As 2012 comes to an end and 2013 begins, Chelsea and its fans have to feel at least a little bit good about their team’s fortunes.
The Blues have won four straight games (outscoring opponents 16-2), are holding on to their third-place spot in the English Premier League, are in the semifinals of the Capital One Cup and are reigning FA Cup and UEFA Champions League winners.
With so many question marks around the Chelsea future of veterans Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and John Terry, it’s hard to tab too many Blues as players to “explode” in the coming year, but here are five who should really impress with their play in the coming 12 months.
After coming to west London from Marseille in Ligue 1 over the summer transfer window and watching a lot of football from the bench, 23-year-old Spaniard César Azpilicueta was finally given his chance to play, and he has not disappointed.
Starting regularly at right-back with Chelsea’s usual starter in the spot—Branislav Ivanović—moving to a center-back position with John Terry out with a knee injury, Azpilicueta is proving to be a great pick-up and has fit into the Blues’ line-up seamlessly.
With his fancy footwork and speed, expect Azpilicueta to have a breakout year in 2013 as he continues to get familiar with his new teammates and vice versa. But his contributions and importance to the club will be very hard to be measured in statistics.
A year younger than Azpilicueta and the youngest player in this slideshow at age 22, Nigerian midfielder Victor Moses has an immense amount of upside and should be a huge part of Chelsea’s attack in 2013.
The second half of the Premier League season should be kind to the versatile Moses, who has received six EPL starts so far.
Statistically so far in the top flight, Moses has been tepid at best with one goal and no assists, but his energy and ball-handling skills seem to fit in perfectly in Chelsea’s advanced midfield with Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard.
Moses did show he has the panache for the big goal, though, with his clutch game-winning header against Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Champions League group stage at Stamford Bridge.
Once Moses starts to jell with his new teammates, the goals will start to come, as will the assists, and management will see why buying him for what they did from Wigan Athletic was such a bargain.
It’s hard to say Juan Mata will “explode” in 2013 when in 2012 he was the club's Player of the Year, the best player for the first half this season and a perpetual candidate for Man of The Match. But no Chelsea list with the word “explode” in its title would be worth its salt without Mata’s inclusion.
Usually the man in the middle of the attacking midfield, the 24-year-old Spaniard has been nothing short of brilliant since coming to west London and has started this EPL season just as great, leading Chelsea with seven assists and tied for the team lead with seven goals with Fernando Torres.
All Mata did in 2012 was win the FA Cup, the Champions League and Euro 2012, so no matter what he does in 2013, it will probably pale in comparison.
But if the Blues do shine again in the FA Cup, win the Capital One Cup and finish in the top four in the league, Mata will no doubt again be right smack dab in the middle of all that success and should, again, be on or near the top of the club’s key offensive categories.
David Luiz may have found his new home on the pitch in the holding spot in the defensive midfield. And it seems to suit his aggressive style of play much better.
With the Blues fairly deep now on defense and captain John Terry to eventually return, moving Luiz from center-back looks to be a wise move. The team is a little shallow in the central defense and it gives the 25-year-old Brazilian a chance to be as aggressive on offense as we can all see he wants to be.
Luiz will get used to his new spot—while still being able to play in the back-line—and should thrive in 2013 as he will have to worry less about being out of place on the pitch as many have rightfully accused him of throughout his Chelsea career.
The oldest player in this slideshow at age 30, veteran Petr Čech will continue his stellar, world-class play and shine again brightly in 2013.
The Czech goalkeeper, who will be having elbow surgery in the offseason, should have his fair share of clean sheets with the defense now clamping down under the direction of interim manager Rafael Benítez.
Since losing to West Ham United, 3-1 on Dec. 1, Chelsea have gone 7-0-1, outscoring opponents 28-6 and never allowing more than one goal a game over that run.
With the defense tightening up—the Blues have allowed 18 goals, second-lowest in the Premier League—Čech could very well end up the league’s best goalkeeper and should continue to impress this calendar year.
Two other Blues who may continue to impress and may even have breakout years in 2013 are John Obi Mikel and Gary Cahill.
Mikel has held down the defensive midfield for the most part this season and with Michael Essien out on loan at Real Madrid, Luiz new to the position, Lampard possibly on his way out and Ramires splitting time in the advanced midfield, the Nigerian holds great weight in the back for the Blues.
And this has to be the year he finally gets that long-awaited Chelsea goal. Doesn’t it?
Cahill, like Azpilicueta, has seen a great deal of playing time lately and has looked very good and has two goals and one assist in league play to date.
With Terry injured, Ivanović and Luiz playing in new positions and Azpilicueta so fresh, Cahill provides leadership in the back-line as he showed in Sunday’s 2-1 Blues win over Everton at Goodison Park.
And with Cole rumored to be on his way out in 2013, Cahill could really make his mark at Stamford Bridge in the coming year.
Chelsea host Premier League cellar-dwellar Queens Park Rangers in a west London derby on Wednesday (Fox Soccer Channel, 2:30 p.m. ET/11:30 a.m. PT).
Happy Blue Year everybody.
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