Antonio Conte: Chelsea’s man of the season

Antonio Conte. Premier League winner. Yet another manager to rock up to the Bridge, quickly work out the lay of the land and turn a squad into title winners. Has anyone mentioned that he didn’t exactly go and spend a fortune to do it, either?

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Conte joins quite an illustrious group following Michy’s late winner the other night. Jose won the title in his first season, Carlo did the double at the first time of asking, Rafa won the Europa League, Guus won the FA Cup and who could ever forget Bobby Di Matteo winning both the FA Cup and Champions League having taken over during the season?

What is it about Chelsea, their managers and their ability to win silverware almost immediately when others, yes I am looking at you Arsene, seem to always be waiting for their next harvest?

This isn’t a “who has won more trophies” kind of chat, we all know that Arsene “revolutionised” the modern game just after Sir Alex turned United into the modern day powerhouse and just before Roman fancied a team in blue a little bit more than a team in white.

I’m talking solely about a system that seems to break all the rules of “stability” is the best way to success. Are Chelsea successful due to the chaos, or in spite of it?

Before the more statistically minded of you start thumbing through this piece looking for facts and figures, go and make a coffee – this is all good old fashioned opinion and, dare I venture gut feeling.

To the outside world Chelsea look like a club in perpetual chaos. If you don’t win the league within a couple of seasons, you are often out of the door in the Roman era. That said, it is almost understandable. Claudio was given a lot of money and went close. Then the cult of Jose appeared and, following a somewhat considerable investment once again, a title winning side was built. Jose dominates, Jose self combusts. Sure, it wasn’t until Carlo appeared that the club went back to winning the title, but they were hardly drought years like other clubs have suffered. I mean, Chelsea have done OK if they can consider FA Cups, Europa Leagues and Champions League wins without the Premier League as tricky years, right?

So are they in perpetual chaos?

For me, no. There is something extra at play which works. Underneath the image of chaos there is a truck load of stability.

John Terry, Frank Lampard, Petr Cech, Branislav Ivanovic, Ashley Cole, Didier Drogba, Joe Cole, Eden Hazard, Gary Cahill, Cesar Azpilicueta and Ramires. These are all players that have played over 150 times for Chelsea in the Premier League. As you can see, you can chart the entire Roman Abramovich era through some of these players and how they overlap. And, to be honest, they aren’t bad players are they? So, I give you exhibit A of stability – a very, very strong core of players who know the club inside out, almost like Milan used to have, or Juventus currently or, dare I mention them again, Manchester United when they used to really win things.

Exhibit B folks – clever managerial recruitment on the whole. The “board” at Chelsea have learned this football thing pretty quickly, and their managerial appointments have, generally, done the job. I’m not just talking about the fact they’ve been able to go out and attract some of the biggest managerial names out there, but they’ve typically got the managerial style right for the moment. Everything was a little cosy under Claudio. Bring in Jose, one of the most demanding men on the planet. Job done, yet you can only work that way for so long before people burn out. Avram was a more gentle soul, and let’s never forget that he was only a slip away from being in history forever. After the nice guy routine grew old with the players, they needed a drill sergeant again – Big Phil. OK, this one didn’t work out so they opted back for the gentler approach in Guus then Carlo. Notice that the players that were young and hungry and Jose and needed discipline were older here, and probably needed a more “fatherly” approach than a military approach to get success. It worked. Until it didn’t. After Carlo, Roman fancied the next Jose but misjudged the situation as the senior players were never likely to respond to a coach younger than them, not again, anyway. They’d won more than he had, for crying out loud. Di Matteo picked up the pieces by just being nice and letting JT run things, and Rafa was needed to get the inmates back under control. Which brings us back round to Jose, titles and the need for Guus to come in and be nice to everyone once again.

And then Antonio. Mad, crazy, but ultimately successful Antonio Conte.

You see, Chelsea do know what they are doing. Providing you trust the structure and don’t rely 100% on the manager being the be all and end all, you can win lots of things by changing the guy in the dugout quite a lot – providing you keep stability on the playing staff and choose the right man to manage them at the right time.

What you don’t do, Manchester United are you listening, is appoint back-to-back managers who do not fit your playing staff, when you have lost all semblance of stability in your squad.

You would not have been able to say this a decade ago, but Manchester United and Arsenal should probably take a look at Chelsea and see what they could learn.

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Chelsea shade Middlebrough 1-0 to go top of the table

Match Summary

Chelsea made it six wins from six as Diego Costa’s first-half flick was enough to send his side to the summit of the Premier League table for the first time since the Blues became champions two seasons ago.

After morale-boosting 3-0, 4-0 and 5-0 victories in the past few weeks, this was a test of resolve against a side who have held both Arsenal and Manchester City this season, but Costa’s goal, the first man to hit 10 goals this season, was enough in a cagey affair.

Hence the jubilant celebrations from Antonio Conte upon the full-time whistle as his Chelsea side sit pretty at the top of the table, carrying on as they left off before the international break with six wins on the trot and no goals conceded.

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It was always going to be tough to re-group a squad full of internationals back again after several days apart around the world, and that proved to be most evident in the opening few minutes, when Ramirez nearly found De Roon, before the ball fell to ex-Manchester City player Alvardo Negredo.

But after the poor opening 5 minutes, Chelsea were finding their rhythm. Normal service was resuming for Hazard, weaving in and out of defenders before getting cynically pulled down in this instance by Clayton.

Good passing and an increase in Chelsea’s gear brought about more openings, none more so than at the half-hour mark, when Hazard and Moses worked a chance to Pedro, but Valdes reacted superbly to deny his former Barcelona team-mate.

Alonso drove forward on more than one occasion, and the pressure finally told on Valdes’ goal in the 41st minute. A Hazard corner was not dealt properly by the hosts and Costa acrobatically pounced as soon as the ball dropped back down from the air.

It was a killer blow to Middlesbrough just before half-time and nearly got worse straight after the re-start when Moses combined well with Alonso to allow the Spaniard to get a shot away, but Valdes dealt with this one better.

Pedro was no luckier with his next big opportunity, having been denied in the first-half by a superb Valdes stop, the Spaniard in this instance beat Valdes but not the bar, as he watched his shot agonisingly cannon off the underside of the crossbar after excellent work by Luiz and Costa.

Moses loves an opportunity to run forward when afforded to him and could have settled nerves had his shot been a little more accurate, and the longer the game progressed still finely-balanced the more the nerves would grow.

Conte sent on Chalobah, Ivanovic and Oscar in an effort to waste time, and so it proved effective, as despite a strong Negredo effort to sting Courtois’ hands, the hosts’ one shot on target was nothing to concern a Chelsea side who continue the winning feeling.

What are your thoughts from the game? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section below!

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Man of the Match

victor-moses-thumbnailVICTOR MOSES: Conte has received all the plaudits for changing Chelsea’s play, but you still need the players to do it so Moses (and Alonso) need huge credit for revolutionising the style of Chelsea’s play, which would only work with the discipline of players like Moses. The Nigerian was quick and strong, and need I say more about his energy other than, despite being a right wing-back, he was the second furthest player up the field (behind Costa)? 7/10

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Manager Reaction

Conte knew he was up against a very smart side: “I knew this game would be difficult because this team is well organised and they are in good form. But we deserved to win because we scored the goal and created many chances for a second goal. We didn’t concede and stopped any opportunity for them to score.”

Karanka knew his side has done well against top-level opposition so far: “After our last performances against Arsenal and Manchester City we were confident and we showed again we can compete against those teams. One mistake punished us.”

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Fan View

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Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had five years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.

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© Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle, 2011-2016. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this Blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Chelsea vs. West Brom: Match Preview

Ahead of this Wednesday’s clash with West Brom, I spoke to AlbionTillWeDie.co.uk, outlining my predictions for the match and remainder of the season with Hiddink. Here are my thoughts:


We have to start with last month’s departure of Jose Mourinho. Was it the right decision? How did the majority of Chelsea fans react to the news?

Unfortunately I think this was a decision detrimental for the long-term Chelsea, even if in the short-term Hiddink might rejuvenate the side. Mourinho knows the club inside out and bleeds blue more and it is a travesty that the players therefore got to stay. It is of no doubt that he will go on and succeed at his next club so the concern is for Chelsea itself, and yet again we go back to the short-termism view of having another 8 managers in 6 years. Only this time Mourinho won’t come back.

As for the fans, I think the older generation fans appreciated Mourinho’s work and certainly this was made very local in the match directly after (though the chants have stopped now Hiddink is in place, but Steve Holland did not have a nice game to oversee). On social media tends to be the younger generation fans who maybe started supporting Chelsea once we won the Champions League in 2012 so did not feel as much connection to a man who has brought so much joy.

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Guus Hiddink is now the man in charge although only as interim boss, how did the Stamford Bridge faithful feel about his return? Is there any likelihood of him remaining long-term?

I think most are pleased to see a likeable man come in, and certainly not another Avram Grant or Rafael Benitez. Having said that, however much fans appreciate his work previously here, there is a strange bewilderment among fans at to whether Hiddink really is a better bet to turn around the club’s fortunes than Mourinho, who is certainly better than Hiddink as a manager.

If it’s not Hiddink, who would you like to see named as Mourinho’s long-term successor?

There’s only one Special One! I only see one man fit for the Chelsea job but seeing as he won’t come back, then it is tricky. I would like someone who knows the club, but promoting from within is not within Abramovich’s strategy, and managers who do know Chelsea (Rodgers etc) probably aren’t of the ilk Abramovich wants. Again we will go onto the continent but Guardiola does not fit Chelsea’s style and it would be incredibly risky for Simeone’s reputation to try his hand here. You really want someone who has won the Champions League but Mourinho and Ancelotti have both been moved on, so we are stuck in a rut, hence I never believed we should have fired him.

Chelsea’s struggles have surprised everyone this season, why have the Blues’ form and results been so poor?

Mourinho described it as a mixture of things but refused to explain in more detail during one interview. You can imagine the row with Carneiro set the season off to a dreadful start, but maybe even before that the problems were there by allowing the players two weeks extra holiday so they came back in lethargic manner to a Community Shield loss against Arsenal. Mourinho’s man-management has also come under scrunity: he has always taken any flak away from his players and whilst he tried that, it was clear that was not working, so he put the blame on the players, then referees, then just about everyone. Players clearly became disillusioned but it is disappointing if world-class players behave this unprofessionally and do not have that innate drive to work hard and be the star in any match, with Willian the only one who can hold his head high.

Are the club likely to be active during this month’s transfer window? Do they need to be?

It would be ironic if Abramovich gives Hiddink funds to spend but couldn’t wait two more weeks before sacking Mourinho and giving him the January window instead. There is continued speculation over needing more competition for Costa, whilst Hazard has gone missing all season. However, Chelsea don’t tend to be too active this window (and when they are they waste £50 million) so I cannot expect any big names moving in. As for the opposite direction, we may see young players moved out on loan, as per.

Chelsea player of the season so far?

Willian. Chelsea’s best burst of energy and the only winger who looks like he can shoot. Hazard has some wonderful feet but you would not trust him with a long-range drive or with a free-kick, and neither with Pedro. Willian, and maybe Azpilicueta, has been the only one to hit that consistency and, on a personality sense, clearly has great professionalism and drive to succeed. It’s a shame some of his other colleagues took every match as a walk-about.

Anyone been particularly disappointing?

It would be unfair to bully Hazard alone because Chelsea’s spine has gone. Ivanovic, the rock that he was last season, has been beaten time and again and Chelsea have a gaping hole down their right. But in midfield, Fabregas and Matic have had too many off days and are not strong enough or tactically aware enough to help Ivanovic out. When you mix this with the fact Chelsea’s penetration has been shocking – Hazard has tried at least whilst Costa has not and every one of his goals seem to be an easy tap-in with no work done on his part – then you make for a shocking season, however good the manager at the helm. It is clear we are missing big player presences, like Drogba.

Premier League champs?

You can trust Arsenal to slip this up and maybe Pellegrini will be motivated to go out on a final hurrah as he knows this is likely his last season.

Relegated?

It’s really difficult to predict given how close Leicester were to being relegated even in April last season but now they are near the top of the table. Having said this, it would be hard not to bet that Aston Villa will go down given Garde still has not really found that magic touch. I am not sure Bournemouth will have the legs or experience to beat the drop, whilst out of Newcastle or Sunderland to go down, I would favour the Black Cats.

Thoughts on, and prediction for Wednesday’s game? How are Chelsea likely to line-up?

Chelsea need to get moving and quickly given we have passed the half-way mark of the season, and if we extrapolate current form so far to the end of the season, the Blues would not even get 46 points. The Blues need to make up 13 points, which is roughly 4 matches, with 18 to go, but the sheer scale of hoping everyone in and around the Top Four, e.g. Tottenham, Man Utd, Liverpool, to all lose 4 matches, and crucially for Chelsea to win them all, is a tough ask. The Blues should get Europa League though and next season will be interesting to see us manage the Thursday night treks and Sunday returns.

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Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had five years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.

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© Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle, 2011-2016. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this Blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

West Brom vs. Chelsea Preview

Ahead of this Sunday’s clash with West Brom, I spoke to AlbionTillWeDie.co.uk, outlining my predictions for the match and season ahead. Here are my thoughts:


Firstly, the Eva Carneiro controversy, your take on it?

Totally unnecessary. Unfortunately it’s been a dreadful week for Chelsea, on and off the pitch. The Blues have never done fantastically on the PR front in terms of racism and sexism etc, and this has not helped. Mourinho’s words seemed innocuous enough – he criticised his “medical staff” – but the ensuing media furore, which predominantly surrounds Carneiro only and not Fearn, has meant the saga has gone into a battle about gender and how Mourinho had ulterior motives. This will not help relations and Mourinho will surely, deep down, be angry with himself for unknowingly causing this mess because it’s detracted Chelsea away from footballing matters. It is ironic that he blamed medical staff for being slow when reacting to Petr Cech’s head injury in 2005, and whilst there is some sense in that physios have to understand the game, first and foremost they have to do what is medically right. (Besides, Chelsea would have only been down to 9 men for around 30 seconds… Mourinho is clutching at straws!)

It’s not been the best of starts to the season for Chelsea, just a blip or something to be worried about?

Probably a bit in between. I can’t imagine it going on for too long, but it shows that this season will not be a canter. City are strong, United strengthened. It’s Chelsea’s worst start since 1998/99 but expect Mourinho to pull through. However, if things get messier behind the scenes with transfer rows or internal strains in relations and all of a sudden there’s a falling out with Abramovich, then there could be real, real danger.

Much has been made of the decision by Jose Mourinho to substitute his captain John Terry at half-time during last weekend’s defeat to Manchester City. Might this be the beginning of the end for the Blues’ legend?

I’m shocked at how much this has been talked about. Mourinho made the tactical decision to take off JT because he was getting pulled apart. I bet Mourinho was toying with the idea of playing Zouma from the off, as he has the pace, but felt Terry’s other attributes, e.g. reading of the game or leadership, will compensate. The reality is it didn’t and Sterling and co beat Terry for pace. Things had to change. But expect Terry to be back in the line-up and dominating; he’s not gone yet.

Looking back at last season, how did it compare to previous championship-winning campaigns?

Whilst Chelsea were good, last season was won mainly because rivals failed. Chelsea weren’t extraordinary – they were good because they were at the top of the table after every single match-day – but it relied heavily on City and United capitulating. We saw pretty football and then tactical football. In other championship-winning campaigns, it’s tended to be the more tactical.

How confident are you that Jose Mourinho’s men can retain their title?

Not very. We have not really strengthened – and in this world that means going backwards. The start we have had is not a good omen at all, and expect City to be fired up. It might be tight, but I’m not so confident as I was last season. There is no match-winner, all pretty stuff but all too careful.

Happy with the club’s summer transfer dealings? Anything more the Blues need to do before the window shuts?

No. Whereas last season we were quick with Costa and Fabregas, this season we have decided to do nothing. The imminent signing of Pedro smacks of panic, which is a disastrous way to manage the market. It was clear Abramovich was trying to save money for a new stadium, but recruits are needed. I’d personally quite like another defensive midfielder: Matic is our only competent one, as Mikel offers nothing and Ramires and Fabregas both have deficiencies to man this position with authority.

Prediction for Albion’s season?

Tony Pulis is a good manager and with the likes of Rondon and McLean in, I can probably expect another season of mid-table mediocrity, well clear of relegation.

Premier League champs?

Manchester City

Relegated?

Bournemouth, Sunderland, Watford

How are Chelsea likely to line-up at The Hawthorns on Sunday?

Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Azpilicueta; Matic, Fabregas; Ramires, Hazard, Willian; Costa. If Pedro comes in time, I’d expect a substitute appearance from him and maybe Rahman.

Prediction for Sunday’s game?

Chelsea need to get going. Expect some fire: 3-1.

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Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had four years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.

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© Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle, 2011-2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this Blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Post-Season Friendlies

Chelsea embarked on a post-season trip to Thailand and Australia to cap off another very successful season. The Blues were able to secure two trophies in Mourinho’s second season back at Chelsea, and both the Premier League trophy, and Capital One Cup, were warmly-received by the strong Asian and Australian fan-base, who went delirious in meeting their footballing heroes.

Thailand All-Stars 0-1 Chelsea (Sat 30 May, 12:00 BST)

A Dominic Solanke goal early in the game was enough to give Chelsea a slender 1-0 victory in front of a packed Thai crowd.

The Blues, on their post-season tour, were greeted to rapturous applause as the Thai fans enjoyed seeing their stars in real-life for the first time since a 2013 trip to Thailand.

Youth dominated the starting eleven, with only Cech, Ivanovic, Mikel and Remy the notable first-team inclusions in a line-up consisting of Aina, Clarke-Salter, Ake, Colkett, Boga, Brown and Solanke.

It was the latter who opened the scoring, registering his 42nd goal of the season with a smart volley after 12 minutes.

Thailand All-Stars had a opening at goal soon after, including the hitting of a post, but the humidity made for a slow pace to the game.

The second-half saw 11 new Blue faces, with Blackman, Christensen, Dasilva, Houghton, Musonda and Loftus-Cheek all afforded a piece of the action, as were some star-studded names including Terry, Costa and Hazard, who was cheered with every majestic touch.

But Solanke’s early effort was enough to secure the win as the game petered out to a dull end, even if there was no dampening of Thai Chelsea fans’ spirits.

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Sydney FC 0-1 Chelsea (Tue 2 Jun, 11:00 BST)

Chelsea secured another 1-0 win in front of an adoring 83,000-strong Australian crowd.

A star-studded line-up featuring Terry, Hazard and Costa was capably backed up by tinges of fringe players such as Remy, and youth such as Ake and Boga.

And it was Remy who can sleep happily tonight knowing he scored the winner to round off a very special 2014/2015 campaign for the Blues, cutting in from the right, going past two players before leathering the ball left-footed into the top corner from the edge of the box. It was a delicious goal and worthy to be called Chelsea’s last of the season.

But Sydney FC were no push-overs, giving credit to the Australian League. Cech was in good form and, where caught out, Ivanovic was on hand to block on the line.

But, as so typical of Chelsea this season, they scored the goal and could hold out. And this is why we start next season as defending champions.

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West Brom vs. Chelsea Preview

Ahead of this Monday’s clash with West Brom, I spoke to AlbionTillWeDie.co.uk, outlining my predictions for the match and season ahead. Here are my thoughts:


It’s been a fantastic season for the Blues, culminating of course with clinching the Premier League title. How does 2014/15 compare to your other recent title triumphs?

As title triumphs go, this can surely be one of the more satisfying. To have it wrapped up with a good number of games to spare, and then see us given a Guard of Honour by our nemesis Liverpool, it capped off a fantastic season in which we were brutally efficient. It feels a long time ago when we last won in 2010 and even though we secured it with a 8-0 thrashing of Wigan, it was done on the last matchday, so this one is sweet. It also rewards the hard work of the players and manager so we can be equally proud of this one as Mourinho’s first in his return. After no silverware last season, we can confirm he is still special: the knack of being unbeatable at home, never losing the six-pointer games against your main title rivals, getting the job done with the 1-0s or 2-1s… Jose knows best.

Despite Chelsea’s dominance of the Premier League, you failed to progress past the last 16 of the Champions League. What do the club need to do to improve on that next season?

Mourinho blamed his side’s “mental toughness” when PSG eliminated us, which was a most peculiar excuse, for his sides tend to exert the most mental toughness! Mourinho teams always tend to have a psychological edge but it was strange to see us not defend better some sloppy goals. It did help our march for the Premier League crown, granted, but the Champions League is now a bigger motivation for next season now there is less pressure of Premier League again. The quality is certainly there and maybe the players, a la Courtois and Hazard, need to really understand what the big Champions League games are like. Other than that, improvements could be made in Mourinho’s strategy. It is not safe anymore going back to a home second-leg with a goal-less score-line in the away first-leg. You need that away goal yourself.

It appears that former Albion academy star Izzy Brown will be making his Chelsea first team debut at The Hawthorns on Monday evening. Does he stand a genuine chance of becoming a regular for the Blues long-term?

In the foreseeable future: no. Mourinho has publicly said he wants to place more emphasis on young Chelsea stars but it is hard to see this as anything but good rhetoric. A rough patch next half-way through next season and we’ll be back to the siege mentality approach of parking the bus! Brown, and the other Chelsea prodigies in Baker/Bamford/Loftus-Cheek etc, may get the odd minutes of the odd game, but I cannot see Chelsea as a club to progress youth. There is too much pressure and too much competition to afford game-time to blood youngsters anymore.

Highlight of the season?

It’s difficult to pick one main one out! The League Cup final win against Tottenham stands out, of course, because we attained silverware at the end of it. The title triumph is equally satisfying, but this was a culmination of months of hard work, so there is no main highlight to pin-point it on. The fact that we have been top of the league after every single match-day is a staggering feat that even I forgot going week by week but hard work pays off and the highlights will no doubt occur in a couple of weeks’ time when we pick up the Premier League trophy and look back on a very successful season.

Moment you would rather forget?

PSG was our worst game of the season. The strategy was all wrong and you somehow never sat comfortably. Ibrahimovic’s sending off didn’t appease any nerves and you just had that feeling an away goal (or two) would do it.

Other than that, Lampard’s equaliser for Manchester City to deny his true side all three points will long haunt the memory. Whilst rendering irrelevant all-told, it was a dark moment for Chelsea fans. All can be forgiven now.

Player of the season?

John Terry and Eden Hazard, I cannot pick one, because both do opposite jobs and both were so vital for the club. Terry is Mourinho personified, the leader on the pitch and no doubt the first name on the team-sheet. It helps he lives and breathes Chelsea Football Club and this passion exudes in his play and his team-mates’ play. And then we have Eden Hazard, who has come to life this season. £32 million was an absolute steal and he looks a genuine gem of a boy, no ego, married with kids, and he dug his side out a lot with his goals, assists, and all-round creativity. Both cannot go unnoticed, so the fight for Chelsea Player of the Year will be interesting!

Villain of the season?

Not sure anyone really put a foot wrong consistently over the season, or has caused anyone troubles. I always feel players should fight for their position and not chicken out and leave and Andre Schurrle opted to take this easy route back home, but he was a very worthwhile player in the first half of our season.

What team and tactics are we likely to see from Chelsea on Monday?

With nothing to lose or gain for both sides, I expect a very different, inexperienced Chelsea side. I imagine Cech and Terry at the back will steal mean it is a very disciplined performance, and perhaps we will see some (youthful) naivety with the likes of Loftus-Cheek/Brown who should get some game-time. I can’t imagine a thrilling game; it is probably just going to turn out to be a professional training session.

Prediction for and thoughts on the game?

1-1. Can’t imagine Chelsea really going for it, and cannot imagine a clean sheet as we are really for the taking here, if Mourinho does put as much youth out as possible. But we have earned that right to.

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Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had four years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.

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© Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle, 2011-2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this Blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Chelsea vs. West Brom Preview

Ahead of this Saturday’s clash with West Brom, I spoke to AlbionTillWeDie.co.uk, outlining my predictions for the match and season ahead. Here are my thoughts:

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It’s been a great first few months of the season for the Blues, currently sitting top of the Premier League unbeaten, and progressing nicely in both the Champions League and the Capital One Cup. Did the Chelsea support expect such a good start?

Absolutely; in all honesty, it should have gone better! There was so much optimism for the start of this season, because we knew we were not far off last season and with the additions in the summer, we felt very confident. However, fan optimism doesn’t necessarily translate into player performance — many buckle, as we are maybe seeing with Manchester City — which is where Mourinho has had to step in and reign in the ego so there’s no chance of complacency. I talk about it potentially having been better, of course referring to the two Manchester games, but we can settle for those solitary points away from home.

There’s been lots of talk recently as to whether Chelsea can go the entire season unbeaten, do you feel it’s really achievable or are you expecting a few hiccups somewhere along the way?

No I don’t, it’s very easy to not believe Mourinho’s words sometimes because he is uncannily smart and thinks through everything he conducts in his life, but I agree with him when he says this is a different era. At the turn of the millennium, it was really a top two, then top four, now arguably top six. It’s getting too competitive for a single team to walk is, which is what an unbeaten season would require. Having said that, whilst I don’t believe we can go unbeaten, securing Premier League points early is vital. It gets busy from February onwards and Chelsea suffered in April with the Atletico semi-finals sandwiching a Liverpool game, but this season, it looks like they’re buying themselves a bit of lee-way, securing the Premier League points early in the season where there’s not much else going on, allowing for the odd prioritisation of Champions League in the latter stages of the season.

 

How confident are you of seeing success in the Champions League?

You could always argue a case for Chelsea to win it, but so you could for Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. I’d imagine Chelsea have a semi-final berth in the bag, but then it comes down to the luck of the draw, and whether Mourinho can finally break his bad run of semi-final exits. Having said that, if we get past that hurdle, I can’t imagine Chelsea losing in the final.

 

Do the Blues have any obvious weakness that other teams should be looking to exploit?

 Yes if a full-strength side is not played. Many experts have made out that Fabregas is the weak link is the holding role and, granted, he is better further forward, but sitting deep allows him to utilise his other qualities, which is to read the game and dictate. He would be crowded out further forward with Hazard/Oscar etc and his versatility is useful. Whilst Courtois continues to get praise, I personally feel much more assured with Cech in goal still (this is not to say Courtois is a weakness). But when the fringe players play, that is where any team can really go for it. At the back, you will have the youngsters to have a go out (Zouma, Christensen, Ake) whilst up top, the likes of Schurrle will hardly scare you as much as Hazard/Costa.

Player of the season so far?

 Where to start! Costa for his goals and Fabregas for his assists have, of course, been the main talking points. But spare a thought, for me, for Nemanja Matic. One of the most startling present figures in the Chelsea team and fills a void Chelsea have had to deal with since Makelele left. Mikel was neither very defensive or very attacking; Matic can be relied upon to help Cahill out, but also to provide the assist of an assist for Chelsea’s frontmen.

Anyone been particularly disappointing?

 You have to say Schurrle.That right-wing spot is there for the taking: every other spot is taken but the fact Willian and Schurrle keeps changing for the right-wing berth suggests no-one has performed with immense consistency to fulfil it (hence Marco Reus rumours). On the back of a World Cup win, you would have expected a little more. Other than that, Felipe Luis has been OK when he has had his minutes but worth the £19 million for a 29-year-old? No.

Chelsea signed highly-rated young Albion midfielder Izzy Brown in an acrimonious deal back in July 2013, how’s he progressing?

 He’s done well, causing Mourinho to go as far as saying he would have failed if he can not make Brown an England contender for the future. 10 goals and six assists in 22 U21 appearances is a promising start, and will leave WBA even more infuriated he left with only peanuts for his services.

Prediction for Chelsea’s season?

 All the way in the Premier League. At least a semi-final in the Champions League. FA Cup winners and League Cup semis.

Prediction for Albion’s season?

 You’ll do alright. Three wins in the last 10 Premier League games will disappoint but Irvine looks an astute, if unpopular, figure. With the fact he is not the big name, WBA fans’ deflation may well translate into lower expectations and thus work in his favour.

Premier League Champions?

 Chelsea.

Relegated?

 Burnley, QPR, Crystal Palace.

Prediction and thoughts on Saturday’s game?

Chelsea should walk it, unless the international break has left us with a deteriorating Chelsea identity which Mourinho cannot re-find in the next days. However, Cahill has been inconsistent this season (sometimes brilliant, other times caught out) and Courtois does not fill me with as much confidence in getting a clean sheet as Cech does, so 3-1 for me.
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Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had three years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.

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