Top 'What If' Questions from Chelsea's Season
With all of the big questions now answered with Chelsea's Premier League-record 69-game season finally over, now is the perfect time to speculate on what might have gone differently for the European champions if a couple of disparate moves were made early on by management.
Ending the season with one piece of silverware (Europa League trophy) and UEFA Champions League qualification might not seem like a great accomplishment to some, but becoming the first European club to win the Champions and Europa League trophies in reverse order was no small feat for the Blues.
And by finishing third in the English Premier League and earning a berth in the lucrative Champions League, Chelsea also avoided an August playoff it would have needed to win to advance directly to the tournament's group stage.
So, all is well at Stamford Bridge...for the time being.
Before something controversial happens—and we all know controversy, be it real or contrived, is waiting right around the next corner—let's toss out a couple of rhetorical "what ifs" and see if they may have made a difference in the Blues' current status.
What If Management Actually Gave Florent Malouda a Chance?
Banished by management all season to train with the academy players at Chelsea, Florent Malouda quickly became the forgotten man at Stamford Bridge.
But caught up in the wave of last summer's spending spree, which saw the Blues sign five young attacking midfielders in Eden Hazard, Thorgan Hazard, Oscar, Marko Marin and Victor Moses, Malouda was suddenly put out to pasture like a old cow who had been milked to death by it ungrateful owners.
Malouda was used as a second-half substitute in Chelsea's pre-season tour of America in matches against the MLS All-Stars, Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan but that was it and it's more than likely he has played his last game for the Blues.
But would things have been any different with Malouda—who said the club was trying to "break [him] mentally" with the exodus in a Daily Mail story from February—on the first-team roster this past season?
Honestly? Probably not.
Although Malouda could have likely provided more quality minutes and goals than guys like Marin or Yossi Benayoun, giving the new signings a decent look and playing time was obviously of utmost importance to Chelsea management.
The next big question for Malouda, who is still making a gaudy £100,000 a week in his employment for the Blues, is where he will end up with his contract expiring next month.
What If Chelsea Won Its Champions League Opener vs. Juventus?
They wouldn't be Europa League champions and have zero trophies to show for all its hard work?
Hey, can one answer a theoretical rhetorical question in a slideshow headline with another seemingly snappy and cynical rhetorical question in that slide's lede?
Hey, I just did Bubba. Better call your local police and report a blatant violation of the "Unlawful Use of Rhetorical Questions Act" if you are so inclined. We must put a stop to all of this madness. The union is at stake brother.
Anyway, Chelsea took a 2-1 lead into the 80th minute of play at Stamford Bridge against Juventus and looked to be on its way to snagging three points and a spot on top of Group E before the Old Lady's Fabio Quagliarella suddenly broke through the Blues defense and beat Petr Čech for the late equalizer.
Chelsea never really recovered in the group after that humbling home draw and the two points it lost out on there most likely became the difference between winning the group and advancing and being eliminated and becoming the first defending European champion to fail to get out of the group stage the following year.
What If Fernando Torres Was Sold or Traded over the Summer?
This is a tough one to answer or to even imagine.
In Premier League play, Chelsea may have fared a little bit better without Torres but likely wouldn't have made a run at league champions Manchester United, which finished 14 points above the Blues in the table.
In international play, the Blues would have probably suffered some without Torres, who again displayed some Jekyll and Hyde tendencies this season at Stamford Bridge but was pretty darn effective outside of England's top flight.
Of course, if Torres had been let go last summer, Chelsea would have likely not loaned out fellow striker Romelu Lukaku (17 goals) to West Bromwich Albion, sold Daniel Sturridge (11 goals) to Liverpool over the winter or maybe even had to let go of Drogba a year ago.
Who knows how it would have all panned out for Torres—who scored his first EPL goal of the calendar year on Sunday in Chelsea's 2-1 win over Everton after another 1,000-minute drought—and the Blues if he went elsewhere. Nevertheless, El Niño does deserve major credit for the durability and desire he showed this year for a team and fan-base which often treated him like a pariah.
Torres may not exactly be living up to the lofty expectations that came with his gigantic £80 million contract but few Chelsea fans would trade the memories of last year's Champions League and FA Cup triumphs and this year's Europa League crown just to do it all again and see what would have happened without Torres.
Would you? I thought not.
What If Roberto Di Matteo Wasn't Let Go Mid-Season?
This one seems pretty easy to me, and although I was as stunned as most at the untimely release of manager Roberto Di Matteo and didn't like the idea of Rafael Benítez being the guy appointed to lead the Blues, things would have probably ended up being pretty much the same as they are right now.
When Benítez was given the gig, almost all Chelsea fans would have been absolutely thrilled to know the Blues would qualify for the Champions League, finish above London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur and win the Europa League.
But still, it seems the majority of the #RafaOut crowd still can't find it in their hearts to give the 53-year-old Spaniard his just due.
And by the same token, if Di Matteo had achieved the kind of respectable finish as Benítez—6-1-2 in April and 5-1-0 in May—many fans now would be singing his praises, be they rational or irrational.
Like with Torres—who gave the outgoing interim manager some much-deserved credit in a story on ESPNFC—it is extremely important to remember that Benítez did not lobby for or even seek out his position with Chelsea.
Like almost everything in ChelseaWorld, it was all owner Roman Abramovich's doing.
So next time you have some displaced anger aimed at either Torres or Benítez, simply remember how they got into their current precarious positions at Stamford Bridge.
So what have we learned from this all?
Well, if you think Blues fans are overly-critical, never satisfied and waiting for the next crisis to evolve, well, then you're spot on and you probably learned nothing.
And if you think Blues fans just aren't critical enough and are always satisfied no matter how many trophies they possess, then I'm afraid you got the wrong Blues, Buster.
What are your top "what ifs" for the season that just ended? If so inclined, leave your comment in the section below and let the discussion begin.
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