Chelsea have endured a roller-coaster of a season, coming out on top of the Premier League – rather comfortably in the end – and winning the Capital One Cup final for good measure. For a double-winning side, Chelsea can still be forgiven for looking back at a season that promised so much more. Or the Blues can count themselves lucky for having made it, despite showing a lack of answers to especially probing questions asked of them at critical points in the season.

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Champions-Elect Before It All Began

Not many teams in the Premier League can claim to be near-unanimous favorites even before the start of the season, but Chelsea were seen as a team that had effected a successful transfer window and plugged their gaps well.

Manchester City, defending champions, had stumbled along with well-publicized dressing room struggles, and Manchester United were a team still in transition. Liverpool had lost their chief striker and Arsenal were famously unpredictable.

Chelsea FC pre-season tour in Thailand

And yet, Chelsea’s pre-season tour was a chastening reminder of how much was left to be done. Losses to Werder Bremen and Besiktas, and deflating barely-there results with AFC Wimbledon and RZ Pellets, did not exactly signal smooth sailing for the Blues.

A Riveting Start

Chelsea shook off any pre-season lethargy, proving the decision to bring in Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas, Thibaut Courtois and – to a lesser extent – Felipe Luis, was a masterstroke. Chelsea rocketed to the top with wins over Burnley, Leicester City and a majestic 6-3 win in a cliffhanger with Everton. Most importantly, they stayed there and would continue to do so until the end of the season.

Chelsea’s draw to Manchester City, thanks to a Frank Lampard equalizer, was the only sore spot in a fairy-tale start as the Blues vaulted past their rivals piling up the points. A draw to Manchester United showed a different side to Mourinho, who made short work of other top 4 contenders in the previous season. Chelsea’s primary failing that past season was its inability to shut out the mid-table and relegation contenders. This time around there was going to be no such mistake. Mourinho was especially unforgiving with the smaller teams, and showing a typically defensive approach against the big sides – content to pin them down on the mat, to keep them from inflicting too much damage.

Chelsea v SunderlandDiego Costa seemed to have put the worst of his injuries behind him, and Eden Hazard combined with the Spaniard to devastating effect from the left which has always been Chelsea’s stronger flank. Nemanja Matic’s return, along with Fabregas’ installment as Chelsea’s engine worked miracles for the Blues. Any problems Chelsea’s defense seemed to be having were swept away by the delirium of bonanza up front.

December Woes Return

As is to be expected, Chelsea’s steam ran out in December, with the Blues suffering an unexpected loss against a team that has been a persistent thorn in their side: Newcastle United. The Blues who seem to be quite content dealing with teams that play an expansive game, are nevertheless quite vulnerable to teams that play in a fashion similar to theirs – direct, rigid, defensive.

After a 2-1 loss silenced talk of an unbeaten season to rival Arsenal’s The Invincibles, Chelsea seemed to lose their way with a draw to Southampton and a stunning 5-3 upset to Tottenham Hotspur – a side they’d beaten convincingly less than a month earlier.

What must have been especially hard to swallow, was having to share the top spot in the Premier League table with Manchester City. The silver lining in all of this? It seemed to spark a renewed sense of vigor in Chelsea’s stable of tired legs. Gone was the attractive football that brought them plaudits from all corners in the first half of the season; it was time for Mourinho to call upon his skills in the dark arts.

FA Cup and Champions League Exits

You can have a striker in the prime of his life, in Diego Costa, and the embarrassing riches to have Didier Drogba waiting on the bench. But even that proved to be insufficient to keep the Blues from crashing out in the FA Cup, and then the Champions League.

The FA Cup was the more shocking of the twin exits, considering Chelsea were leading 2-0 at home to Bradford City before the minnows responded with four stunning goals the Blues simply had no response for. With the Champions League exit at the hands of PSG, Chelsea could at least console themselves with the thought that Parisians were big-spenders and a name to be reckoned with. Nevertheless it would have upset Abramovich to lose out on the Champions League quarter-final berth, without actually suffering a single loss.

Fortunately, victory in the League Cup over Liverpool in the semi-finals, en route to exacting revenge in a 2-0 win over Tottenham in the finals of the tournament. Silverware during a troubled time for the club seemed to keep the ship upright.

Endgame

With Diego Costa injured, and beginning to miss more games than he was playing, it fell to Loic Remy to lead Chelsea’s line. With the youngster also eventually falling victim to an injury, it was down to Didier Drogba – Chelsea’s old warhorse to see the club through. It is a testament to how grueling the Premier League campaign is, with Chelsea struggling at one point to man its forward line, without a single fit striker.

Chelsea, playing its preferred formation and style, would go on to do what none of the other sides in the League could: grind out wins. The familiar refrains of Chelsea playing against the spirit of the game, and in quite boring fashion, returned but a determined Mourinho could care less.

Player of the Season

Manchester United v Chelsea - Premier LeagueIt would take something special to keep Diego Costa’s first-half-of-the-season heroics from receiving their just reward. Just as with John Terry’s rolling back the years to deliver a virtuoso performance at the back, especially towards the end of the season. Fabregas and Matic are equally responsible for a new-look Chelsea, that are imperious when at their best.

But none of this would have been possible without the tireless striving of Eden Hazard, whose intricate runs at the heart of the opposition defense often carved out wide chasms for the likes of Fabregas, Ivanovic and Costa to exploit. In the latter half of the season, Hazard proved he could single-handedly carry Chelsea’s attack to the opponents.

Goal of the Season

That honor should go to Diego Costa’s second-half goal against Hull City, in the first Premier League game after Chelsea’s maiden loss in the campaign – in the previous week. The Blues needed a pick-me-up win, and while Costa’s goal required no extraordinary skill from him, it was a spectacular team effort with Fabregas and Matic pushing the Blues up-field.

Hazard build up a superb assist, before exchanging an unplanned 1-2 with Branislav Ivanovic, and delivering the inch-perfect pass to Costa who calmly snaked the ball past Allen McGregor’s outstretched foot. A midfielder had combined with a defender, and a striker, to conjure up a goal to gain Chelsea a much-appreciated 3 points.