From April 2nd, 2011 to May 28th, 2011 – from the encounter at The Britannia Stadium to the UEFA Champions League final at Wembley, lies the season-defining period for the West London Club. The countdown will begin this weekend in the league and will end whenever The Champions League charge does for the Blues. Chelsea Football Club has to play the following matches in this period:
- In the League, the Londoners will play Stoke, West Brom, Man United and Everton away, while Wigan, Birmingham, West Ham, Tottenham and Newcastle will visit Stamford Bridge.
- In the Champions League, Chelsea FC will take on Man United over two legs in the Quarter-Final. A triumph here would, in all likelihood, set a date with defending champions Internazionale in the Semi-Final, with a prospective final showdown against Barcelona or Real Madrid at Wembley on the horizon.
- The FA Youth Cup holders, Chelsea FC, will take on Man United in the Semi-Final of the prestigious under-18 tournament with the goal of reaching back-to-back finals clear in their minds.
In the league, the Stamford Bridge club is still 9 points behind the Red Devils, with a game in hand and the match at Old Trafford remaining. Realistically, as things stand, United are not in Chelsea’s radar. If Man United drops points along the way and Chelsea does not, this equation may change; however, knowing Sir Alex and the importance of The Nineteenth for the club, such a scenario is difficult to imagine.
Chelsea look more certain of finishing in the top-4 now than before, and thus presently stand at unfamiliar crossroads. With the Premiership title beyond them, for the first time in years, they can afford to realign their priorities toward conquering Europe. This is trademark Ancelotti territory, as the erstwhile Milan coach has pulled of similar Italian Jobs in the not-so-distant past. Fortunately or otherwise, the expectations of fans and club management are sky high. The venue, New Wembley, being a favourite hunting ground for the Blues has only added fuel to the embers of expectations.
After the draw, supporters of the West London club didn’t waste anytime before drawing out detailed, if fanciful, plans of exacting revenge. Man United, for the misfortune at Moscow; Inter, for being out-classed at the Bridge and finally Barcelona, for being blatantly robbed at home. If only it were that simple! If Chelsea progresses, each of these teams will pose extremely tough questions; whether Ancelotti’s team can answer them remains to be seen.
Chelsea v Man United: head-to-head
At the moment, Chelsea just can’t get enough of Manchester United. If the men from Stamford Bridge squaring off against their rivals wasn’t enough, the boys also have to take on the Red Devils in the FA Youth Cup Semi-Final. The Chelsea Academy has been under the limelight with some recent triumphs. Under Roman, massive investments have been made to bring the academy at par with the best in Europe. Gradually, all that effort has begun to bear fruit as the young Blues have reached the Youth Cup final twice in last three years, losing to City in 2008 and prevailing over Aston Villa last season. Now, they come face to face against a club who has been the most successful in this competition, winning the cup as many as ten times compared to Chelsea’s three.
In the last three games, the boys in blue have displayed tremendous fighting spirit by coming from behind to progress, including a fourth round victory over Arsenal, a club whose youth setup needs no introduction. The under-18s are eager to emulate the achievement of their predecessors, and even if they fail after giving their all, they would have made the club proud.
The expectations have risen over the last two months or so, drastically. However, not so long ago the pundits had written off the team, the manager and even the club. If we take into account Chelsea’s abysmal form between November and January, which was the worst for the West London club in over a decade, one can somewhat understand the reason behind such opinion.
So, what has been the difference in this period?
First of all, it has to be the tactical change. Carlo had tried almost all different formations, before he gave 4-4-2 a try. This system has worked for the club. Lampard and Essien have had to work harder in the two-man midfield, but have responded admirably. However, the star of the show has been Ramires, who was unfairly put to the sword initially and dismissed as a failure. As it is with midfielders moving to a newer league, he took time to settle, but once the Brazilian found his feet here, there has been no looking back. He has been deployed on the right side of midfield, and has not only kept the opposition’s left-back in check by utilising the right flank but has also helped the midfield on the whole with his industry. If Ramires has made the 4-4-2 work at Chelsea, the other Benfica import David Luiz has endeared himself to the fans by his swagger, passion, enthusiasm, ball-skills, and his goals. By scoring twice, first against United and then against City, he was the difference between draws and wins. His goals are worth their weight in gold.
This season Chelsea has had to deal with a debilitating injury crisis. Even when the players returned to action, they took considerable time to get back to their best. This is what hurt the team, even more than the injuries. For long spells, players such as Essien, Lampard, and Drogba were only a shadow of their usual selves after making a comeback. However, now the medical room is more or less empty, with long-term absentee Benayoun taking the field for Israel after being sidelined for six months and Alex also being close to a return. Soon, Carlo will have a full squad to chose from. In the final dash to the finish line, these two players can and will play a big role.
The players rediscovered their lost aura, the hunger to win and to play for the shirt was there to be seen. Surprisingly, when Chelsea was sinking in the league, the players on the pitch looked deflated, almost as if the self-belief and morale had taken a severe hit. Either it was the grief surrounding the unceremonious ouster of Ray Wilkins, or their inability to pick themselves up after falling down, resulting in a downward spiral. Even luck deserted them. The team lost games which it should have drawn and drew when it should have won. The goal-posts were rattled more often, and goalkeepers such as Foster reserved their best for them. It’s said you make your own luck, and once the players began to fight, they grew luckier.
The team has turned a corner, and expectations have risen. The next 57 days are very important, not only because they hold the key to the silverware locker but also because they have the power to shape Chelsea Football Club’s long term future. An average show by the club may get Carlo Ancelotti fired in the summer. Carlo candidly admitted some time back that he considered himself lucky to be still in-charge. Consider Chelsea’s managerial merry-go-round, and one can’t help but agree with him. Unfortunately, stability is underrated at Chelsea, and for the good of the club this has to change.
A trophy, or more specifically, The Trophy will change everything. We all yearn for the holy grail, which has been so near yet so far for the club, however, this time my reasons are slightly different.