the player he has been in big games over the last month.
Too bad Drogba and Torres were hardly on the pitch together, as they may have been able to find an aggressive offensive chemistry the team seemed to be lacking this campaign.
The Old Guard
Many critics believe the time has come to have the powers that be let Chelsea’s elder statesmen—Drogba, Terry, Frank Lampard and even Michael Essien—go elsewhere and let some of the younger players like Bertrand, Romelu Lukaku and Lucas Piazón get their chance to show their stuff in the EPL.
But I’m not one of them.
I still firmly believe they all have two good years left in them and the way Terry and Drogba have stepped up when it mattered most is a huge reason Chelsea will be playing for all the European marbles this weekend.
Lampard and Essien have slowed a bit, but a Blues roster without them and seeing them in other uniforms just doesn’t seem to be the right remedy. And although Cech is also considered one of the Blues' grisled vets, letting him go is simply not an option.
I know progress is the name of the game but I truly think the "old guard" still has some solid football (soccer) left in them and although it sounds really bad, I’d rather lose with them than win without them next season.
It became evident fairly early on that Chelsea would have a great deal of trouble winning any silverware this year with its constant fifth- or sixth-place spot in the EPL table and its elimination from the Carling Cup on Nov. 29 at Stamford Bridge by Liverpool.
But with their backs up against the proverbial wall, Chelsea found a way to get by Birmingham City, Leicester City, Tottenham and then Liverpool at Wembley Stadium in the FA Cup finals to make sure this would not be a lost season.
Winning the FA Cup again brought a certain sense of satisfaction to the Blues, but it was indicative of the type of up-and-down, feast-or-famine season it has been in west London.
The UEFA Champions League Finals
So if I told you the sixth-place team in the EPL would be playing for the Champions League crown this season, would you have ever believed me?
And for Chelsea, playing in Munich against German powerhouse Bayern Munich is tough enough, but without four key starters? More brutal irony, eh?
But despite the mediocre season, a new manager, an aging club, the four suspensions and a hostile road environment, Chelsea has thrived on having a big heart at the right time this season and that will have to again be the modus operandi again on Saturday.
With UEFA qualification at stake, expect the Blues to be at their best and guys like Ashley Cole, team Player of the Year Juan Mata, Drogba, Lampard and Cech to come through in a big way when it matters most against Der FCB’s aggressive attack.
No matter what Abramovich and management do this summer, we should expect this pattern of bipolarity to continue.
If Drogba goes and Torres stays, many, including myself, will be mad. If Torres goes and Drogba stays, many others will be mad. And if Drogba and Torres both stay, and the club signs a guy like Hulk, then there won’t be enough playing time for everyone up front.
Sending Terry on his way would certainly infuriate old school Blues fans and the same can be said of Lampard. But keeping them and having them see their roles diminished would hurt their pride and possibly team morale next season.
And maybe the biggest decision comes with what to do about Di Matteo.
The interim manager has been absolutely fabulous since taking over and has earned the permanent job in many people’s eyes and recent reports have dismissed that Di Matteo has not talked with Chelsea hierarchy about getting the gig next season.
But with all of owner Abramovich’s lofty aspirations for his team and the number of players and managers available to be had this summer with all his oil money, guys like Di Matteo, Drogba, Terry and Lampard may have seen their last days at Stamford Bridge despite all their success for the club.
God, I hope not.
So will it be out with the old and in with the new, stick with what’s worked in the past or create a patchwork quilt of the two philosophies?
I’m guessing it will likely be the latter.
So stay tuned.
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