Ranking Chelsea's Top 5 Players for March 2016
March was the month when the axe finally fell on Chelsea's season as a contest.
That Guus Hiddink had managed to string it out that long is testament to the impact he's had at Stamford Bridge since taking charge in December. Nevertheless, respective defeats to Paris Saint-Germain and Everton to knock the Blues out of the Champions League and FA Cup were still tough to swallow.
It's meant that everything has felt a little deflated since, with the club, players and fans in the unusual position of having little to play for with two months still remaining in the season.
The focus now has switched to next season as Hiddink attempts to leave some form of legacy behind.
To do that he needs some of his players to shine. Indeed, some have for much of the campaign, despite the struggles Chelsea have endured as a collective.
So who continues to stand out? Which players are showing incoming manager Antonio Conte that they should form a big part of Chelsea's future under him?
Bleacher Report ranks Chelsea's top five performers from the past month.
5. Bertrand Traore
Bertrand Traore only scored once in March, but when we look back at his strike against Stoke City, it's the sort of moment that announces the arrival of a young star.
Chelsea fans have long known of Traore and are now beginning to see more of what he's all about. He's a pest in front of goal, with his assist for Diego Costa against Norwich City showing he can also contribute in other ways for his teammates.
Facing Stoke felt like a watershed moment for Traore's Chelsea career. We got the sense that something is happening with him, especially as he led the line from the off as Diego Costa was out injured.
Hiddink preferred Traore over some of his more experienced teammates that day, and that show of faith is really paying off.
If Traore can be managed the way he has been by Hiddink of late—starting games and being used as a substitute to build up his playing time—he and the club are going to benefit considerably.
It's by allowing their young talent to flourish that Chelsea can salvage some success this season, and Traore is among those who's giving reason to feel positive.
As the new face of Chelsea begins to reveal itself, it's evident that Kenedy is going to have a considerable influence on its complexion.
The young Brazilian featured more regularly in March than he has at any time throughout 2015/16. He played in four of Chelsea's five matches, scoring against Norwich City to get the month off to a flyer for the Blues.
Whether it's at left-back or further forward, Kenedy has impressed for Chelsea. Turning 20 in February, he's barely out of his teens, so there is still much to improve, though.
Kenedy was caught out at times against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, but it's to be expected with younger players coming through. What's important is that those errors in his game are ironed out and that Kenedy learns from the experience.
He has the raw components to be a success at Chelsea. With the potential for wing-backs to return at Stamford Bridge next season, he could well be the man to fill the vacant slot on the left.
3. John Obi Mikel
In December of this season, let alone the start of the campaign, very few people would have been looking at John Obi Mikel as a potential saviour for Chelsea.
The Nigerian hasn't turned around Chelsea's season to the point that they're challenging for honours and European qualification, but he has made an impact in their game management, which has helped them remain unbeaten in the league since that away loss to Leicester City shortly before Christmas.
Mikel has looked more assured in defensive midfield, controlling games more effectively alongside Cesc Fabregas. When Jose Mourinho was switching his selections, looking for the right formula to get his team out of trouble, the Blues were never as fluid as they have been now.
It's not been perfect by any stretch, yet Mikel deserves credit for how he's helped mould Chelsea back to something resembling a team.
March was another good month for him, and if Mikel keeps it up, he may well have a future at Stamford Bridge as a summer of upheaval approaches.
2. Cesar Azpilicueta
Cesar Azpilicueta remains the unsung hero of Chelsea.
He's quiet and unassuming but does an excellent job at the back, whether he's playing out of position at left-back or on his more favoured right side of defence.
Like most of his teammates, Azpilicueta has suffered from a dip at times this season. He has been consistent with his performances, however, which has allowed for Chelsea to get something from games when they maybe shouldn't have.
March was another impressive month from him, despite the disappointment suffered in the Champions League and FA Cup.
With the injury to John Terry in March, Azpilicueta was moved back to right-back and looked more confident in attack. Utilising him on the left has worked as Chelsea attempt to fill the void left by Ashley Cole, but the time has come for Azpilicueta to be Chelsea's preferred defender in his natural position.
He's more dynamic going forward there and offers balance defensively.
1. Cesc Fabregas
Cesc Fabregas has changed perceptions of him in a strange sort of way.
The trend has been for Fabregas to peak in the first half of a season before suffering a post-Christmas slump. It's been different this year, with the reverse happening. From struggling to be at his best until December, the Spaniard has improved considerably in the new year.
Indeed, his performance against West Ham United ahead of the international break was a case in point. Not only did he score twice to rescue a point for his teammates, but Fabregas was the fulcrum of everything positive Chelsea achieved that afternoon.
He was the player dictating the tempo, inspiring those around him in midfield as Chelsea laboured. The Blues struggled to cope at times with the likes of Manuel Lanzini and Dimitri Payet, but it was Fabregas' influence going the other way that salvaged something.
Fabregas' passing ability and vision remain essential to Chelsea, and as we consider the side under Antonio Conte next term, he's sure to be a big part of what the new manager wants to achieve.