Thursday, 24 May 2012

Chelsea 2011-12: A new philosophy

Despite winning an unprecedented treble in his native Portugal with FC Porto, the name of Andre Villas-Boas (AVB) had only been synonymous amongst Chelsea supporters as ‘that guy’ who sat behind Mourinho in the dugout. Despite the unknown capacity of AVB the owner decided to shell out a whopping 13 million in compensation to acquire the services of the Mourinho-moulded manager to occupy the Stamford Bridge hot seat. Rather ironically, his opening press conference bared resemblance to that of Mourinho’s first conference in England minus the ‘I am the special one’ comment thrown in. The reaction was that this man meant business and had the capacity to rediscover Chelsea’s once winning formula. Renewed hope had been ignited, but as it would transpire, he eventually would be the one going up in flames.

Life under AVB began encouragingly with victories over WBA and Norwich. Sturridge and Anelka were both netting goals as was summer signing Mata. Defeat at Old Trafford was the only defeat suffered in a promising start. Yet, this was about as good as it got for AVB in his ultimately short tenure in charge. A hectic Christmas fixture list saw results take a turn for the worst. A series of lacklustre draws was compounded by a humiliating home defeat to Aston Villa and a 1-0 defeat to newly promoted QPR with Chelsea down to nine men. Yet, worse was to follow. In a hostile encounter in Naples, Chelsea fell to 3-1 defeat despite being going a goal up; a remarkable Ashley Cole goal-line clearance helped keep the score down going into the second leg. Success in the Champions League looked a distance prospect.

Off the field, all was not right. Rebellious pair Anelka and Alex was thrown out of the Stamford Bridge exit door for questioning the team rotation policy. Chelsea’s season had begun to capitulating along with the AVB ‘project’.

It’s a results business Andre.

A heavy home defeat to London rivals Arsenal followed successive defeats to Liverpool in the league and in the Carling cup put AVB’s position under threat. His dismissal became more a question of when rather than if. Defeat at Everton proved to be the final nail in the coffin and AVB’s seven month stay in London was over. The situation now facing his successor was to immediately rectify an unsatisfactory league position, placate disharmony amongst the players and turn around a 3-1 deficit to Napoli in the Champions League – quite a challenge for anyone attempting to rectify this predicament!

A lifeline.

The rescue operation was left to fan’s favourite Roberto Di Matteo (RDM) whose calm and composed approach was chosen in an attempt to revive the season. RDM quickly pin-pointed the necessary alterations - restoring Lampard and Drogba to the starting line-up, reverting to the tried and tested ‘long ball tactic’ and shoring up a leaky back four. What followed was a memorable 4-1 win against Napoli and progression past Benfica. Though, the next challenge lying in wait for Di Matteo would undoubtedly be his biggest. The intense rivalry between Chelsea and Barcelona started by Mourinho and subsequently intensified by recent meetings had left a sense of unfinished business, which RDM and his players were assigned the task of finishing.

Silencing the Camp Nou.

Chelsea were up against it… captain John Terry had been sent off for a deliberate knee into the back of Alexis Sanchez and the team were two goals down and all but ready to board the next flight home to London with no one volunteering to sit next to the disgraced captain. Yet, moments before the half time whistle sounded, Frank Lampard arrows a pass into the path of Ramirez who in turn executes a delicate chip that evades the on-rushing goalkeeper to give Chelsea a lifeline which they never relinquish despite the best efforts of Messi and co – that is only half the story on an eventful evening as everyone knows, but all that is worth knowing is Chelsea were in the final.

After the Camp Nou success attention turned to league matters, and in particular, cementing forth spot. Though, despite a run of victories, chances of securing fourth were dashed against neighbours Fulham as a late Client Dempsey goal cancelled out an earlier Frank Lampard penalty. That was later followed by two exceptional strikers from star of the season Papiss Cissé - Chelsea had to settle for a disappointing sixth place finish. Despite the disappointment, trophy success was savoured in the FA Cup final in a closely fought 2-1 victory over Liverpool in a game that reopening that goal line technology debate once again. The question was: would another trophy be added?

Munich – the Big Final

Once again Chelsea found themselves up against it… trailing to a Mueller back post header, and with just minutes remaining, the much sought after European trophy looked set to stay in Germany. That was until Juan Mata’s corner was met powerfully by Drogba whose header evaded the reach of Manuel Neuer to take the game into extra time.

Drogba quickly turned from hero to villain when he brought down Ribery in the penalty area. But the drama continued as ex-Chelsea winger Arjen Robben failed to beat Cech from the resulting spot kick. The game would eventually be settled on penalties; history suggested Chelsea would not prevail against German opposition, especially not in their own back yard.

The shoot-out was a tantalizing affair, Mata was the first to miss, handing the Germans a slender lead, but two vital saves by Cech from Olic and Bayern’s talisman Schweinsteiger presented Drogba with the chance to create Chelsea history. An anxious wait followed before he emphatically dispatched the winning penalty to seal victory in the most dramatic of circumstances, to conclude an incredible European adventure for Chelsea Football Club.

End of season awards:

Player of the season: Juan Mata

Young player of the season: Daniel Sturridge

‘Hero’ of the season: Didier Drogba

‘Mr consistent’ Ashley Cole

‘Flop’ of the season: Florent Malouda

Writers’ details:

Nathan Davies: 20 / Sport & Exercise Student 

Chelsea FC Fan

Images obtained from; Official Chelsea Website & BBC Sport Website / Google Images

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