It’s official – Chelsea’s title defence is the worst since the Premier League’s inception in 1992. After the loss to Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Saturday, the Blues’ cannot finish any higher than 9th, which beats the previous record of 7th place held by Blackburn Rovers (1995/96) and Manchester United (2013/14).
After a successful campaign in 2014/15, when they won the Premier League and the League Cup, Chelsea were expected to fight for more trophies. However, they endured some serious roadblocks at the start of the season. What was initially brushed aside as a ‘jittery’ start to the campaign fast turned into a nightmare for the defending champions.
The Blues even flirted with the prospects of relegation after a poor start to the league. With the players severely under-performing, the club went on a disastrous run of form that eventually cost Stamford Bridge fan-favourite Jose Mourinho his job. With Guus Hiddink temporarily taking up the mantle till the end of the season, the club saw an upswing in their fortune and the Blues capitalized on the same to bolster their league position.
Despite having a similar squad to the one that took the league last year, the shocking performances delivered on the field were baffling to say the least, for the fans and pundits alike. It led many to think that Mourinho had lost the trust of his players in the dressing room. The sudden upshot in the club’s performances immediately upon the arrival of Guus Hiddink all but confirmed that theory.
In Guus Hiddink’s first game in charge against Sunderland, the Blues looked a lot like the side that conquered the Premier League. Shocked by the sacking of Mourinho in the first place, the sudden turn-around in form under Hiddink invited the ire of the fans who voiced their support for their beloved manager with chants like “Where were you when we were sh***?” With a dreadful season for the Londoners finally drawing to a close, and with the arrival of Italian Antonio Conte to look forward to in the summer, we observe and statistically analyse two contrasting seasons for the Blues and where they lost the plot this time around.
Lack of fire-power in attack
Pedro was brought in from Barcelona last summer to bolster the Blues’ forward line. Instead, their attack has witnessed a deficiency in quality going forward. The lack of a goal-threat also coincided with the poor form of Eden Hazard. While the Belgian was the focal point of the Blues’ attack up-front last season, the current campaign has often seen him proving to be a liability for the side. With his creativity inhibited and movement predictable, Hazard has had a campaign to forget with Chelsea.
The above stats comparison isn’t meant to place the blame for Chelsea’s poor run on Hazard. Instead, it is to showcase the influence an in-form Hazard has on the psyche of the team. The side as a whole failed to put up the necessary fight that is asked of a side challenging for the title, let alone defending one.
Willian: the shining light in a disastrous campaign
On a number of occasions this season, Willian’s fighting intent has led the dispirited Blues back into the game, often earning points off some precarious positions. Those little hard-earned points have set the tone for a rejuvenated Chelsea to take control in the second half of the season and improve their league standing. The Brazilian has undoubtedly been Chelsea’s player of the season and has done enough to earn himself a right to be a key part of incoming manager Antonio Conte’s plans next season.
Willian averages 68% succesful take-ons, 2.4 key passes per game while maintaining an 84% successful pass percentage. Such attributes make the 27-year-old a player to watch out for next season. With the likes of Radja Nainngolan expected to join him in midfield, the fans have reason to be excited for the Antonio Conte era.
Absence of defensive stability cost the Blues dear
The hallmark of Chelsea’s title win last season was their defensive resilience, especially in the second half of the season. The Blues’ first half of 2014/15 was highlighted by a free-scoring run with Fabregas’s skills put to use by Hazard and Diego Costa to devastating effect. However, a rude shock in the form of a 5-3 loss to Spurs on New Year’s Day saw Mourinho impart a more defensive approach to his side’s style of play. It helped the Londoners churn out results as they eventually went on to clinch the title with three games to play.
A lack of such a resolve in defence saw Chelsea leak a number of goals and it has no doubt cost them many a crucial result this season. Among the biggest problems Conte has upon his arrival is the aging defence. With John Terry set to leave after his contract was not renewed, and Kurt Zouma injured, the Chelsea fans will most certainly want more than just Ivanovic and Cahill to look forward to in their back-line next season.
It’s been a hard season for the south London club and with no European football next season, Antonio Conte has a major revamping project waiting for him. With the financial support of a billionaire owner in Roman Abramovich, Conte will be given the go-ahead to spend as much money as is required to bring in some good quality players to the Bridge in order to mount a title challenge next season.