The year 2012 will be surely be one Chelsea fans will never forget.
Three different managers, loads of players in and out, plenty of controversy, a poor league finish but a miraculous qualification for the UEFA Champions League with its first European championship and an FA Cup to boot all made 2012 a year we’ll all remember for the Blues.
Not to mention all the wonderful memories Chelsea left forever imprinted on our collective brains.
And as 2012 nears its end and 2013 gets ready to begin, here are 10 bold—some maybe not so bold—things I think we may see in the coming year at Stamford Bridge.
Might as well start out with something positive.
Part of the reason Chelsea is where it is right now is the schedule. The rough patch of 12 matches played from Oct. 20 to Dec. 1 was absolutely brutal.
The Blues went from first- to third-place in the English Premier League, from confident to cowering and lost a manager when all was said and done.
Over that nasty period of scheduling that included play in two tournaments and the league, Chelsea faced Tottenham Hotspur, Shakhtar Donetsk twice, Manchester United twice, Swansea City, Liverpool, West Bromwich Albion, Juventus, Manchester City, Fulham and West Ham United and went 3-5-4.
But the scheduling gods have looked kindly upon the club to start 2013 and it looks as if the European champions can go undefeated in their first seven to start the new year.
Chelsea hosts Queens Park Rangers (Jan. 2), is at Southampton in third round of the FA Cup (Jan. 5), at Stoke City (Jan. 12), at home versus Arsenal (Jan. 20), at Reading (Jan. 29), at Newcastle United (Feb. 2) and at home against Wigan Athletic (Feb. 9).
Although the Stoke and Arsenal games will definitely be challenging and tough ones to win, the Blues next real game, one could say they should probably lose, isn’t until Feb. 24 against defending EPL champs Manchester City at Etihad Stadium.
So the Blues can, and probably should start the calendar year off with a bang and go 5-2-0 (4-2-0 in league, +14 points) and try to claw their way back into the league race and stay in contention for that very valuable UEFA Champions League qualifying spot.
It’s always nice when defenders score, but it’s important that defenders in the back four of a 4-2-3-1 formation know when to stay put and when to race up-field, especially center-backs.
David Luiz is guilty of rushing forward too much and it seems there’s something in his DNA that tells him he’s an advanced midfielder or a quite possibly a striker. He even takes penalty kicks and fights to take free kicks.
One way to solve all this is to occasionally play the fuzzy young Brazilian at a defensive-holding midfield spot as interim manager Rafael Benítez did in the FIFA Club World Cup Semifinals against Monterrey alongside John Obi Mikel.
With John Terry coming back, and Gary Cahill, Ashley Cole, César Azpilicueta, Ryan Bertrand and Paulo Ferreira, the club has more than enough depth on defense and it would be nice to continue seeing guys like Azpilicueta, Bertrand and Ferreira get more playing time.
Although they make a wonderful young line and most assume they will be Chelsea’s starting three attacking midfielders for some time to come, Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar won’t end up being linked as a trio for long.
The way Victor Moses has played in his recent appearances shows me he deserves his shot to start and the amount of energy he brings to the offense when he plays is much needed.
That would mean not starting Hazard or Oscar regularly but Benítez needs to give it a try and see how much it helps.
With Mata, Hazard and Oscar out there together, the Blues look small and have shown a real weakness on balls in the air because of their lack of size.
The closest thing Chelsea has to Didier Drogba now that the Blues legend is plying his wares in China is the 22-year-old Nigerian Moses who can pass and score and should start on the right wing in my opinion.
And having either Hazard or Oscar as well as Marko Marin on the bench to turn to will provide talent and depth for the Blues for years to come at the position and is certainly a nice problem to have.
No, I haven’t been drinking.
And no, I’m not necessarily a Fernando Torres fan.
But here’s the skinny: Torres has been in a miserable funk it seems since he came to Stamford Bridge and I’m guessing the bad luck and woodwork woes won’t last forever.
Currently sitting on six goals in the Premiership—tied for team lead with Mata—Torres should find some kind of groove in the first four months of the new year and with just an average of three-and-half goals a month from January to April, he will hit that 20-goal mark.
But if so, will Torres then officially be “back”? Now that’s a tough one as I can actually see The Goal Scorer Formerly Known As El Niño ending with 20 goals but still being in a semi-funk and still being a target for many unhappy fans.
Sooner or later Mata and Moses and Oscar and Hazard will click better with Torres and when that happens, expect him to become more of a routine goal-scorer in west London as management expected when they signed him for the big bucks almost two years ago.
These next two are only bold predictions in that I’m predicting the Blues to make the finals of both tournaments.
The Capital One Cup final will be much easier for Chelsea to reach as it is a win away from the semifinals and plays Leeds United on Wednesday in the tournament’s last quarterfinal and although Gary Cahill is suspended for game at Elland Road, the Blues should move on.
And with Aston Villa, Swansea City and Bradford City the other three teams still alive, Chelsea could finally win another elusive piece of silverware now that the Community Shield, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup trophies are now all failed distant memories.
Repeating as FA Cup champion will obviously be much harder than winning the Capital One Cup, but with a more experienced roster, Terry returning from injury and some more talent likely to be signed over the winter transfer period, the Blues should play much better this second half of the season.
Chelsea’s next game in the FA Cup is on Jan. 5 against Southampton at St. Mary’s Stadium in third-round action.
And winning the FA Cup again would be a really nice feather in Chelsea’s cap for 2013.
Stuck behind Torres and wanting so badly to play more, striker Daniel Sturridge has never been entirely happy at Stamford Bridge.
Long-rumored as a guy on his way out, Sturridge should end up in Liverpool, a club he was almost loaned to this past summer.
The Guardian reported that the Reds are looking to add Sturridge to its striker-short roster before the January transfer window opens at a cost of around £14 million and manager Brendan Rodgers allegedly really wants the 23-year-old Englishman.
With management apparently stuck on living and/or dying with Torres, likely signing a new striker or two in January and having Romelu Lukaku and Lucas Piazón waiting in the wings, selling off Sturridge is most likely in the cards.
Like Sturridge, it seems Ashley Cole has been unhappy at Chelsea lately.
But unlike Sturridge, Cole’s unhappiness seems to stem from his contract negotiations with the club and not his playing time.
Losing who some say is the best left-back on the planet in Cole will be tough but with his contract up this summer, it looks like the 31-year-old Englishman is on his way out.
And if the rumors are right, Cole will be headed to France's Ligue 1 and Paris Saint-Germain and most Chelsea fans will be devastated by his departure.
Filling Cole’s shoes at left-back seems like an impossibility no matter who the Blues get or try to plug into his spot on the pitch.
Losing both Sturridge and Cole after seeing Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Salomon Kalou all leave in the last year-and-a-half is rough even though owner Roman Abramovich made it publicly clear he wanted to develop a ball-control team of tiki-taka passers in the Barcelona mode.
But Chelsea can only let so many veteran stalwarts go and the buck should stop with vice-captain Frank Lampard.
The 34-year-old Englishman has been rumored to be heading to the United States and the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer as well as a couple of Chinese Super League clubs including Drogba and Anelka’s Shanghai Shenhua.
Now it seems pretty obvious that Lampard would rather stay at Stamford Bridge and end his career with Chelsea then head elsewhere and management would be wise to reward his dedication to the club and keep Lampard in the fold.
His leadership and scoring ability—he’s deadly on penalty kicks—is really needed by Chelsea and with him back from a recent calf injury, the higher ups can evaluate just how much the three-time Chelsea Player of the Year really means to this club.
It’s really hard to imagine a Blues team without Lampard on it.
With his time at Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabéu said to be winding down, it wouldn’t surprise me if Abramovich and José Mourinho have already had a little talk about The Special One coming to west London this summer.
A recent story in The Daily Mail says that the top three teams in the EPL table—Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea—are all interested in Mourinho but the Blues seem to need him the most right about now.
While managing at Chelsea, Mourinho won the Premier League two times and Blues fans adore the 49-year-old Portuguese who is said to love the lifestyle in London.
Although Mourinho and Abramovich didn’t always see eye-to-eye at Chelsea, King Roman would most likely give Mourinho total control over the team’s transfers and who better to help this new group of players jell than Mourinho?
With so many fans unhappy with the appointment of Benítez, it’s highly doubtful the “interim” tag will ever come off of the Spaniard’s title no matter what he does and another new manager should be appointed in late May or June.
The future book odds for “Next Permanent Chelsea Manager After Benitez” at Sky Bet has Mourinho tied for the second-favorite choice at 6/1 with Borussia Dortmund’s Jürgen Klopp.
Barcelona’s Pep Guardiola is the favorite at 7/4 with Guus Hiddink (10/1), Gus Poyet (12/1), Andriy Shevchenko (12/1), Joachim Löw (16/1), Roberto Mancini (18/1), Gianfranco Zola (20/1), Brendan Rodgers (20/1) and Avram Grant (20/1) also among the betting candidates.
With so much change going on at Chelsea, one of the best things the club could do this calendar year is bring in a calming and confident influence like Mourinho.
Time will tell how many of these predictions will actually come true and there may even be a couple of massive surprises coming in over the winter transfer window.
We can all speculate on stars like Radamel Falcao or Marouane Fellaini coming to The Bridge or even Drogba making a triumphant return but most of us know better than to believe every rumor that’s out there by now.
And constantly bringing in new guys makes it hard for a club to get used to each other but from the looks of it now, Chelsea will continue this rebuilding process until its billionaire owner gets his team just the way he wants it.
So for the immediate future and probably more than that, it will just have to be “In Roman we trust” at Stamford Bridge.
Let’s just hope that 2013 ends up being as rewarding and memorable as 2012 was for all of us fans in the end.
Follow me on Twitter: @KevinStott11