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Chelsea's 2013 Highlights: Best Player, Best Match and More

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Chelsea's 2013 Highlights: Best Player, Best Match and More
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The early signs from 2012 suggested that it would be the year for Chelsea to finally recover from their transitional period and return to the stage as one of Europe's heavyweights.

The Champions League triumph, coupled with their FA Cup success under Roberto Di Matteo, showed that the club were back in business after an ill-fated spell under Andre Villas-Boas. But the club were soon thrown back into disarray after another poor festive showing, leading to Di Matteo's shock departure with the Blues struggling in the league.

Then in came Rafa Benitez, perhaps the one figure that Chelsea supporters would have despised walking through the doors of Stamford Bridge with the club's crest on his jacket.

The former Liverpool coach was appointed as the interim head coach until the end of the season, and despite fierce opposition, the Spaniard steadied the ship, providing some much-needed calm and stability.

Of course, the fans continued to show their disrespect towards Benitez, staging protests and booing at home games. As results began to improve, though, Chelsea's fanbase reluctantly accepted the situation the club was in and rallied behind Benitez.

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Chelsea were already out of the Champions League group stage after a heavy 3-0 defeat to Juventus, but their campaign in the Europa League provided some relief.

Drawn against Sparta Prague, Steaua Bucharest, Basel and finally Benfica in the final, the unlikely prospect of silverware became a reality as the West London outfit secured their second successive European crown with a 2-1 victory over the Portuguese giants.

Despite some uninspiring performances, they managed to fight their way through the standings to finish in third position in the Premier League, guaranteeing Champions League football for a ninth successive season.

Benitez knew his job was done, as he departed for Napoli, and in came Jose Mourinho for his second stint at Stamford Bridge after leaving Real Madrid.

However, it's been far from the happy reunion he was hoping for.

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Chelsea sit in third place, two points behind leaders Arsenal after finishing 2013 with a 2-1 win over title contenders Liverpool. But Mourinho's men look far from their best and perhaps the reason they are still in contention for a fourth Premier League title is down to their rivals' shortcomings rather than their own success.

Nevertheless, it has been a year of recovery for Chelsea, and after picking up where Benitez left off, it's time for Mourinho to show some of his most special work in 2014.

Here are some of the bestand worstmoments to look back on in Chelsea's 2013. 

 

Best Player: Eden Hazard

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Signed from Lille for £32 million last summer after Chelsea beat both Manchester clubs to the talented Belgian's signature, Hazard has really taken the Premier League by storm.

The 22-year-old has had to endure the physicality of the Premier League in all forms, as teams focus their attention on limiting his influence. However, the Tubize-born winger has gone from strength to strength in 2013, scoring important goals in the Europa League and Champions League.

At present, he is the Blues' top scorer in the Premier League with eight goals.

Combined with his incessant work rate, his direct running, incredible balance and agility allow him to race past defenders with consummate ease.

Of course, it's not been a perfect year for Hazard, what with some minor troubles due to passport issues and a lack of form at the start of the 2013/14 season, but his recent form shows he's back to his best.

 

Most Improved: Gary Cahill

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Some might feel Cahill isn't quite up to the standard that Chelsea supporters would expect from a player, but the former Bolton defender has seen his stock rise remarkably over the past 12 months.

From back-up centre-back to keeping David Luiz out of the team, Cahill has been full of surprises and shown signs that there could be a successor waiting in the wings when John Terry retires.

The 28-year-old has shown great determination at the heart of the defence in his 20 appearances in the current campaign and was a key part of Chelsea's revival in the 2012/13 season, turning out 45 times with six goals.

At times, he is unbeatable in the air and the England defender is always prepared to put his body on the line if it means keeping the ball out of the net.

There are still parts of his game that require workmainly the lack of pace, which allows quick strikers to get past himbut considering the £7 million spent to bring him in two years ago, Cahill has proven to be a wise acquisition.

 

Best Match: Bayern Munich 2-2 Chelsea (Bayern win 5-4 on penalties)

Guardiola vs. Mourinho. The rematch of the 2012 Champions League Final. It was set in the stars that these two giants would meet in the European Super Cup and perhaps fitting that the Germans would this time triumph on penalties.

Fernando Torres' stunning strike gave Chelsea the lead before Petr Cech palmed Franck Ribery's powerful effort into the net. Ramires was sent off in extra time, but despite this, Eden Hazard looked to have stolen victory for the Europa League winners before Javi Martinez's last-gasp tap-in denied the Blues victory.

Young striker Romelu Lukaku missed his spot-kick, which proved decisive and meant a fourth trophy for the Bavarian giants in a historic year for the German club.

Despite the heartache of losing on penalties, Chelsea were perhaps the better side and the attacking football on showwith four goals, a red card and a penalty shootouthighlighted the best way to start the 2013-14 campaign.

 

Best Goal: David Luiz (vs. Basel, Europa League semifinal)

A tremendous effort. Chelsea were leading 2-1 in the second leg of the Europa League semifinal at Stamford Bridge (4-2 on aggregate) and victory had looked secure.

However, David Luiz wanted to put his stamp on the game, just as he did in Switzerland in the first leg with a last-minute free-kick.

Receiving the ball 30 yards from goal, Luiz looked composed as he unleashed an unstoppable effort past the helpless Yann Sommer, flashing into the top corner from the Brazilian's left boot. It epitomised the quality that Chelsea had at their disposal and was a fitting way to send Benitez's side into the final against Benfica.

A wonderful goal from a wonderfully gifted, madcap defender.

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