Chelsea Season Review 2012/13 & End of Season Awards
Chelsea writer Joe Carroll reviews the 2012/13 season which ended in Europa League success and a third place finish, and he also gives his end of season awards.
The 2011/12 season came to a glorious end for Chelsea. A dramatic penalty shoot out in Munich saw the Blues clinch their first ever Champions League title; European success against all odds. Whilst their league placing was their worst in the Abramovich era, FA Cup success coupled with Champions League victory meant that the 2012/13 season was always going to be a tough act to follow.
Fans had two cup competions to look forward to at the start of the season but failed to win either the Community Shield (a narrow 3-2 defeat to Man City) or the Super Cup (a 4-1 loss at the hands of Athletico Madrid). Despite those disappointments, the club managed to recruit two of world football’s most exciting prospects in Eden Hazard and Oscar, meaning there was plenty of optimism ahead of the new season. A 2-0 win away at Wigan Athletic-where Hazard sparkled on his Premier League debut- helped Chelsea into an impressive run of form and had fans dreaming of a serious title challenge.
Seven wins in their opening eight games saw Chelsea top the league for much of the early part of the season, whilst rivals Man Utd and Arsenal appeared to stutter. A narrow 3-2 defeat by United at the end of October signalled the beginning of the end for Roberto di Matteo, and November turned out to be a miserable month for the club. Despite a thrilling 5-4 League Cup triumph over United on Halloween, the club descended into something of a nightmare as Chelsea won just once in seven attempts in November. After losing to West Brom in the league, a 3-0 defeat to Juventus in the Champions League was the final straw for Roman Abramovich who ended Di Matteo’s all too short tenure as manager.
The task of replacing a fans favourite is never easy and that job becomes even harder when you’ve previously managed one of the clubs recent rivals. Rafael Benitez was never a popular choice (especially considering past comments made about the club) and fans made their displeasure at his appointment clear from the start, with protests and banners calling for his instant dismissal a feature of most fixtures at Stamford Bridge.
The best way a manager can get dissenting fans on board is to win games, however it took Benitez four attempts to secure his first victory, with two goalless home draws to City and Fulham accompanying a dismal 3-1 defeat to West Ham. The 6-1 drumming of Nordsjaelland however signalled a run of eight games in December in which the Blues lost just one game (a 1-0 loss to Corinthians in the distraction which was the World Club Cup in Japan) and won the rest including a 5-1 League Cup win away at Leeds, an 8-0 hammering of Aston Villa and an excellent 2-1 away victory at Goodison Park, coming from behind to beat a side that had not lost a competitive home game since March that year.
The Christmas period had yielded much merriment and Chelsea appeared to be stabilising under Benitez. Hazard and Oscar had so far impressed in midfield, with the former particularly lighting up the wings with his showings of acceleration, skill and agility. Juan Mata was continuing to demonstrate the world class player that he is and became the main attacking influence in Chelsea’s side. The rearguard had in the main looked as solid as ever, with Gary Cahill stepping up when John Terry was not available to lead the side and new arrival Cesar Azpilicueta gave the Blues a new attacking dimension on the right side.
But just as things started to look up, Chelsea hit the panic button starting with a 1-0 home defeat to lowly Queens Park Rangers. The Blues then exited the League Cup after a non-showing over two legs against Swansea City while league form became patchy at best, dropping points at home to Southampton one week and beating Arsenal away from home the next. Demba Ba was drafted in during the January transfer window and whilst the Senagalese international (who had set the Premier League alight last year with Newcastle) made a promising start to his career at Stamford Bridge, the goals that were expected of him were not as forthcoming, as Benitez toiled over whether to stick with his new signing or try and revive the fortunes of Fernando Torres.
With Chelsea effectively out of the title race, Blues fans looked to their team to at least ensure Champions League football for next season, but that was by no means a given. Everton were fastest out of the blocks back in August and had maintained their position around 4th place despite a stutter, while Tottenham and Arsenal were also keen to put their names into the hat for qualifying. It was a race that would keep fans guessing up until May, but Cheslea’s priorities seemed to have shifted towards success in the cups, both in the FA Cup and Europa League.
Benitez was even able to rotate his team according to the competition, with Torres almost guaranteed a run out in the Europa League thanks to Ba’s ineligibility, but the Spaniards goals helped fire the Blues into the final, putting to the sword Sparta Prague, Steaua Bucharest, Rubin Kazan and FC Basel along the way. On the domestic front, it was only a narrow defeat by City in the semi final of the FA Cup that meant they were unable to reclaim the cup for a successive year, despite knocking out United in a memorable replay. The Blues had looked dead and buried by half-time in the first tie at Old Trafford but Hazard and Ramires struck in the second half to keep their hopes alive.
Cup commitments saw Chelsea’s fixtures begin to pile up towards the end of April and it was more important than ever that the team pulled together to ensure the club achieved tangible success. Those hardest of supporters who had booed every Benitez decision at every game were beginning to be outnumbered by those realising that backing their team was far more important, and their support culminated in another European trophy; their second in 12 months having gone nearly 15 years since their last. Torres’ goal was cancelled out by a Benfica penalty, but Branislav Ivanovich (who missed last year’s Champions League triumph through suspension) became Chelsea’s unlikely hero with a looping headed goal with just minutes of normal time remaining.
With a trophy secured, the Blues soon guaranteed Champions League football for next year and finished the season strongly, clinching third place ahead of Arsenal with a 2-1 win over Everton at Stamford Bridge. It may not be particularly well remembered by some fans, especially those happy to belittle the teams achievement in ‘just’ winning the Europa League, but few can argue that the man who took over in the autumn of 2012 has not performed his objectives in bringing success to the club. It may not have been the trophy they wanted, but the future of the club is secure for next year having finished third, whilst another pot can be added to the trophy cabinet.
End of Season Awards
Player of the Year: as should always be the case, there were a number of candidates for this award. Torres was much improved, especially towards the end of the campaign and the Spaniard managed to hit the 20 goal mark for the season. Hazard was scintillating at times and will no doubt be a mainstay of the Premier League, but this award goes to Juan Mata. A model of consistency in the midfield, the little Spaniard combines skill and elegance with hard work and team spirit to give you that winning combination.
Young Player of the Year: with most of Chelsea’s young players currently out on loan, there weren’t too many candidates for this award. Nathan Ake looks like he could be a special talent in the coming years, however a lack of game time under Benitez sees him miss out on this one for me. Ryan Bertrand gets my vote, with the young full back filling in on the left when Ashley Cole was injured. Without performing spectacularly, he was more than able when asked to step in and was reliable in his duties.
Goal of the Season: it was another fantastic year for the Blues in front of goal, with 75 scored in the Premier League meaning they were second only to champions Manchester United. Of those 75 and those scored in the various cups, we saw some belters, some crackers, some stunners and some that were simply sublime. Like Oscar’s strike at home to Juventus in the Champions League; Cahill’s surprisingly neat finish at Tottenham and Demba Ba’s stunning volley against United in the FA Cup replay. The stand out winner for me however, was David Luiz, who could have won this one a few times. He scored a beauty against FC Basel to ensure passage to the final, but his 30 yard strike against Fulham at Craven Cottage wins it for it’s power, accuracy and the fact he was so far out!
Tell me what you thought of Chelsea’s 2012/13 season. Was it how you imagined? Is Europa League and third place really success for Chelsea? What are your feelings towards Benitez after his 6 months in charge? And who would be your players of the year/goal of the season? Please leave your comments below…
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