After a wildly fluctuating 2015 for Chelsea FC which saw the club win their fourth Premier League title as well as make their worst ever start to a Premier League campaign, the new year brings with it fresh optimism for the Blues’ faithful
Perhaps the humiliating 5-3 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane on the first day of 2015 was some manner of divine foreshadowing of the year that was to follow. For although there were the memorable highs of exacting revenge for that defeat to lift the Capital One Cup, and of course, the Premier League title win, Blues’ supporters bore witness to an unprecedented, unmitigated disaster of a half-season in the latter half of the recently concluded calendar year.
Jos Mourinho, who was tipped to build a dynasty at Stamford Bridge, departed in December after failing to drag the Blues out of a hole that few could believe they were in. Chelsea FC ended the year close to the relegation zone, and former interim manager Guus Hiddink returned in an attempt to steer the ship to calmer waters before the end of the season.
2016 has started on the perfect note for the Blues, who beat 5th-placed Crystal Palace 3-0 away from home, giving supporters cause for optimism ahead of what promises to be a crucial year for the short to medium-term future of the club.
Here are five wishes of a Chelsea FC fan for the new year
1. Finishing the 2015-2016 season strongly
The Premier League champions will be unable to defend their crown for the sixth year in a row, as England’s top division becomes ever harder to win in consecutive seasons due to the increasing commercial success of the league, and consequently, the ever-growing financial strength of the top and mid-table clubs in the country.
Chelsea FC will not retain their title, and a top four finish is a tall order given the form of teams like Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City, as also the fact that they have a hugely significant head-start on the Blues because of how the first half of the season panned out. However, Guus Hiddink and his side can finish the season in the top half, and possibly even snatch a Europa League place by putting a strong run together.
The Stamford Bridge outfit have now been undefeated in four straight games in the league, and have two back-to-back home games against West Bromwich Albion and Everton to extend that run. The supporters have grown increasingly disillusioned with the team — the likes of Diego Costa and Cesc F bregas have been targeted in the recent past — and only a strong finish to the season can win them back.
More than anything else, finishing in the top half, possibly as high as 5th or 6th, would help set the tone for next season too. Certain players will be fighting for their futures at the club, and it is to be hoped they play like it in what remains of the campaign.
2. Winning the FA Cup
The last time Chelsea FC finished outside the top four, they won the club’s first and only Champions League trophy and the FA Cup. That has been a constant theme throughout the Roman Abramovich era, and the ‘winning attitude’ that is needed at such top clubs — and that has been so manifest in players like Didier Drogba, John Terry and Frank Lampard — is cultivated only through such persistence and determination in adversity.
This might well be the Blues’ worst league campaign since the Russian billionaire bought the club in 2003, but Hiddink and the team have a legitimate chance at winning the FA Cup. On paper, Chelsea can match any of the top teams in the country, particularly in a season when none have been truly spectacular for any consistent amount of time.
Winning the FA Cup, then, is not an unreasonable expectation, and not only would it bring with it European football — albeit not at the desired level of competition — but would also build momentum going into a supremely important off-season. Of course, it would also be a massive lift for the supporters, who have had to endure a fair amount already throughout the course of this campaign.
3. Keeping Eden Hazard at Chelsea FC
Although the Belgian signed a new 5-year contract in 2015, potential suitors — the likes of Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain — will be discerning enough to realise that the summer transfer window will arguably be their best opportunity to woo Hazard.
Chelsea are unlikely to finish in the top four, and will probably not win the Champions League this season, meaning the club could be without Champions League football for the first time since 2003. The Blues are also without a permanent manager and could miss out on their top targets in Pep Guardiola and Diego Simeone. This period of uncertainty would be the ideal time to try and engineer a move for Hazard, despite the fact that he has had a poor season on an individual level as well.
The Blues must do everything in their power to keep the Belgian at the club. Fortunately, given the time remaining on his contract, the club hold all the cards and should be able to hang on to their most valuable player even if the likes of Real Madrid come calling.
Quite simply, even if huge money were offered, bringing in a player better than Hazard would be a near impossibility with no Champions League football as leverage. Very little good, if any at all, can come of moving the 24-year-old.
4. Appointing a permanent manager that will take the club forward
The last permanent manager that replaced Jos Mourinho wanted to sell Didier Drogba, and lasted just six months into the season. Chelsea FC cannot afford a repeat of Luiz Felipe Scolari given the displays of naked ambition by Manchester City in recent transfer windows, as well as the financial muscle of Manchester United and the resurgence of Arsenal FC.
Carlo Ancelotti is not an option any longer, with the Italian confirming his move to Bayern Munich for the start of the 2016-2017 season, while Pep Guardiola seems to be headed to Manchester City.
Diego Simeone is arguably the best manager the club can try and lure, even though there are reservations about his suitability to the English Premier League, and indeed legitimate questions as to why he would leave a young, ambitious Atl tico Madrid side in the first place.
Names like Brendan Rodgers and Manuel Pellegrini are hugely concerning for Blues’ fans however, given both managers share a similarly dogmatic obsession for ‘attractive football’, and both have had to pay dearlyas a consequence of it. Neither Rodgers nor Pellegrini are ‘bad’ managers, but the Chelsea FC board have to appoint someone that can take the club forward — someone whose appointment would not initiate another cycle of managerial sackings and half-yearly upheavals.
5. Giving academy graduates a real chance in the first team
In recent years, Chelsea FC have had the best academy side in the country, if not in Europe, evidenced by the trophies that have been won at youth level — particularly in the last couple of seasons. Several players from those sides have gone on to make their first-team d buts, but establishing themselves in the first team has proved to be an intractable issue.
When all is said and done, what it ultimately takes is a leap of faith on the part of the manager and the club hierarchy — full trust in a young player, and a willingness to back him all the way. Perhaps more saliently, it requires the club to capitalise on the momentum a player might build in his career to ensure he remains on the crest of a wave.
Dele Alli is a brilliant example of this. The youngster went from playing in England’s third division, to establishing himself in the Tottenham Hotspur first team and scoring for England against France in front of tens of thousands at the iconic Wembley stadium in the space of about six months.
Chelsea FC academy graduate Andreas Christensen, for instance, is a regular for Borussia M nchengladbach and has been impressive for the German side playing against some of the very best teams in Europe in the biggest competitions in club football. The young Dane is riding a wave, and is a player the Blues should trust to assert himself next season in the first-team squad, if not in the starting XI.
The likes of Jeremie Boga and Dom Solanke should also be knocking on the first-team door in the near future, and the Blues must make sure they capitalise on the wealth of talent in their academy ranks.