Driven Cole has Chelsea coming into season at just the right time
After their long and dreary period of hibernation from the Premier League, even the most optimistic of Chelsea fan’s would be forgiven for thinking that any hopes of retaining their domestic crown in the May sunshine were pipe-dreams rather than realistic ambitions. When Ipswich Town left Stamford Bridge having taken a hammering in the FA Cup 3rd round tie after winter’s worst, it seemed that fans could at least take solace in a good cup run, offering their team’s most realistic chance of success as they lay in 5th place and 9 points adrift of league leaders Manchester United.
Whilst the season was only half-way through its 38 game life-span, Chelsea’s league form didn’t offer much sign of improving anytime soon having suffered a 1-0 defeat away at Wolves, and conceding a late equaliser at home to Aston Villa a week before. There were plenty of false dawns along the way, including their yellow brick road to Wembley. They crashed out of the FA Cup at home to Everton thanks to a spot of bother with a shoot-out (their “backdoor” route to England’s home of football would also be slammed shut by Manchester United in the Champions League). They put together a run of 3 Premier League wins on the bounce and then lost to Everton in the cup. They signed Fernando Torres for £50 million pounds…and then got beat by Liverpool in the Spaniard’s first game. They beat Manchester United in a stunning home victory to keep alive their chances of domestic glory…and then crashed out of Europe to the same side without as much as a whimper.
Just two weeks before that 2-1 league win against United, Chelsea travelled to Craven Cottage on Valentines Day. Whilst there is not too much love lost between these two sides, their was a distinct lack of passion, and it took a last minute penalty save from Petr Cech to clinch a disappointing draw with their West London rivals. The result left the Blues trailing 12 points behind 1st placed United, and even Carlo Ancelotti admitted that his side had left themselves with an impossible uphill task to try and win the title :”we must make sure we finish at least 4th. The Champions League is our aim” he conceded.
What he really meant was “We’ll keep our heads down and focus on winning every game as it comes”, for that seems to be the translation that best befits the remarkable comeback that has been Chelsea’s post winter push for glory. Now, fuelled on bitter disappointment and inspired by key player’s return to form the Blues could well find themselves in the driving seat come Sunday evening. A Chelsea win at Old Trafford this weekend will see them climb above their rivals, level on points but ever so slightly ahead on goal difference. It would cap a truly remarkable turn of events.
Their have been many men cited as the reason for their resurgence; the catalyst behind their comeback. Frank Lampard was painfully absent in the run up to the Christmas period, just as the Blues had fallen into a rotten run of form culminating with their embarrassing 3-0 home defeat to Sunderland. The Black Cats proved to be their jinx that day and further injuries to key players like Lampard, Drogba, Alex and Terry defined a dark mid-season moment for the unfortunate Ancelotti and co.
Lampard scored the winner against United on March 1st, bagged a double a game later away at Blackpool and has scored three goals in Chelsea’s last four games. Didier Drogba has also answered his side’s call in the knick of time, shrugging off a bleak moment in his career to outshine new record signing Torres. Drogba earned his side a vital point away at Stoke whilst his performances alone against West Brom and Birmingham were nothing short of exceptional.
Similarly Terry and Cech have been consistently resilient since the New Year keeping no less than 9 clean sheets. But their is one man who has kept his head down and tried to let his football do the talking where it really matters (forgetting a small training ground incident with a large fire-arm. No, not Alex’s right boot). Ashley Cole has been a near ever-present and despite being decorated with every domestic honour the English game has to offer, confesses he is still hungry for success:
“I think the pressure is what drives people on. It makes you want to prove something, to carry on going and keep on winning things. I just want to win anything because I love the feeling.
“When you stop getting that feeling, I think that’s when a lot of players tend to stop playing football because they haven’t got the desire any more.
Since that bleak December, Cole and company have certainly had something to prove. Even their own manager had them out of the running for the title, a whole 3 months before the season’s conclusion. And whilst that Valentine’s Day confession may be proving to be a clever psychological trick, there’s no denying that Chelsea still possess that hunger, that drive and that winning determination of champions; that never say die spirit of worthy winners. All those qualities that so many fans and pundits alike stated so confidently had vanished in that cruel and crisp winter frost. Now that frost has thawed, the Blues have so fittingly sprung into action and May-yet see themselves lifting silver-ware in the warm spring sunshine after all.
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