Why Chelsea will win the Champions League in 2014
Chelsea's 2012 Champions League triumph felt like a long, distant memory for much of last season. A dismal, group-stage exit in November turned the club upside down and left the fans in disarray.
The fact that they went on to win the Europa League was little consolation, as even the players seemed far less bothered by Europe's second-best club competition.
However, they will be back amongst the elite for the 2013-14 season, having finished third in the Premier League. This automatic qualification was the ultimate aim of Rafa Benitez's interim term, but now the Blues' prodigal son has returned to lead them back to glory.
When questioned in his press conference as to which competition was the priority for Chelsea next season, Jose Mourinho refused to single out one trophy, stating "Chelsea have to focus in every competition. We cannot say this one is more important than another. Everything is important." (via Daily Mail)
However, the Champions League was something of an obsession during his first spell at Stamford Bridge. Having won it with Porto, Mourinho's Chelsea reached the semifinals in two of the three seasons he was in charge, losing to Liverpool both times. A round-of-16 defeat to Barcelona was sandwiched between the losses to Liverpool, and none of their exits were without controversy. From ghost goals to penalty shoot-outs, Chelsea, under Mourinho, could not catch a break.
There is a sense that six years on from his departure, things have changed for both Mourinho and Chelsea. Both have won the Champions League, and both have suffered more disappointment. However, lessons have clearly been learnt by both parties.
The Chelsea players who had been involved in the Champions League victory have learnt that winning it one year is no guarantee that it will be easier the next year. John Terry, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard are all heading towards the end of their playing careers, a fact which will serve to further spur them on to add a second Champions League medal to their collections.
The younger players who joined the club in the summer of 2012 will have experienced the glory of winning a European trophy, whilst knowing that the next one will be bigger and better. Eden Hazard in particular will be desperate to reach the final, as he missed out on the Europa League through injury. David Luiz will want to avoid having his steak substituted for chicken again, and Oscar will be looking to score more spectacular goals.
Mourinho lost at the semifinal stage with Real Madrid three times, and the disappointment surrounding his inability to bring home Real's 10th European trophy was one of the key factors in his departure from the club. He has a point to prove, and what better way to do so than to win the competition in his first season with a new club?
Also, his experiences across Europe have certainly given him some old scores to settle. His first challenge will be against former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola when the Blues face Bayern Munich in the UEFA Super Cup.
The two had worked together at Barcelona in the early days of their coaching careers, but when they came head-to-head in the El Clasico meetings, a bitter feud began. There is no love lost between the two managers, and a win for Mourinho will surely give him an unbeatable edge ahead of the Champions League campaign.
Where do you think Chelsea will finish in the 2013-14 Champions League?
Obviously there is an element of luck involved in any major cup win, but the aura surrounding Chelsea at the moment suggests that even the so-called "Group of Death" would not be enough to stop this side. If they can combine their talent and dedication with something a bit special, Chelsea will go all the way to Lisbon.
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