After Jose Mourinho’s tactical master-class at Stamford Bridge and a draw against Blackburn, Chelsea’s season was presumed to be over. Certain sections in the media had started debating on Ancelotti’s likely replacements, while others had drawn up plans of a major reshuffle of the squad. But as it is with most premature conclusions, this one too came back to haunt its proponents.
All teams face a transition period – It has to patiently phase out its veterans and replace them with younger talent – but talks of such drastic measures midway through the season were unjustified. The critics got the best possible reply as the team from West London showed remarkable resilience, hunger and intent in its quest to win the first ever domestic double in its history.
What has brought about this turnaround? It’s the same set of players (in fact even fewer as Branislav Ivanovic and Ricardo Carvalho were also sidelined due to injury), it has the same ‘beleaguered’ coach and it was not going to win its Holy Grail either this season. What has caused this drastic change in fortunes that has left its detractors befuddled?
Well, it’s a combination of a few factors –
The UEFA Champions League Exit
After yet another unexpected end to the Champions League campaign, the supporters were heart-broken, even more so, as their erstwhile icon had brought about the end. Over the past few seasons, the failure in Europe was associated with a feeling of injustice or even fate – A ghost goal by Luis Garcia, John Terry’s slip, and Thomas Henning Ovrebo to name a few. But this time, it was different– Chelsea did not deserve to go past Inter Milan. It gave the Blues a chance to introspect, as the defeat was not hidden beneath a cloak of misfortune. That they have fewer games to play does not hurt either.
The suave Italian could not get the better of The Special One but has been carving a special place for himself in the hearts of the fans and players, ever since his appointment. After Chelsea and Jose Mourinho parted ways, Roman wanted Carlo Ancelotti to take over the reins of the London club but his immediate unavailability was one of many reasons behind the managerial instability at the Bridge. Now that he is here, patience is of paramount importance, as fans are yearning for a legacy a la Ferguson and Wenger.
Behind the Italian’s calm demeanour, there is a very astute footballing brain. He has changed his tactics depending upon the players at his disposal and the situation the team is in. He switched from the much documented ‘diamond’ formation to 4-3-2-1 and most recently to a 4-3-3, after injuries to his first choice full-backs and the Blue engine in Essien. The fact that no current Chelsea player was able to do justice to the ‘tip of the diamond’ role, also contributed to the change in tactics.
The future also looks bright for Chelsea, with no less than five reserve team players being on the fringes of the first team. Ancelotti had a part to play in this development as the consistent performers in the youth setup have been given crucial exposure with the first team.
Ever since his appointment, he has been backing his players and has provided them with unconditional support. Chelsea has a satisfied dressing room, which in itself is no mean feat, considering the temperamental nature of its stars. This season, the Blues have played against the ‘Big Four’ sides five times, and have come out on top on each occasion including a double over Man United and Arsenal. Not bad for someone who is in his first season in English football? Make no mistake about it – Carlo Ancelotti is here to stay.
The Florent Malouda story is nothing short of a zero-to-hero tale. He joined Chelsea from Lyon in the summer of 2007 and until Guus Hiddink arrived, he was just a guy who had a weird hair-cut and whose name was mentioned along with the likes of Pizzaro and Shevchenko – Another failed signing for the Blues. He showed glimpses of his talent under Guus, one notable performance being at Anfield in the Champions League quarter-final, wherein Drogba scored off an inch-perfect grounded ball by Malouda from the left.
He again had to re-establish himself in the side after the arrival of the Milan boss and the apparent discord with Lampard – as reported by the media – did not help his situation either. But, he soon delivered a public statement that he has been misquoted by the press and is willing to fight for a place in the first team, which he did.
Malouda has been named the ‘Barclays Player of the Month’ for a series of outstanding performances which have propelled the resurgent Blues. Presently, the Frenchman is in the form of his life – He is scoring goals, he is creating a plethora of opportunities for his team mates and is a constant thorn in the flesh of the opposition. His fine spell in the league began at Stamford Bridge against West Ham and his influence has only grown thereafter. He was phenomenal against Portsmouth, Aston Villa and most importantly against Manchester United. Malouda has kept the left flank on perpetual fire.
On present form, he is arguably the most improved player in world football, and such has been his transformation that the once widely-berated Frenchman is simply adored by the fans.
These three factors, along with the back-in-form Frank Lampard and back-in-reckoning Alex have been the reason for the resurgence of Chelsea. It’s no co-incidence that Lampard’s game has improved after Ancelotti switched to a 4-3-3. He has always marvelled in this formation as he gets the space to pull the strings from mid-field and make his trademark devastating runs from the deep.
Chelsea defeated Aston Villa last night and progressed to its third FA Cup final in four years where they will meet either Tottenham or Portsmouth. In the league, the Blues have opened up a two-point lead after defeating the Red Devils in Manchester and are yet to face Bolton, Tottenham, Stoke, Liverpool and Wigan – out of which two fixtures will be played at White Hart Lane and Anfield.
Chelsea is yet to win anything of note this year and the Blues will have to continue their inspired run if they are to reclaim the league trophy from United. For now, one thing is certain – Their season is not over yet .