Chelsea 2012-13 Review and End-of-Season Awards
It's fair to say that Chelsea's season finished the way it begun, albeit under different managers—with a hard-fought victory showing lots of promise for the season ahead.
The Blues were heading towards yet another disappointing draw against their 'bogey' team Everton after Juan Mata's early opener was cancelled out by Steven Naismith's excellent lofted finish.
It meant that Torres ended the season on 22 goals in all competitions, which is by far his best total in a Chelsea shirt. It capped a great week for the Spaniard, and an even better one for Chelsea.
Let's take a look at how the Blues fared in their eventful 2012-13 campaign.
Mixed Fortunes in Europe & Japan
He did a terrific job as interim manager, but if anything, Roberto Di Matteo only made his task harder as permanent manager by winning the Champions League.
After their incredible triumph in last season's Champions League, it would've been difficult for the Italian to emulate his success. The only way to do that would be winning several of the eight competitions Chelsea were due to enter.
Unfortunately, things didn't go quite as planned. The Blues were drawn into a tough group in the Champions League, with Serie A champions Juventus and Ukrainian giants Shakhtar Donetsk providing quite a test for the reigning champions, while minnows Nordsjaelland from Denmark were making their debut.
After leading Juventus 2-0 at Stamford Bridge thanks to a stunning double from Oscar, qualification seemed well within their grasp from the opening game. However, two late goals from Arturo Vidal and Fabio Quagliarella ensured the Antonio Conte's side picked up a point, which would prove crucial.
Defeats against Shakhtar and Juventus away ultimately cost them a place in the group stage and Di Matteo his job, as he was brutally sacked by Roman Abramovich after the 3-0 defeat to the Old Lady. Despite a 6-1 thumping of Nordsjaelland on the final matchday, their slim chances of qualifying had gone as Juventus won 1-0 against Shakhtar at the Donbass Arena, sending both sides through.
Entering at the semifinal stage, they swept Mexican side Monterrey 3-1 before facing the Copa Libertadores holders Corinthians, from Brazil, in the final. A poor game in Yokohama saw Jose Paolo Guerrero strike a late winner to defeat the Blues, and a disappointing trip was capped by Gary Cahill's sending off for lashing out at Emerson in frustration. The Blues were coming home empty-handed.
The West London club had a bumpy ride ahead in the Europa League too, with trips to Romania, Czech Republic, Russia and Switzerland on their new yet unexciting journey. And yet somehow, despite several injuries and suspensions, the Blues managed to reach their second consecutive European final after overcoming Swiss outfit FC Basel 5-2 on aggregate.
Awaiting them were familiar foes Benfica, the Portuguese team who Chelsea had faced in last season's Champions League semifinal. And after a hard-fought final, it was Fernando Torres who broke the deadlock, brilliantly rounding goalkeeper Artur. However, it was Oscar Cardozo's penalty which leveled the tie.
As the clock was ticking towards extra-time, Branislav Ivanovic rose brilliantly to direct a looping header into the net, and send Chelsea fans into raptures. Rafa Benitez had done it—he had become the first manager to win the UEFA Cup/Europa League with two different clubs.
A silver lining to what could have been a season to forget for Chelsea.
Failure to Challenge for the Title Means Top Four Is Only a Consolation
After their start to the Premier Season, Chelsea were the team to beat.
With eight games played, seven wins and a draw saw Roberto Di Matteo's climb to the summit of the Premier League, with new signings Eden Hazard and Oscar strutting their stuff in the early stages of their Chelsea career.
And then disaster struck when Manchester United visited Stamford Bridge. After going 2-0 down in the first-half, Chelsea replied with goals from Juan Mata and Ramires. But Mark Clattenburg made himself an enemy of the Blues, sending off Branislav Ivanovic for a professional foul and then showing Fernando Torres a second yellow card for simulation.
However, replays showed that Torres was clearly fouled by Jonny Evans, and the decision cost Chelsea as Javier Hernandez struck a late winner to take home all three points. Not only were they defeated, but with Torres and Ivanovic both suspended, the absences soon piled up as key duo John Terry and Frank Lampard were also ruled out.
The Blues' league form slumped and, by the time Di Matteo was harshly removed from his post by Roman Abramovich, the Blues were four points off the pace. The appointment of ex-Liverpool coach Rafa Benitez, a largely unpopular figure on Fulham Road, was met with a loud chorus of boos by the Chelsea faithful, and calls for the return of Di Matteo increased. .
A unspectacular start to his career as interim boss did not help, with two goalless draws, and the fans continued to rebel against his reign at Stamford Bridge. Shock home defeats to QPR and Swansea over the festive period created a negative atmosphere, and it almost seemed that the Blues were on the verge of collapse. However, league victories over Stoke, Arsenal and Wigan put the West London club back on track for a top-four finish.
As fans started to get off Benitez's back, the results suddenly started to improve as the players begged for support in what was proving to be a treacherous campaign. They had a little Spanish genius in Juan Mata, who was almost leading the side at times, scoring magnificent goals and becoming the main source of assists.
The Blues rallied strongly towards the end of the season, buoyed by their progress in the Europa League, and gradually regained the confidence that was evident earlier in the season. Eight games unbeaten saw the Champions League qualification secured for the 11th season in a row.
Once again, Chelsea had the opportunity to fight for football's most coveted prize.
Domestic Cup Agony
Despite reaching the semifinals of both the FA Cup and League Cup, Chelsea failed to bring back either trophy to West London.
The road to the League Cup semifinal against Swansea included several thrilling encounters, namely a 6-0 drubbing of Wolves at Stamford Bridge, and a pulsating 5-4 extra-time victory over Manchester United.
When they got to the semifinal against Swansea, few thought that the Blues would slip up. But they did, as a 2-0 home defeat gave Rafa Benitez's side a mountain to climb. A goalless draw, with the added "ballboygate" furor involving Eden Hazard being sent off, sent Chelsea crashing out in miserable fashion.
As for the FA Cup, Chelsea once again met the Red Devils, and just like they did at Stamford Bridge, overcame their fierce rivals. It took more than one attempt, however, as they fought from two goals down to secure a replay, before Demba Ba's stunning strike sent them through to the semifinal.
There, they met Roberto Mancini's Manchester City, and it seemed that the Blues' grueling schedule had a lasting effect, as the Citizens managed to edge the tie, with a 2-1 victory at Wembley.
They may not have completed the cup double like last season, but they can take heart from the team's ability to reach two domestic cup semifinals.
Player of the Season: Juan Mata
The reality is that nobody comes even close to taking the crown away from Juan Mata. And that's not because they have under-performed. It is simply because we are witnessing another special player in the Premier League.
Mata has to be my pick, and surely everybody else would agree, because of his importance to the team. In fact, I don't believe any Chelsea player has been more accepted in the Premier League than Mata since Gianfranco Zola graced English football.
Whether it's his creative brilliance, which has seen him assist an astonishing 35 goals this season, or the fact he has scored 20 himself, there can be no denying that the Spaniard is the best player at the club, bar none.
Moments of brilliance are so common from the 25-year-old that when he has an off-day, Chelsea usually struggles.
Andre Villas-Boas may regret some parts of his spell as Chelsea manager, but certainly signing the playmaker from Valencia was not one of them.
Nominated for PFA Player of the Year and named as the club's Player of the Year for the second year running, it's quite clear that Mata can become a Stamford Bridge legend for years to come.
Young Player of the Season: Eden Hazard
Honourable Mention: Nathan Ake
Many doubts were cast over whether Chelsea's decision to pay £32 million for Eden Hazard would pay off, but after his stunning debut season in England, the former Lille winger would be happy to silence those critics.
One of them was Sir Alex Ferguson, who suggested that Hazard was overpriced (Sky Sports). He may well be retired, but missing out on the 22-year-old at Old Trafford is perhaps one of few regrets the Scot will have.
With lightning pace and agility, Hazard brings an extra spice to Chelsea's game that not even Juan Mata or Oscar can bring to the table.
His direct running and positive attitude when on the ball is a joy to behold, and his contribution to the team has been superb—13 goals and 25 assists, to be exact.
Hazard was cruelly ruled out of the Europa League final with a hamstring injury he suffered against Aston Villa, but would have been delighted with his part in helping Frank Lampard become the club's new all-time record goalscorer.
There must also be an honourable mention for promising youngster Nathan Ake, who has come leaps and bounds this season. Beginning the season with the youth side under Dermot Drummy, he made his full debut as a starter against Rubin Kazan in Moscow, and also started the last game of the season against Everton.
The Dutch starlet is highly regarded at Stamford Bridge and is set to play a bigger part next season and is fully deserving of the mention.
Most Improved Player of the Season: Fernando Torres
Honourable Mention: David Luiz
Few of you may agree here, but for all of the pressure that Fernando Torres has had to deal with, it looks like he has finally found peace at Stamford Bridge.
Always a fan favourite at the club due to his tremendous work rate, the Spaniard has drastically improved his fortunes at the club. Several factors may have played a part—Didier Drogba's departure last summer, the appointment of Rafa Benitez or simply adapting to the way Chelsea play.
Either way, the 29-year-old must be commended for his effort to improve, and the statistics do not lie— he is Chelsea's top scorer for the season just gone, with 22 goals in all competitions.
Those goals aren't just against any old team—the opener in the Europa League final, the winner against Everton at the weekend. For a £50 million striker, it's the kind of form you expect.
I'm sure you'll all agree it's a joy to see the former Liverpool man enjoying his football once again, and even with rumours flying about concerning the arrival of Radamel Falcao (ESPN), you get the impression Torres would welcome the Colombian.
Obviously, it was a close race between Torres and everybody's favourite Brazilian David Luiz. The 26-year-old has shown how he can deputize in midfield as well as lead from the back, and the ex-Benfica man has shown that perhaps he could be a key figure for the Blues next season.
Goal of the Season: Oscar (vs. Juventus)
Sorry about the delay, I just spent an extra 20 minutes watching this goal again.
And again, and again...
This is a goal of the highest quality against one of the world's best goalkeepers, and for that reason, it just pips David Luiz's stunning effort against Fulham, which you can view here.
Only a month or two into his Chelsea career, Oscar is handed a rare start by Roberto Di Matteo. His first goal was not too bad either, albeit taking a deflection from the Juventus defender. But this left me speechless.
A lovely passing move from Chelsea between the midfield found Ashley Cole, who played a pass into Oscar. The Brazilian international receives the ball with his back to goal but with a lovely flick past the defender, he swivels on the turn and launches a 25-yard screamer into the top corner, leaving Gianluigi Buffon with no chance of saving it.
One of the best goals I've ever seen at Stamford Bridge, and from a player so young.
Sorry David Luiz fans, it just had to win.