What A Difference A Day Makes – POA Awards 2011/12
The dust has nearly settled on the most tumultuous of seasons at Chelsea Football Club. The term European Champions still seems like it belongs elsewhere, to some other team and some other set of supporters. Just to confirm, Chelsea are the Kings of Europe. One more time. Chelsea have won the European Cup. The first London club to win the trophy. Have that North London. Even with the club sinking to 6th in the League who could argue that this was not our greatest ever season as a club? From the defeat at West Bromwich Albion to seeing Didier Drogba slot the winning penalty in Munich – has there ever been a greater turnaround at Chelsea? Entire polar opposites of the spectrum: football heaven and football hell.
I have enlisted the help of Plains of Almería cohorts Tim Rolls (@tim_rolls) and Sam (@daspecial_1), as well as notorious Chelsea scribes Carefree Chronicles (@CareFreeChronic), Graham MacAree (@MacAree) of SBNation, Grant James (@GrantJames_CFC) and Chelsea’s Official Historian Rick Glanvill (@RickGlanvill). A big thank you to all who took the time to send me responses.
Goal of the Season – Winner Barcelona vs Chelsea (Camp Nou) – Ramires
Grant James: No doubt about this. Not only was it one of the best goals technically that you will see anywhere in European Football, it was also the goal that completely turned this game on its head. After Terry’s sending off, and being 2-0 down at the Nou Camp, I felt very angry and almost resigned to a heavy defeat. I’d already received messages from my Spurs supporting friends saying “this will end 6-0” and others to that effect. Ramires’ goal was so unexpected and such a release of the frustration that had built up all game. The pass from Lampard was exquisite. No matter how many thousand passes Xavi strung together in that tie, Lampard’s was the best of them all.
Sam: Yet in terms of that perfect ‘enormously important-stupendously technical’ hybrid, my vote goes to Ramires and his wonder strike in the Nou Camp. One might deem it arrogant even to contemplate such an effort at the home of the mighty Barcelona, yet the little Brazilian not only thought about it, but executed it to perfection. The fact it kept us hanging on in the tie, at a point when we were at risk of capitulating, and on the road to Munich and that trophy with the Big Ears, makes it such an indisputable choice.”
Rick Glanvill: History will reshow Torres’s epic run many more times, but Ramires’s in-stride chip showed astonishing wit and technique and was a massive turning point. Then you’d look at two from the Drog: the opener in the FA Cup semi-final against Spurs and his simply stunning equaliser in Munich.
Graham MacAree: It’s got to be this (Ramires), right? Chelsea were down and out, facing impossible odds at the Camp Nou. John Terry had been sent off, Gary Cahill injured, and both Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta had scored. Barcelona just needed to prevent the Blues from scoring and they were through. Then this happened. One of the few goals that gets better every time you watch it, it features a lung-busting run from Ramires, playing right back at the time, a deft piece of perseverance, vision and technique from Frank Lampard and then the sort of chip that the Catalans themselves would be proud of as a first-time finish. Sublime.
POA: I think it was a clear cut winner in this respect. Although there were some brilliant technical goals scored by Drogba, Mata and Lampard, this really takes some beating. The sheer impudence of a finish that saw Ramires run ¾ the length of the pitch before silencing the Camp Nou will live long in the memory. The skill was phenomenal, but when you add to that the contextual weight of that precise moment in the game it beggars belief.
Assist of the Season – Winner Lampard vs Barcelona.
Rick Glanvill: Frank Lampard. Receives from Ramires with his back to goal, holds off Xavi, looks up and drills a perfectly weighted and directed pass into the Brazilian’s path. Sensational.
Graham MacAree: Raul Meireles to Daniel Sturridge at the Stadium of Light was pretty ace. I loved the finish, too.
POA: I think the clear winner here was Lampard’s pass to Ramires (you could argue in both legs of the Barcelona game). Goes to show that you can make 1,000 passes in a game, but none more telling than Lampard. In fact, his reinvention as a genuine asset in a midfield double pivot with Mikel almost went unnoticed in the press. Who is to say Lampard cannot continue to exert a calming influence on the game from a deeper position?
Player of the Season – Winner Juan Mata, just.
Grant James: Juan Mata. 12 goals and 20 assists is a fantastic return for his first season in English Football. His acclimatisation was instant, despite being deployed in his less favoured role on the left for most of the season. Has the best first touch in the PL too. I was delighted to see him have such a major hand in both our semi-final and final wins in the FA Cup after how he sacrificed his natural game in the ties against Barcelona. Over 16km covered in the CL final was stupendous. It helps that he’s a lovely, bright guy.
Rick Glanvill: Petr Cech. Not just for his heroics in both finals but for consistency over the course of a turbulent season.
Tim Rolls: Brana Ivanovic – 100% committed, brave, selfless, key goal v Napoli.
Graham MacAree: Ramires. We knew we had a promising central midfielder on our hands after Ramires started to show some form at the end of last season. We didn’t know we had such a good winger as well. Ramires was one of the few players who excelled under Andre Villas-Boas, but the epiphany came when Roberto di Matteo moved him to the right wing, whereupon he became one of Chelsea’s main weapons, able to play well while the Blues were on the ball, shut down the opposing fullback and provide a lethal force on the counterattack. Instrumental in securing us our double, and fully deserving of the new five-year deal he signed in March.
Carefree Chronicle: Petr Cech. Every player had their ups and down this season but Cech was probably the most consistent of all. His formed suffered under AVB’s high defensive line but he recovered well and was very reliable. He has played the most minutes in the squad and made crucial saves to make sure we win the FA Cup and the elusive Champions League.
Sam: Notable mentions ought to go to Ramires and Ivanovic, the former having been instrumental in our midfield engine room before Robbie Di Matteo’s arrival and a switch to the right flank, where he has equally impressed. It speaks volumes that our midfield has looked lost and lightweight without the little Brazilian. In the 10 league games he’s missed this term, we’ve won just 3. Ivanovic has been a force of nature at the back, never more so than in the second leg against Napoli, where his extra-time winner sent us through to the last eight.
But the nod has to go to the mercurial Juan Mata. A man with a touch every bit as good as Franco Zola’s, his prominence in a more central role under Di Matteo has coincided with our powering up the home straight towards two trophies. His first campaign in English football has been a joy to watch, and one can only hope he continues to flourish.
POA: I think although he showed definite signs of tiring in the latter stages of the season, it was as impressive a debut season as I can remember. The Spaniard has a magical left foot that was a part of almost everything good about Chelsea this season. Some wonder goals, slide rule passes and moments of magic hopefully are just the tip of the iceberg for our number ten.
Breakthrough Player– Winner Ryan Bertrand.
Sam: The man who shines out though is Ryan Bertrand. After waiting for what must have seemed like an eternity for a first team shot, the 22-year-old has finally been given a chance under Di Matteo and has proved what a very capable player he is. His display against Arsenal at the Emirates earned him rave reviews, so much so that he even started the European Cup final, in an unorthodox left-wing role. With Ashley Cole 32 in December, one can only hope to see more of Bertrand in Chelsea royal blue over the coming seasons.
Carefree Chronicle: Ramires. I don’t think I need to say much more. Came alive under AVB and continued his red-hot form over to RDM’s reign.
Rick Glanvill: I think Ramires scaled the heights towards the end of the season, but I’d go for Champions League final debutant Ryan Bertrand. Gutsy, reliable, well-schooled.
Tim Rolls: Ryan Bertrand – looked more and more confident with every appearance, let nobody down in Munich.
POA: I think big things await Ryan Bertrand and he seems to have presented himself as the heir apparent to Ashley Cole’s number 3 shirt to a manager who clearly believes in him. It is no secret that Cole has a persistent ankle issue, which really puts his phenomenal level of performance into an even higher echelon. There is no reason for Cole to play so many games next season. Bertand is a more than able deputy and I would imagine he may rotate with Cole to build up his experience. England’s future left back.
Most Underrated – Winner, John Obi Mikel.
Grant James: John Mikel Obi. I’ve long defended this man. He brings such a calm, strong influence to the side. Yes, some people have started to give him the credit he deserves, but there’s still this perception that him playing well is something new. He was doing the same job in his first season at the club, with top displays in Valencia and against Porto. His display at the Nou Camp in 2009 was unbelievable. And whilst he’s turned a few supporters around, at the first sign of trouble, I expect them to turn on him again. After all, he hasn’t scored a goal in several years (this is sarcasm). He’s the sort of player that you only appreciate if you understand football (and the opposite applies too).
Carefree Chronicle: Branislav Ivanovic (as underrated by outsiders). The Serbian has been solid for Chelsea as right back and we know that but others don’t rate him even though there aren’t that many good right backs around. He has defensive discipline and can cross the ball well. Plus, he is such a threat from set-pieces and has chipped in with some crucial goals (e.g. against Napoli).
Raul Meireles (as underrated by Chelsea fans). Being favoured by AVB earned Meireles some negative views from some Chelsea fans but the Portuguese has shown that he’s a professional and played an important role in the team’s cup success. Yes, he has had his bad moments too but he played 39 games this season, scored some cracking goals and didn’t mind being a solid squad player in the later stages of the season.
Rick Glanvill: Didier Drogba. Crazy but true. Oh how we will miss him..
Graham MacAree: Underrated by whom? If it’s by the media, I’d go with Frank Lampard, who’s settled into life as a deep-lying midfielder without skipping a beat. He was excellent during the Champions League.
POA: It had to be John Obi Mikel, and yes I am a very big fan of his. The performance in the Champions League Final was absolutely superb and everyone on my flight back had him as their non-Drogba man of the match. Often criticised for his simple passing game, we are a far more dominant team with him in midfield. Consistent performances will slowly win over a larger set of the Chelsea support, but he was excellent when Chelsea needed him this season. I truly hope he realises that if he can play that well in big games, then he can in the smaller games as well. Concentration and consistency, and he becomes one of the best holding midfielders in world football.
Disappointing Player – Winner (loser?) Overwhelmingly Fernando Torres
Sam: Fernando Torres. Sure, his off the ball play improved and he racked up plenty of assists, but he was brought in to be a world-class striker and we’ve paid enough money that we need him to be one. His inability to finish is worrisome in the extreme, and I’m not looking forward to what might happen with our centre forward position next year.
Rick Glanvill: The world’s greatest footballer, Messi. Two games, no goals, missed pen. Tut tut Lionel. (Rick gets bonus points for this answer).
Grant James: Torres. You know, after having 6 months to settle in, and a full preseason under his belt, I just expected a little more. I’m not going to mention his price, because that irritates me, but 11 goals is simply not a good enough return. I’d be a lot less harsh on him if he occasionally scored a goal that mattered, but he simply has yet to do so in a Chelsea shirt. Most of his goals came against very weak sides (an injury Genk, Leicester) or when the game was already over (3rd, 4th and 5th goals against QPR; 4th goal against Aston Villa). Even his goal in Barcelona didn’t make a difference to the tie. Having said that, he has completely gotten over the injury problems that plagued him in the past and he contributed over a dozen assists. Clearly his problems are mostly mental – confidence issues and a less than assertive personality. This has seen him defer to stronger personalities like Lampard (who would often be seen taking up positions that Torres should be in) or Drogba (who’s exit might see a more confident Torres emerge) or even David Villa with Spain, who’s emergence also coincided with Torres’ Spain form/goals evaporating. Strangely, I still have a tiny bit of hope for him.
POA: If you take all the contributory factors away from Torres, there is one clear fact that remains: he does not score enough goals. More worrying, he does not look like he is going to score more goals. I have some slight hindsight in my favour, writing after his brace for Spain, but it will take more than a flash in the pan to convince many that Torres is the man to replace Chelsea’s greatest ever striker. Drogba was the man for the big occasion. Torres must start to justify his inclusion in the team as the main man, which he patently is at present. With the likes of Hazard, Mata, Marin and company (at the moment) behind him, the “he does not have the service” argument will start to wear thin soon.
Match of the Season – Winner Barcelona 2 – 2 Chelsea
Carefree Chronicle: Chelsea 4-1 Napoli. This was the turning point in the season. There was no expectations going into the game but the team knew exactly what was needed to be done and pulled it off brilliantly. There was of course a setback when Inler made it 2-1 with an incredible strike but we didn’t panic and got the job done at the end. The determination, courage and belief shown in that match carried on throughout all the cup games that followed.
Rick Glanvill: Chelsea 4 Napoli 1. Everyone connected with Chelsea needed the miraculous turnaround after a string of dismal results. Belief and togetherness returned that night, on and off the pitch.
Grant MacAree: The Barcelona game had pretty much everything. A very good opponent, some contentious history, a red card and an incredible comeback in the second leg of the Champions League semifinals? Yes please.
Grant James: Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea. Epic. One of the best games Chelsea have ever played in. 2-0 down, with 10 men, all our CB’s injured, Bosingwa at CB, Ramires at RB for the first time in a Chelsea shirt, away from home, and we only go and win the last 50 odd minutes 2-0. Typical of the spirit under Robbie Di Matteo.
Sam: Needless to say, the European Cup final in Munich was something special. Banishing all those memories from Moscow in such a sadistic reliving of four years previously, with penalties and all that, was something that we’ll all tell the grandkids about. Drogba’s header, Robben’s miss, Cech’s heroics, Luiz’s run-up, Drogba’s penalty. Events etched into Chelsea folklore forevermore. It wasn’t even that great a game, but the history books will hardly remember that.
A number of matches on that road to sunny Munich merit a mention, too. The return leg against Napoli at the Bridge was a turning point in the entire season, the Cup final defeat of Liverpool will always be looked back upon fondly (making history, not just reliving it!), and that memorable semi-final win over Spurs will be used as a stick to beat them with for years to come. FIVE-ONE!
But perhaps the Barcelona games take precedence here. The first leg was special; backs-against-the-wall, every man and his dog having written us off against the mighty, loveable Barcá, and then such a dramatic upturning of the apple cart. They hit the post, the bar, had one off the line and blazed sitters over the bar, but just couldn’t manage to cancel out Drogba’s opener. Perhaps that night was the one that Lady Luck acknowledged how brutal She had been to us over the years in the competition. Perhaps that was the night she wrapped a blue scarf round her neck.
The return in Catalonia gets the vote, though, simply for the sheer audacity and craziness of the whole night. Again the reigning champions hammered the door, again the Blues stood strong. Terry got sent off, the hosts almost ran riot, but Ramires scored a stunner to give us hope, before Torres scored a solo goal to give us jubilation.
Best Moment of the Season – Winner No prizes for guessing…
Carefree Chronicle: Can’t top winning the Champions League but I loved seeing Lampard captained Chelsea to victory in the final. He has lived under Terry’s shadow as far as being the figure of this club but we all know that he has the intelligence and the character to be a leader on and off the pitch. He would be a fantastic captain if he played for any other clubs. I’m glad he got the chance to wear the arm band for the final.
Sam: Ignoring the default answer that is Munich (steins, sunshine and success!), Birmingham away in the Cup springs to mind. Just a couple of days after being beaten in the Midlands in a game that cost Villas-Boas his job, there was a bounce in our step as we went to St Andrews. Robbie Di Matteo was in charge, the performance was effective if not spectacular (what a successful blueprint that would prove to be) and the travelling hordes were singing and smiling again. Anti-Benitez chants were the prerequisite of the day, Meireles and Mata scored, and the rest is FA Cup history.
An honourable mention also goes to the defeat of City in the league in December. Being the underdogs brought the best out of players and fans alike, and it was a thoroughly memorable night under the lights at the Bridge.
Rick Glanvill: Seeing Neuer go the opposite way to the ball when Didier struck his winning penalty, and little old Chelsea winning the European Cup. Second would be Didier and Juan cutely hugging on the touchline as the final seconds ticked away in Camp Nou.
Graham MacAree: I still haven’t quite processed that we’ve won the Champions League. It’s so far beyond what I’d ever dreamed possible that my brain is telling me I’m imagining Drogba scoring that penalty. So, in moments I’m pretty sure aren’t hallucinations, it’s Torres’ goal at the Camp Nou just for the mixture of emotion, achievement and bat-**** insanity that came with it.
Grant James: That moment when Torres sealed the tie in Spain. What a feeling. The celebrations in the Nou Camp, especially between Robbie and Ivanovic, were fantastic. Cahill’s superb tackle on Bale at Wembley, and him punching the air after his clearance off the line to deny Adebayor at Stamford Bridge. A future captain in the making? But what wins it for me is that image of Drogba, Lampard and Terry during the Munich celebrations – hugging each other with genuine joy and love, an image that will stay with me for some time.
Tim Rolls: Getting off the U-Bahn at the Allianz Stadium without fainting.
POA: No words. Just this.
Worst Moment of the Season – Winner (loser…) The AVB Project Car Crash
Grant James: The majority of AVB’s reign. There were matches where we were so poor and so lacking in team spirit. The morale was at an all-time low. We were a broken squad. I can’t thank Robbie enough for what’s he done for this football club. I’m really hoping he gets the job full-time.
Rick Glanvill: Everton 2 Chelsea 0. No win in four, team looked shot, Ash limped off… everything seemed to be going wrong.
Carefree Chronicle: The end of December. We have just beaten Valencia, to get out of the group stage of the Champions League, and Manchester City at home in early December. But a string of very disappointing results followed – three consecutive 1-1 draws against Wigan, Spurs and Fulham, and an embarrassing 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa. It was a moment in our season when nothing seemed to be going our way and we started to slip out of the 4th spot.
Graham MacAree: John Terry’s slip against Arsenal. I was big on the Villas-Boas experiment up to that point and that’s when the whole edifice began tumbling down.
Tim Rolls: Leaving The Hawthorns after a 1-0 defeat, 3-1 down to Napoli in the CL last 16 and with an away replay at Birmingham to come – thinking the season was over. Whatever happened next, I wonder?
And I leave you with a few thoughts from Tim Rolls…
Funniest Moment of the Season: Chatting to a guy in Brussels who had inadvertently booked his hotel in Gent, as opposed to Genk. This did not seem to worry him in the slightest, but creased me up.
Most Depressing Moment of the Season: Chelsea so triumphant about a link-up with a failing F1 outfit. Why do they think the average fan (match-going or not) could care less?
Away Trip of the Season: Barcelona – great afternoon in the sun, unforgettable match. Runner up – Birmingham FA Cup replay – RDM’s 1st game, everyone was up for it, great atmosphere
Best Off-Pitch Moment: The SaynoCPO campaign successfully helping stop the purchase of CPO shares at the EGM.
“In 45 years watching Chelsea this was the most roller-coaster season I have ever experienced. The full ranges of emotion – optimism, frustration, anger, bewilderment, pained acceptance, hope, anticipation, excitement, euphoria, triumphalism. There will never be another like it.” – Tim Rolls.
Chelsea FC. Champions of Europe.