This has been an unforgettable – for reasons both good and bad – campaign for Chelsea. A highly rated new manager, a different philosophy, barely a few decent performances, a disastrous run giving way to yet another sacking, a legend summoned to steady the ship, a dream run in knockout competitions – indeed, this season has seen it all.

Chelsea will finish outside the top four in the Premiership for the first time in the Roman era; yet, with the FA Cup glistening in the trophy cabinet and with the Champions League final awaiting the club in Munich, the players have a chance to create history, to become an immortal part of the Chelsea folklore, if they aren’t already. When Andre Villas-Boas was sacked and replaced, on an interim basis, by Roberto di Matteo, most fans believed that the struggling West London club would find it difficult to qualify for Europe next season, much less win anything. From there, for Chelsea to be standing at the cusp of unmatched glory, is surreal.

Di Matteo has done his bit, but the Chelsea players deserve the plaudits for turning the season so remarkably on its head. Juan Mata, who’s been the fulcrum of creativity since his move from Valencia, was voted the fans’ player of the season, while Ramires was acknowledged as the players’ player of the season at the Chelsea awards night; a testimony to his importance to the club. Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard turned back the clock to lead Chelsea from the front; Terry marshaled the defense despite two broken ribs, Petr Cech restored an aura ofAi??invincibilityAi??around him when it mattered the most and Ashley Cole put a forgettable season behind him to become a model ofAi??consistency yet again. Even Chelsea’s supposed albatross Fernando Torres has played his part. But, there are a few, who despite being an integral part of this renaissance, haven’t received the recognition that they truly deserve.

Chelsea owe Mikel, Cahill, Kalou for their performances in the FA Cup and Champions League

Chelsea’s Sturdy Rook – John Obi Mikel

The Nigerian had been an enigma at Chelsea; full of promise, yet unable to live up to the expectations. When Villas-Boas tried to mold the team to play possession-based, high-pressing, attacking football, Mikel wasn’t seen as someone who could play a part in the new dynamic midfield. But when Di Matteo took charge and tried to restore solidarity, he looked towards none other than Mikel to anchor his midfield. Since then, he has featured in all crucial games for Chelsea, being their mainstay in particularly the knockout stages of the Champions League.

Chelsea’s unsung heroes – Mikel, Cahill and Kalou

Chelsea owe Mikel, Cahill, Kalou for their performances in the FA Cup and Champions League

Mikel - Lifting The Team When It Matters

Chelsea’s unsung heroes – Mikel, Cahill and Kalou

With game-saving tackles, interceptions and blocks per game in Europe, all achieved around a 90% passing accuracy, Mikel has done his job. Playing alongside Lampard in a double-pivot, he has not only shielded the central defense, often appearing as a third centre-back, but has also given Lampard the confidence to play his game from a deeper position. His most memorable performance this season was at Stamford Bridge against Barcelona, when he neutralized one of the best midfielders of this generation, Xavi.

With excellent passing skills, decent ball-retention ability and growing concentration levels, he has covered for his lack of speed. His positional sense needs to improve, but at 25, he is a young footballer, still capable of becoming the player he was once earmarked to become.

Chelsea owe Mikel, Cahill, Kalou for their performances in the FA Cup and Champions League

Chelsea’s White Knight – Gary Cahill

When a A?7m player, signed in January, is the best defender in a game against a team of the caliber of Barcelona, you know that he has adapted well to life in the Champions League. When it emerged that Chelsea were to sign Gary Cahill from Bolton, who’d been struggling, quite a few eyebrows were raised. Today, as Chelsea anxiously wait for him to be declared fit to take on Bayern in Munich, it’s an interesting reminder of how things have changed.

Chelsea’s unsung heroes – Mikel, Cahill and Kalou

My hamstring will have to be torn to shreds to keep me out of FA Cup & Champions League finals.” – Gary Cahill

Chelsea’s unsung heroes – Mikel, Cahill and Kalou

Cahill is reasonably quick, good in the air, and his positional sense and game-reading ability sees him make some vital, critical blocks. With 5.7 and 2.8 clearances per game in the Premier League and Champions League respectively, the Englishman doesn’t avert the danger by accident; he is at the right place, at the right time because of ability. Being a part of a poor Bolton defence, his game had started toAi??deteriorate in the first half of this campaign. An improvement in quality at Chelsea has seen him raise his game to match, even exceed, the performances of those playing around him. Signs of a terrific player, indeed.

Chelsea owe Mikel, Cahill, Kalou for their performances in the FA Cup and Champions League

Chelsea’s Selfless Pawn – Salomon Kalou

Players such as Kalou can be invaluable for teams who play in multiple competitions, season after season. The Ivory Coast international had always been a versatile player, capable of playing on either wing or through the middle of Chelsea’s three-pronged attack. That, coupled with his conduct wherein he seldom demanded for game-time of a starting berth, made him a useful squad player. A valid criticism was that his game hadn’t improved at Chelsea; nonetheless, he continued to be a super-sub, a fairly decent one at that.

He started the first two games under Villas-Boas, but after being subbed for performing poorly against West Brom, he seldom got an opportunity. When he did get one against Valencia, his hand ball cost Chelsea two points. Since then, he appeared to be on the way out, being frozen out by the young Portuguese manager. How things change in football; the change in regime has seen Kalou become the preferred choice for the left wing in the starting line-up, perhaps for the first time in his career as a Chelsea player.

When Mata played on the left of a 4-3-3, his lack of defensive ability had aAi??DopplerAi??effect on Ashley Cole, who suddenly appeared to be half the player he had been all his career. Many attributed that to age catching up with him, but it had more to do with lack of support on the left than to anything else. Di Matteo saw this and moved Mata permanently to the centre, playing Kalou ahead of Cole. Things changed.

Kalou is a tactically aware player, who is reasonably solid defensively. More than anything else, his work ethic at Chelsea is admirable. The goal he scored away at Benfica in the Champions League quarter-final was worth its weight in gold, if not in ivory (pun-intended).

It’s not yet clear what the future holds for Salomon, but even if he leaves Chelsea in the summer, he will with a smile on his face and fond memories of West London in his heart.

Mikel, Cahill and Kalou aren’t superstars; in all likelihood, they may even be players whom the majority of Chelsea fans love the least. However, when the vault has been closed on this era, it will hold evidence of just how fortunate Chelsea were to have these men take the field.

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6 Responses to “Chelsea FC – Mikel, Cahill, Kalou: Unsung Heroes At The FA Cup, Champions League”

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  1. prabhul says:

    god job dude. Great point of view. But you missed to mention another star RAMIRES. Who played well in champions league againsts barcelona

  2. Shivam says:

    Brilliantly written!
    Mikel and Cahill are surely playing the best football of their career. kalou is still what he was, but players like him are a must for any team. Like you say, he has no whims and does the job when needed.
    I thought you shud’ve mentioned paolo too. Hes not been the best for sometime, but he always puts up a sturdy performance when called upon, always a 7/10.

    @prabhul..i dot know about others, but all for us chelsea fans, He surely is a SUPERSTAR now.! 😀

  3. Adedeji lateef says:

    Actually,chelseahave to compeciat Di mateo this season for his wonderful performance compare to AVB who was playoing attarking foothball without geting the payer that will understand the pattern.

  4. Abdul Wasey says:

    I’ve always been a mikel fan from the day we signed him.. He’s I think a great successor to essien in the terms of central midfield. He has never had a bad season and I love these worthy players to be totally commited by body and by heart to chelsea.

    And hey karan, I’m your new reader.. plz do an article on essien..
    thanx

  5. Kaushal says:

    Brilliantly done Karan.Could’nt agree more with it. The service these guys especially Kalou and Mikel have given to Chelsea is incredible.Its sad that they dont get their dues sometimes.But they are just those type of players which the fans often make scapegoats when things go wrong.Chelsea’s unsung heroes.Hope they are rewarded with new deals.

  6. Abraham says:

    I have been waiting for someone to say exactly this. Didier Drogs is leaving and I can t take it easily. I hope Mikel and Kalou at least stay for another season or so to remind us of the team we once have been. Chelseaaaaa