Lewis Rutledge reflects on a turbulent season for Chelsea which has seen more managerial upheaval but from which pride has been salvaged after failing to defend the Champions League and falling behind in the title race.
Last Updated: 22/05/13 9:46am
There were high hopes at the start of the season that Chelsea could build on last year's thrilling Champions League success and mount a strong challenge for the Premier League title, but it has turned into a transitional year after another managerial change and the controversial appointment of Rafael Benitez. The Spaniard's unpopularity, his 'interim' tag and the incessant speculation about a possible return for Jose Mourinho has hardly provided the ideal backdrop for the players during a gruelling campaign which has taken in 69 games and included trips across Europe and to the Club World Cup in Japan. Many of those players are at opposite ends of their Chelsea careers, with several new recruits last summer having to adapt to life in the Premier League and the likes of John Terry and Frank Lampard having to wait for new deal offers.
Considering all these factors the verdict has to be that Chelsea have had a satisfactory season. There can be no escaping their failure to make it past the group phase of the Champions League or their inability to keep in touch with Manchester United in the title race, but they did win some silverware in the Europa League and secured a top-three finish. Lampard became the club's all-time record goalscorer but was by no means the only star of their season and there can no longer be criticism that the squad is too old, while there have been enough signs of the stylish football craved by Roman Abramovich to suggest they will be a major force in the next couple of years.
Player of the Year
Juan Mata was shortlisted for the PFA award after some sparkling performances this season and his consistency during a long season, after he had gone to Euro 2012 and the Olympics last summer, has been remarkable. The Spanish playmaker pulls the strings for Chelsea and contributes not just goals but also assists, while he is also a joy to watch with his fantastic vision, movement and touch.
Ratings Player of the Year
Mata was the player to rank highest with Sky Sports' reporters as he averaged 7.4 over the course of the season, with Eden Hazard coming in second. Mata was also a favourite with the readers as he averaged 7, which was beaten only by Demba Ba, who arrived halfway through the season.
Breakthrough Player of the Year
David Luiz has faced a lot of criticism since arriving at Stamford Bridge in January 2011 but he has turned that around this term with some eye-catching displays. His ability on the ball has never been in question and he has excelled since being pushed into midfield, scoring some superb goals, while his versatility makes him a key member of the squad.
Signing of the Year
Oscar and Cesar Azpilicueta have both impressed in their first season at the club but it is Eden Hazard who has stood out. The Belgium international has lived up to the hype following his move from Lille, terrorising Premier League defences with his quick feet and linking up to great effect with Mata. At the age of 22, he should be even more influential next term.
Could do better
Fernando Torres has not had a bad season but as their main striker more should still be expected from a player whose confidence appears far too fragile. A shadow of his former self, the Spaniard's regular goal droughts are likely to mean that Chelsea will bolster their attacking ranks in the summer and he may find himself surplus to requirements.
There was a lot of sympathy for Roberto Di Matteo when he was sacked in November, just a few months after guiding Chelsea to UEFA Champions League glory, and there followed dismay when Benitez was handed the reins. He has had an uneasy relationship with the fans since his appointment and the matter came to a head in late February when he criticised supporters and Roman Abramovich, whilst also making it clear that he had no desire to stay beyond the end of the season. The former Liverpool manager deserves credit for working in such difficult circumstances and also achieving the targets of Europa League success and a top-four finish, even if they were not quite what the club would have wanted at the start of the year. He has made a number of good tactical moves to improve the team as well, notably Luiz's move into midfield and a tightening up of their defence.
Jamie Redknapp's view
It's organised chaos at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea give a counter argument to everything good about football: we talk about Manchester United having consistency and continuity but Chelsea do everything back to front. And they get success doing it. It's probably not a good thing for the game, the way they change managers so often, but it is great for the Chelsea fans. However, saying that, I think they're only a forward away from winning the title. Instead of a one-horse race, which we've had this year, we'll have three or four teams really going for it next season and, with Fergie gone, it could be one of the most open title races we've had in a long time.
Fan's view (Dylan Clive)
In many respects this year has read from a similar script to that of last season; sack the manager, mid-season dip, interim boss rescues the situation and win a European competition. This is a club in transition and our results this campaign certainly bode well for next season, the potential return of the 'Special One' and the arrival of some star names to go with the exciting youth talent. Gratitude is owed to Rafa Benitez on an excellent job under all kind of pressures; perhaps we shall see you in the visitor's dugout next year but the last word belongs to Frank Lampard. 203 not out.