Chelsea's 5 Most Important Games of the 2012-13 Season
In the summer of 2012, Chelsea Football Club were fresh off arguably their most successful season in club history, despite finishing sixth in the Barclays Premier League. "The Blues" were recently crowned Champions of Europe, beating German powerhouse Bayern Munich on their home field in the Champions League Final in dramatic fashion.
With Chelsea's success in Europe came expectations of a club turnover in the summer. Club owner Roman Abramovich was expected to overhaul the aging Chelsea lineup with newer, fresher and younger players.
After appointing fan favorite Roberto Di Matteo as the permanent manager, new signings such as Eden Hazard, Oscar and Cesar Azpilicueta came to West London to join Frank Lampard, David Luiz and Petr Cech to bring even more success to Stamford Bridge.
After a grueling season in which Chelsea played an unimaginable 69 games, Chelsea had a reasonably successful season with their new signings leading the way.
Despite Di Matteo being sacked in November, Chelsea managed to see off London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham to secure third place in the English Premier League, propelling themselves to a Champions League group-stage spot next season, as well as winning the Europa League in thrilling fashion over Benfica.
It was a long, grueling and emotional season. Read on to see what the five most important games of Chelsea's 2012-13 season were.
5. October 20, 2012: Chelsea at Tottenham
London, say hello to the Three Amigos.
In a game which was dominated by pre-match headlines focusing on Andre Villas-Boas coaching against his former club, it was the Chelsea midfield who dominated the post-match conversations.
In October, Tottenham welcomed London neighbor Chelsea to White Hart Lane, a place that has not been so friendly to the West London side in recent years.
Despite Spurs superstar Garreth Bale missing the match due to his wife's pregnancy, as well as Tottenham newcomer Mousa Dembele ruled out with a hip injury, all Blues fans would probably tell you that it was going to be a tough match regardless.
However, Chelsea's talent and intelligence in the midfield seemed to be too much for Tottenham to handle. Namely, Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar continuously found pockets of space in front of Spurs' back-line, giving centre-backs Steven Caulker and William Gallas worlds of trouble. Mata, Hazard and Oscar dazzled the Lane with intricate passing, deft touches and sublime finishing.
Mata finished the game with two goals and an assist, leading Chelsea to a 4-2 victory, while sending a message to the rest of England: the Three Amigos have arrived and are here to stay.
4. December 23, 2012: Chelsea vs. Aston Villa
Despite not having the pre-match headlines that come with most other games, Chelsea's match versus Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge right before Christmas was one of the more important victories for the Blues all season.
Having come off of a forgettable month where they lost the FIFA Club World Cup against Brazilian side Corinthians, as well as being eliminated from the Champions League, Chelsea needed a positive result in the worst way before the turn of the calendar year.
From kickoff onwards, Chelsea were in complete control. Fernando Torres erased the doubt of a possibly nerve-wracking 90 minutes at the Bridge with a third-minute opener. Torres beat Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan with a fantastic header off of a cross provided by Cesar Azpilicueta, opening Chelsea's account on the day.
From that moment on, Chelsea never looked back.
Villa were not going to get in the way of a Chelsea victory on the day, as the West London side went on to a incredible 8-0 victory. What may be even more unthinkable is that the eight Chelsea goals were scored by seven different players.
It was just the type of game that newly-appointed manager Rafa Benitez needed to temporarily get the Chelsea supporters off his back. The result secured a vital three points for the Blues, and restored their confidence heading into 2013, which helped their push for success in the final five months of the season.
3. January 20, 2013: Chelsea vs. Arsenal
In a rain-soaked affair at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea hosted their London rivals in a vital game that could go a long way in deciding both teams' top-four hopes.
Chelsea came out firing, scoring twice in the first 16 minutes behind Juan Mata and Frank Lampard, and held on to secure a crucial victory over the Gunners. Arsenal provided no threat to the home side for the first 45 minutes, and it seemed like it was going to be a comfortable, yet fulfilling victory for the home fans.
However, after Theo Walcott pulled a goal back for Arsenal in the 58th minute, everybody in Stamford Bridge knew it was going to be a nervy final half-hour. Chelsea held on for the win, however, and further damaged the hopes of Arsenal to claim a top-four finish.
With the win, Chelsea climbed up the table to be 11 points ahead of Arsenal, and even though the North Londoners finished the season strong, this deficit proved to be too much to overcome.
Despite having over four months of the season left to be played, Chelsea's victory over Arsenal put the Blues in pole position to secure Champions League football next season.
2. May 15, 2013: Chelsea vs. Benfica
As the season was winding down to its end, and Chelsea had all but secured a top-four finish, it was time for the Blues to focus on adding to their already-impressive trophy cabinet.
The London side was set to meet Portuguese club Benfica—a team that they had beaten in last year's Champions League quarterfinals—in Amsterdam for the right to crown itself Europa League champions.
While most Chelsea supporters would be thrilled with a top-four finish in the English Premier League, they would probably tell you that the season could be considered a disappointment, if not a failure, if the Blues failed to win a single trophy.
After all, we aren't Arsenal.
Despite having been outplayed for the majority of the 90 minutes, Chelsea rode a Fernando Torres opener and a last-minute winner by Branislav Ivanovic to secure their second consecutive European trophy.
Having been the butt of so many jokes in West London, Rafa Benitez finally earned the approval of Chelsea supporters by defeating Benfica and giving Roman Abramovich another trophy to put his hands on.
After all, trophies are why they play the game, right?
1. May 5, 2013: Chelsea at Manchester United
Welcome to the biggest result of the season.
With Sir Alex Ferguson's side already having clinched the Barclays Premier League trophy, there wasn't much for the home team to play for.
However, for Chelsea, the stakes could not have been higher. With only three league games to be played after the match at Old Trafford, it was now or never in terms of Chelsea's top-four push.
With Tottenham beating Southampton the day before and moving level on points with Chelsea, the Blues could not afford to slip up against a team with not much to play for.
Despite being a must-win for the team from London, the match had about as much intensity as a preseason friendly. There was no intensity, pace or energy about the game. Both teams lacked the cunning edge and attitude necessary to grab the three points.
That is, until the 87th minute.
After a Jonny Evans giveaway in his defensive third, Chelsea midfielder Ramires found the ball at his feet and drove at the heart of the Manchester United defense.
After Mata eventually found the ball on the right side of United's defense, he buried a shot, which was deflected off of Phil Jones, off the post and into the net.
Chelsea held on for the final six minutes of the game, giving the away supporters plenty to cheer about. The Blues moved back to three points above Tottenham, giving them some breathing room ahead of a match to be played at Stamford Bridge the following Wednesday.
While winning the Europa League was a terrific success for the West London club, their supporters would tell you that the main priority for the season had to be securing Champions League football for next year's campaign.
As Chelsea look back on their season, they just might look at this afternoon at Old Trafford as the game that did just that.