Chelsea vs. Swansea City: Are the Blues Going to Have It All Their Own?
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Ask any Chelsea fan at the beginning of this season if winning the Europa League and qualifying for the Champions League via the Premier League's top four would make for a good campaign, and the answer would have been a resounding "No."
Chelsea were reigning European champions after all, and having assembled an exciting squad that included one of Europe's most coveted young talents in Eden Hazard, the possibilities seemed endless.
But very few saw the storm clouds gathering on the horizon, and by November, Chelsea's season had well and truly gone off the rails. Roberto di Matteo had been fired as manager, they were losing ground in the title race, and the Blues had crashed out of the Champions League in the group stages—the first reigning champions to do so.
Their season was in ruins, yet bit by bit, Chelsea have restored the faith. It's not quite at the levels we witnessed in August, but after a sixth home league win in a row against Swansea City on Sunday, the feel-good factor is returning to Stamford Bridge.
Make no doubt, Rafa Benitez has played his part in that, as too have the likes of Juan Mata, Frank Lampard and Hazard, among others. Then again, so too have the misgivings of their rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.
Indeed, following the Gunners and Spurs' failure to take maximum points from their fixtures this weekend, the pendulum for a place in the top four has swung back in Chelsea's favor.
How will the season end for Chelsea?
Where the duo have failed to capitalize on Chelsea's ups and downs this term, it's the Blues who are beginning to look ruthless and take charge. It may be temporary, but they're in the driving seat right now.
Benitez's side also stands on the verge of a place in the Europa League final—a competition many predicted would scupper their Champions League aspirations. In fact, it's been quite the contrary.
In the eight league games Chelsea have played since their first outing in the competition—coming against Sparta Prague on Valentine's Day—if anything, their position in the top four has got stronger.
Chelsea have picked up an average of two points per match, while rivals Tottenham Hotspur have fallen off the pace with 1.75. Playing a game more, Arsenal have taken 20 points from a possible 27 but remain a point adrift of the Blues.
Benitez and Chelsea still have a tricky run-in, of course. They face Manchester United at Old Trafford next weekend before entertaining Spurs at Stamford Bridge on May 8.
But from fans campaigning against the manager and booing poor performances, the harmony has returned, and Chelsea are reaping the benefits.
It begs the question: Winning the Europa League and qualifying for the Champions League—after all we've seen at Stamford Bridge this season, it couldn't happen, could it?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on Twitter @garryhayes.
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