What a season. To be honest it’s pretty hard to remember all the ups and downs – there have been so many. We don’t seem to do things the simple way. We’ve gone from being top of the world to feeling devastated in a matter of months, and sometimes minutes. I’m not sure what to make of the season overall – what one word would cover it? Rollercoaster? Unconvincing? I quite like redeemed. Winning the FA Cup was a sweet moment, but at the beginning of the 2008 season we had perhaps hoped for more, and there were times during that last game against Barcelona where I believed we might just get it.
This review will hopefully cover all the highs and lows of the last 11 months as a Chelsea fan. I’ll try and cover events on and off the pitch. And I’ll give you my frank opinion. Let me know what I’ve missed!
The summer transfer window
Ben Haim, Wright-Phillips, Boulahrouz, Makele and Sidwell all left the club for less salubrious climes, whilst Shevchenko, Pizzaro and Scott Sinclair went out on loans. Coming in the other direction were Bosingwa, Deco and Mineiro; Mancienne came back from a loan spell at Wolves. The biggest news of the window was of the negative kind: Robinho ended up at Man City, which surprised everyone, not least the Chelsea megastore, which had (somewhat ambitiously) started selling Robinho replica shirts.
Champagne moment: – the Robinho transfer to City surprised everyone, including him.
Leaving aside pre-season friendlies in the Far East and Russia (which included, and don’t let this worry you, a 5-0 defeat of Ancelotti’s AC Milan), the season began in earnest on 17 August, with a home game to Portsmouth. We won 4-0, with Cole, Anelka, Lampard and Deco on the score sheet. Heady times! Less exciting games followed with a narrow 0-1 victory over Wigan and a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Tottenham. The latter result doesn’t sound that terrible looking back, but you have to remember that at the time Tottenham hadn’t won a game… It’s also worth a mention that Deco won Player of the Month for August – doesn’t that seem a long time ago now?!
International friendlies brought the welcome news that John Terry had been (re)awarded the England captaincy. He led the team to a 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic, with Brown and Chelsea-boy Joe Cole on the scoresheet. Lampard was not a favourite with the fans, booed off the pitch when substituted after 79 minutes.
Champagne moment of the month: Nowt to do with Chelsea, but the Dutch accent.
September began with uninspiring internationals, as England managed to score two goals without conceding against the mighty Andorra. Having seen his side booed off at half-time, Joe Cole came off the bench to save the day scoring both goals. Walcott grabbed a hat-trick three days later in the 1-4 win in Croatia, with Rooney getting the other. The bad news of the international period was an injury to Michael Essien, which ruled him out for more than six months of the season – one of the the most significant moments of the season. Injuries aside, September was a pretty good month for Chelsea – it started with a 1-3 victory away at Man City (inevitably Robinho scored, but Carvalho, Frank and Anelka goals put the City fans back in their box). You may also remember this game for being the one in which JT got sent off for serious foul play – a decision later over-turned by the FA. A 1-1 draw at home to Man Utd (Kalou with a late equaliser) was sandwiched either side by two four-nil wins – at home in the Champions League to Bordeaux (Lampard, Cole, Malouda and Anelka) and away to Portsmouth in the Carling Cup (Lampard twice, Malouda and Kalou). The month ended with a 0-2 victory away to Stoke (Bosingwa and Anelka).
For your average Chelsea fan the season was already working out a little different than we had expected – not least that we were scoring truckloads of goals. In the eight games since the start of the season we’d scored 20 and conceded just three. We were winning friends in football, and the press were giving us positive write-ups for the first time in months. Off the pitch we said a sad goodbye to Steve Clarke after 20 seasons at Chelsea as a player and a coach. And I couldn’t help but smile when the FA’s investigation into the set-to between Man Utd and Chelsea at the Bridge earlier in the year revealed that Utd had given ‘unreliable’ and ‘exaggerated’ evidence.
Champagne moment of the month: "To be honest I think the Special One needs a smack in the mouth", the Serie A season was only two games old, but if this nugget from Catania sporting director Pietro Lo Monaco is anything to go by, Inter manager Jose Mourinho had already made his mark. Special mention goes to Stuart Attwell, who awarded Reading a goal against Watford, despite the fact that their shot had flown four yards wide of the goal. In a season of terrible refereeing decisions (mostly in games involving Chelsea, that’s special…
Chelsea started the month with a disappointing result away to Cluj (a thrilling goalless draw), followed by a great performance at home to Aston Villa (2-0, goals from Cole and Anelka). Another great performance followed, seeing us win 0-5 away to Middlesbrough, with Kalou, Malouda, Lampard and Belletti all getting on the scoresheet. This victory probably has to go down as one of our best performances over the season, with The Times dubbing it ‘Blue Murder’ and The Guardian describing us as ‘a treat to watch’. Unheard of over the past two seasons. A gutsy display at home to Roma in the Champions League was next up, with JT the star of the show. Not only did he have a stormer in defence, he also popped up to score and secure our 1-0 victory.
The next visitors to the Bridge were old rivals Liverpool. Chelsea were unable to respond to Xabi Alonso’s deflected first half-goal, one of the first games where Scolari’s lack of a plan B started to cause concern. The loss was momentous: in part because it suggested that Liverpool might finally be getting serious about the Premiership, but also because it marked the end of our 86-game unbeaten run at home in the league. A crazy, crazy stat. It’s almost incomprehensible to think of a team going unbeaten for that long. The boys got applause as they left the pitch in recognition of the achievement, if not for their lacklustre performance. We finished the month on a high with a comprehensive three goal victory away at Hull (Lampard, Anelka and Malouda doing the necessary).
Champagne moment of the month: Lampard’s goal against Hull – as reported in the Daily Mail, ‘this was a drifted effort, clipped off the laces of his left boot after just three minutes, which was exhilarating as well as exquisite, stunning in its execution’. Scolari described it as the best goal he’d ever seen. It wouldn’t be right not to also remind you all that October was the month of Joe Kinnear’s infamous, 46 swear-word rant at the Daily Mail.
By this time, a clear pattern was emerging. After a great September, and an okay October, we endured a decidedly average November. An easy win over Sunderland (unreturned goals from Alex – our 1,000th in the PL – and Lampard plus a hat-trick from Anelka) was followed by a pretty dismal performance away at the Olympic stadium, where a consolation goal for JT did nothing to deflect from the fact that we’d already conceded three (including one from former Chelsea boy, Christian Panucci). Chelsea managed away wins in the league over Blackburn (two goals from Anelka) and West Brom (Anelka with two again, with Bosingwa netting a third), but otherwise the month was disappointing. We contrived to go out of the Carling Cup on penalties to the mighty Burnley, a game famous for a classic Drogba performance – having returned from injury and scored a goal, his next move was to throw a coin at the away fans, earning himself a three match ban. Obviously we don’t condone violence, but I don’t really see why we should condone stupidity either. That thriller was followed by a goalless draw with Newcastle, a 1-1 draw with Bordeaux and an ill-deserved 2-1 defeat at home to Arsenal. (Ill-deserved on the basis that their first goal was offside. End of.) Arsenal were having their own problems off the pitch – William Gallas was stripped of the captaincy for criticising his team-mates. Wenger must have been on a different planet not to have seen that coming.
Scolari had somehow contrived to turn the Bridge – once a fortress up there with the best of them – into a place teams could come to with confidence. At this stage we’d won just three of eight league games at home. Already it was looking as though the title was beyond our grasp and with the Carling Cup gone as well, the pressure was beginning to build. On the international front, a friendly in Germany went well as England won 1-2, with Terry snatching the winner after Upson had given us the early lead.
Champagne moment of the month: Anelka’s unexpectedly determined performance in the rain away to Blackburn. As the Telegraph put it: ‘Apres le deluge, Le Sulk’.
And before we knew where we were, the festive season was upon us. Early December went well, with Deco and Anelka scoring in an away win over bogey team Bolton (an 11th straight away win in the league – a new PL record), and revenge over European minnows Cluj (a not so convincing 2-1, with goals from Kalou and Drogba). From there on in things went seriously downhill: a 1-1 draw with West Ham when a win would have seen us go top of the league (though I do remember with fondness Zola refusing to celebrate the West Ham goal), and a 0-0 draw with Everton. The 2-0 defeat of West Brom (Drogba and Lampard on the scoresheet) did nothing to compensate for the last minute goal from Clint Dempsey which denied us victory over Fulham. Dempsey opened and closed the scoring, with two Lampard goals in the middle not enough to ensure victory.
Champagne moment of the month: Liverpool’s golden boy Gerrard (OBE) shows off his cuddly side when he’s charged with assault and affray after an alleged brawl.
Three draws in four games was a new low, but January didn’t get any better. We started the New Year as we meant to go on – a 1-1 draw at home to Southend in the FA Cup. Maybe we were a touch unlucky to concede in the 90th minute for the second consecutive game (after Kalou had put us ahead), but frankly being only one goal up against Southend was never going to be satisfactory, and the football was enough to send even the most die-hard fan to sleep. That confidence-destroyer was followed by a devastating loss to Man Utd. Conceding goals to Vidic, Berbatov and Rooney, whilst (to be brutally honest) not offering anything ourselves was one of the lowest points of the season. The only consolation was that Ronaldo didn’t get on the scoresheet - quite frankly scraping the bottom of the ‘upsides’ barrel. What must Mourinho, who was in the ground ahead of Inter’s upcoming game against Utd, have thought? The team rallied through the rest of January, with wins over Southend (1-4, with goals from Ballack, Kalou, Anelka and Lampard), Stoke (Belletti and Lampard scored in a thrilling last minute come back from a goal down), Ipswich in the FA Cup (3-1, two from Ballack and one from Lampard) and Middlesbrough (2-0, both goals from Kalou). January was also the last time we saw Joe Cole play – an innocuous looking tackle during the Southend replay saw his season come to an early close.
Off the pitch the transfer window saw us lose Carlo Cudicini (great servant to the club – but did he really have to go to Spurs?) and Wayne Bridge, with Quaresma coming to us from Inter Milan. Not sure we got the best end of those deals, and Mourinho must have been laughing to land us with that waste of space…
Champagne moment: Has to be the Stoke performance. Pretty much everyone had given up on a Chelsea win (plenty of fans had already left the stadium), when Frank’s grit and determination dragged Chelsea back into the game with just two minutes of normal time left to play. A fitting performance to celebrate his 400th game for the club. Just for laughs, it’s worth re-watching ol’ big nose’s commentary on Gilette Soccer Saturday as Lampards sticks the ball in the net for the winner here. Honourable mention for champagne moment of the month has to be the ‘Rafa Rant’. You’d think if he’d learnt anything it would be not to play mind games with Fergie…
Whilst England were busy losing 0-2 in Spain, February saw two more less than classic performances that marked the end of Scolari’s tenure at the Bridge. First up we were away at Liverpool. Now, I’m happy to admit that we were mediocre in that game, but we were nonetheless hanging on for a gutsy 0-0 until the referee decided to dismiss Lampard in the 60th minute because he’d been fouled by Alonso. Even with ten-men, we hung on for another half an hour, before Torres scored in the 89th minute, and then again five minutes into injury time. I’m sure you’re seeing a trend here, but Lampard’s red-card was later overturned. I’m not an expert or anything, but overturning red cards after a game’s already been lost isn’t much use to anyone. The Liverpool game was followed by a 0-0 draw with Hull (pretty much the last point they would score in the league).
And we all know what happened next. Early on the 9th February we all got the news that Scolari had been fired with the Chelsea spokesman stating that: “unfortunately the results and performances of the team appeared to be deteriorating at a key time in the season.” Sorry as I felt for Scolari, and despite the champagne football we’d played at times, things were going from bad to worse, and he looked clueless. Scolari had won us friends, but not games. Whilst there was talk at the time about spineless Chelsea players having got Scolari the sack, the performances that followed under the new manager underlined the wisdom of the decision to let him go.
Chelsea soon announced Hiddink as an interim manager until the end of the season, but he sat on the bench as Ray Wilkins led Chelsea to a 1-3 victory over Watford in the FA Cup, with a hat-trick from that man again: Nicholas Anelka. The game also saw Mancienne’s first senior performance for the club – hopefully someone we’ll see more of over the next couple of seasons. Hiddink swiftly delivered results in his first three games at the helm, guiding us to victories in the league over Aston Villa (0-1, Anelka) and Wigan (2-0, a spectacular scissor-kick volley from JT and a last-minute header from Lamps). Sandwiched in between was the home leg of our Champions League 4th round tie against Juventus, which saw Drogba score the winner against Chelsea old-boy, Claudio Ranieri.
Champagne moment of the month: Is there even a choice? You don’t see scissor-kick volleys from defenders very often you know… Also worth a mention is ITV’s clanger as they missed Everton’s late winner against Liverpool in the FA Cup.
After an eventful February, we were all looking forward to a more sedate March. And we pretty much got it. A Lampard goal gave us a narrow victory at Portsmouth in the league, which was followed by a two-goal victory away to Coventry in the Quarter-Finals of the FA Cup (Drogba and Alex). A 2-2 draw in the Stadio Olimpico with Juventus was enough to guarantee us a place in the draw for the Champions League quarter final. Another narrow victory in the league over Man City (Essien the only scorer, marking his return to the side with a bang) preceded the only low-point in the month: a 0-1 defeat to bitter rivals Spurs. The result was galling on three fronts – losing to spurs is always a killer (rare as it has been), we probably should have snatched an equaliser, and it effectively ended our title challenge as we failed to capitalise on Utd’s loss to Fulham earlier in the day.
Off the pitch, we received the less than good news that Chelsea were going to be playing Liverpool again in the Champions League. Everything may well have worked out ok, but when we drew Liverpool for the 5th successive year I was ready to throw my laptop out the window at the thought of another 180 minutes of turgid football against that team.
Champagne moment of the month: Tough choice this one – I’m declaring it a draw between the goal-scoring return of Michael Essien – boy did having the Bison back make a difference – and a classic moment on Setanta: "Everything will be OK once Arsene Wenger flies to Senegal and picks up a couple of young boys... eh, no, not like that". An Arsenal fan on Football Matters unintentionally reduced the studio audience and several pundits to paroxysms of mirth, prompting Rebecca Lowe and James Richardson to head hastily for an ad break.
To hell with convention, I’m going to deal with both the spring internationals in the month of April, even though one took place at the end of March. Daring. England were on a pretty good roll, with a 4-0 victory over Slovakia (goals from Heskey, Rooney and Lampard), and a 1-2 victory over Ukraine (Crouch and captain-fantastic Terry for England, and one from Sheva for Ukraine – which makes the score Chelsea 2 England 1 as far as I’m concerned). Back on the domestic front, April was a huge month for Chelsea. In a period where we played Liverpool twice, Arsenal, Everton and Barcelona, a record of five wins and three draws is one to be proud of. We started out with a 0-2 victory away to Newcastle in the league, with Ballack and Malouda on the scoresheet. It’s worth noting that from here on in, Malouda’s name starts to figure a lot more, and he deserves credit for turning it around and becoming the player we all hoped he could be.
Next up was that beautiful, beautiful game against Liverpool. We outclassed them. Destroyed them even. Great discipline and guts from the team to come back from an early goal from Torres, and the effective plan to stop Liverpool from playing helped us to see what was meant when Guus was described a master tactician. Having gone down early, we fired back with two unexpected headed goals from Branislav Ivanovic, who will forever be a Chelsea legend on the strength of that one performance. Drogba got the third, having had plenty of opportunities to make it more. It was a breathtaking performance.
Before the return leg, we had to navigate a tricky home game to Bolton. This one will also stick in the mind – though not necessarily for the right reasons. Coasting at four up (two from Drogba and one each from Ballack and Lampard), our defence took a break and we conceded three goals in eight hideous minutes. Panic genuinely set in after the first, something many of us hadn’t seen at the Bridge for years. Whilst we held on to take all three points, it wasn’t exactly the confidence-building performance we had wanted just days before one of the biggest games of our season.
And now to a game that will go down as one of the great Champions League games. The 4-4 thriller at Stamford Bridge. Having lost the first leg by two goals, and conceded three away goals, Liverpool needed to win by three, or win by two and score at least four. It couldn’t be done. Could it? Things started badly as we conceded two goals in the first half. The first, a Fabio Aurelio free-kick, went in after a pretty bad error from Cech and the second was an Alonso penalty. At half-time, it felt like the impossible was happening. Liverpool needed just one more goal to overturn their first leg deficit and win the tie. In the second half, the craziness continued – Drogba scored, courtesy of a Reina error (read: he parried the ball into his own net), Alex powered in an awesome free kick, and Lampard scored our third. With less than 15 minutes left to play, Liverpool were back to needing three goals to win the tie. I’ll say it again: it couldn’t be done. Could it? Well, the short answer is no, but they gave it a pretty good try. Inexplicably Chelsea seemed to switch-off, and Liverpool took advantage with two goals in two minutes from Lucas and Kuyt. Ten minutes left to play, and they needed just one more. Some of the most nervous moments of my life. Super-Frank finally stepped in to make the game safe, with an awesome strike that flew in after coming off the inside of both posts. Every Chelsea fan had aged ten years, but boy was it worth it.
The rest of the month was sedate in comparison. We came from behind to beat Arsenal 2-1 in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, with Malouda keeping up his fine Wembley record and Drogba scoring the winner. A goal-less draw to Everton at home was followed by a 0-1 victory away to West Ham (Kalou). The end of the month saw us take-on Barcelona in the Nou Camp. In the face of the immense pressure of facing a team being described as the best in the world, our boys executed a flawless game plan to stop them from playing. In all honesty we didn’t create much ourselves (though on a better day Drogba could have scored), and rode our luck a little, but it was an awesome display of power, commitment and discipline, and one that few sides in Europe are capable of.
Off the pitch Frank Lampard defended his conduct over his split with ex Elen Rives on a call to London’s LBC radio station. Maybe it wouldn’t have been the PR man’s recommendation, but he made some good points about people making judgements when they don’t know (and will never know) the full story.
Champagne moment of the month: Easy – either of the Champions League games against Liverpool. But please, please, please – no more! And for that matter, can we avoid Barca too in future please?
And so quickly into May. The crunch end. Squeaky bum time and all that jazz. It started off simply – a relatively easy 3-1 victory at home to Fulham (with Anelka, Malouda and Drogba to thank for the goals). Next up, the second game against Barcelona. Now much ink has already been spent on this game. I’m sure you all know the facts. Chelsea defended brilliantly minimising the Barcelona threat to nothing, Essien scored one of the best goals you could wish to see, we go on to create good opportunities and are denied at least three cast iron penalties, and then concede in the last minute to an Iniesta goal. We lose the tie having not lost either game. I’m not sure how much I can add. The one thing I would like to say is that I was very proud of the players and am gutted they didn’t get what they deserve. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group of footballers who worked as hard as they did in that game. They gave it absolutely everything, they were disciplined, and they worked hard for the team. Anytime anyone calls Chelsea players spoilt, or in it for the cash, they should be made to watch that game and see the blood, sweat and tears they left on the pitch.
The league fizzled to an end as Utd took the title again, but we finished in style with an inexplicable 1-4 victory against Arsenal (Alex, Anelka, and Malouda), a 2-0 victory over Blackburn (Anelka twice) and a 2-3 victory against Sunderland (Anelka, helping himself to the golden boot, Kalou and Ashley Cole – well deserved for a great season). We finish third in the league: respectable, albeit not what we would have wanted at the start of the year. There’s no doubt that Liverpool have got better, so at least for the next couple of years it could be a three-horse race. We’re going to need to find a way to step it up and get back our old consistency if we’re going to challenge for the title again.
And after cheering Barcelona on to beat Man Utd in the Champions League final, we come to the final game of the season, the one you’ve all been waiting for since you started reading this review: the FA Cup Final. A great atmosphere – I was thrilled for Everton fans (though not so thrilled I wished them anything other than defeat). Everton and David Moyes have had a great season, and certainly deserved to be there. In classic Chelsea style, we went down early (has anyone noticed that it generally takes us 20 minutes to get into a game?). In fact, super early – in the 25th second, Saha beat Roberto di Matteo’s record of 43 seconds for the fastest goal scored in an FA Cup Final. Once again, we were relying on Chelsea’s grit and determination to bring us home the Cup. And they delivered. Drogba pulled a great header out of the bag, and Frank won us the game with a magic strike, at the same time bagging his 20th goal of the campaign for the fourth consecutive season. It should be said that Malouda also continued his great record at Wembley, scoring a goal that was ultimately disallowed because the lino had trouble determining whether or not it had crossed the line. Fortunately no more bad luck was to dog us, and the poor decision didn’t cost us the game. John Terry lifted the Cup. And we all thanked Guus for rescuing us mid-season, for taking us so close to the ultimate prizes, and for leading us to FA Cup.
Champagne moment of the month: I could go for the obvious – Essien’s goal against Barca, Frank’s 20th goal, Cole’s fifth FA Cup medal (the only player to win five in the last century), or JT lifting the Cup. Instead I’m going to go for the Chelsea fans at our last home game of the season. The chants for Hiddink were awesome. The fans thanked him, showed they loved him and wanted him to stay, but ultimately remained respectful of his decision. 40,000 people behaving with a lot of grace. Something Chelsea fans, and football fans in general, are not often credited with, but on this occasion it happens to be true.