Chelsea Blog: An unforgettable season in retrospect
Remarkable, unbelievable, unforgettable.
Remarkable, unbelievable, unforgettable.
The 2011-12 season at Stamford Bridge will be remembered forever, as the campaign in which Chelsea finally lifted the European Cup.
But it was a season of unparalleled intrigue, mayhem and destruction. Players, fans, managers all had their impact. Here I look at 10 games and ask: did that really happen?
Sunday 14th August: Stoke City 0-0 Chelsea
The hype was astounding. £13m for a manager with virtually no pedigree. He promised sexy football and no egos; trophies via a modern, no-nonsense, scientific approach. He delivered… well, I’ll get to that bit later.
This dawning of a new era was best summed up post-match by Petr Cech: a model pro, and the soul of discretion.
He said: “I think the circumstances, the first game of the season: we had the possession, we had chances, we didn’t score.” It was to become a common theme.
Just days before this game, we later found out Villas-Boas had sat Didier Drogba down and told him he had no future at Chelsea. More on that story too…
Sunday 18th September: Manchester United 3-1 Chelsea
Four wins on the bounce, and Villas-Boas took his Chelsea into their first real test of the season.
This was a bizarre game, which went on to symbolise Villas-Boas’ naive tactical idealism.
Blues terrorised the United goal: with 19 shots and 10 corners. But they defended like a Sunday league side, thanks to the much-derided ‘high line’.
Sunday 23rd October: QPR 1-0 Chelsea
Seven yellow cards and two reds saw the Blues disintegrate into the sort of disciplinary tantrum not usually seen until the latter stages of the Champions League.
Plus there was that alleged incident between John Terry and Anton Ferdinand.
Andre ‘Mr Nice’ Villas-Boas was gone forever: with a broadside at ref Chris Foy (it later cost him a £12,000 fine).
Probably the start of Villas-Boas’ bad moment. But the full implications of this game are, even now, yet to be known.
Sunday 5th February: Chelsea 3-3 Manchester United
With Cobham’s winter of discontent brewing; and a perfect storm of injuries, poor form, and deep snow; many hoped for a postponement. There was also the mounting weight of claim and counter claim about dressing room relations: mainly centring on Frank Lampard.
Like the game at Old Trafford, this was not for those of a feint disposition.
From 0-0, to 3-0, to 3-3 in 48 pulsating minutes. But, yet again, Chelsea were undne by defensive frailties.
Saturday 3rd March: West Brom 1-0 Chelsea
Probably not the worst game of Villas-Boas’ reign (that dubious award must go to the 2-0 defeat at Everton). Nor was it the clearest display of the divisions he had wrought in his team (that came in the celebration of Ramires’ goal at Wolves in January – when only the club’s Portuguese-speaking players approached their boss).
But it was the last. Chelsea looked clueless and, worse, like they didn’t care.
In a rare display of dissent among a fanbase that likes to back its bosses, travelling fans sang ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’. The young coach argued post-match with reporters about the veracity of this claim.
In the end, the supporters were right.
His 40-game reign had caused the greatest footballing crisis in the recent history of the club, and cost around £1m per match in compensation and pay cheques. Chelsea’s season looked over.
Wednesday 14th March: Chelsea 4-1 Napoli (AET)
It is impossible to overstate the magnitude of the turn-around that took place in the ten days between Villas-Boas’ sacking and this game.
Going out of the FA Cup; with one win in seven in all competitions; and 1-3 down from a Champions League first leg in Italy.
Chelsea got back on track on all three fronts thanks to one of Stamford Bridge’s most memorable nights.
Will always be remembered for the extra time sing-song: “Don’t worry about a thing, because every little thing is gonna be alright…”
Saturday 31st March: Aston Villa 2-4 Chelsea
A poor display: Chelsea falling asleep to let a 0-2 lead slip. But that is where Di Matteo’s team showed their mettle. Two late goals, and only a second league win at Villa Park this millennium, saw the Italian reach for his cigarettes at full time. Less than two months later it would be cigars.
Sunday 15th April: Chelsea 5-1 Tottenham
Whatever results this season might have thrown up, this derby win at Wembley is one Chelsea fans will talk of for years to come.
They went on to win a tense FA Cup final against Liverpool. And to further humiliate Spurs by pulling the rug on their Champions League qualification. Happy days.
Tuesday 24th April: Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea
Call it anti-football if you like. But never underestimate the achievement in pulling it back from being 2-0 down at Camp Nou. Finished Barcelona’s season and, ultimately, Pep Guardiola’s stewardship of the club.
Saturday 19th May: Bayern Munich 1-1 Chelsea (AET. 4-3 on penalties).
Books will one day be written about Chelsea’s Road To Munich. The stories are already legendary. I cold write one on just this match.
But I’ll concentrate on two men.
Didier Drogba, written off by Villas-Boas, took this game to extra time, then scored the winning penalty. He made his last ever kick for the club the most celebrated in its 107-year history.
And Ryan Bertrand: again sidelined by the previous boss, made his Champions League debut – in the final and out of position.
61 games, two managers, two trophies. Chelsea’s craziest, most-frustrating, most-elating, and ultimately most rewarding season. August can’t come soon enough.
Word by Dan Levene, read the rest of his Footballscores.com Chelsea blog