2014 has been a fantastic year for Chelsea FC. The lack of any additions to the trophy cabinet might suggest otherwise, but to consider just how far we have come since last December is astonishing. Roughly this time last year, the side was reeling from a defeat to Sunderland in the Capital One Cup as Jose Mourinho effectively gave up with attempting to organise the side to win games with an expansive, attacking style, seeing no other option but to revert to a more conservative approach for the remaining months of the season. The team looked lost. There was no structure, no rhythm, no clear idea of what we were trying to be – a massively far cry from where we are today.
Ultimately, I think 2014 will be looked back upon for our business in the transfer windows and will be remembered as the year when four truly outstanding players were added to the first team. In their own ways, Nemanja Matic, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas have all brought to the team something it had been missing for an extremely long time, whilst the recalling of Thibaut Courtois promises the continuation of something which we already enjoy, for the next ten years or more at least. All four rank among the best players in the world in their respective positions and together have helped to comprise an almost perfectly well balanced XI. Aside from their signings however, 2014 has been a year with some other great memories worth keeping. Here is a list of the club’s top 10 moments from the past 12 months…
10) Andre Schurrle | World Cup Winner
The 2014 FIFA World Cup was the tournament’s best edition of the 21st century by far. The quality of the group stages and Round of 16 was phenomenal, whilst many of the latter stages were grippiningly close. Ultimately though, the best team was triumphant, as Joachim Low’s side destroyed the hosts in a historic thrashing before beating Lionel Messi’s Argentina in the final. The squad’s sole Chelsea player, Andre Schurrle might not have been a key member, but the winger’s excellent assist for Mario Gotze’s winning goal in the final will always be a part of German sporting history. Schurrle also became the first Chelsea player to win the tournament this century, and the latest since Frank Laboeuf in 1998.
9) Eden Hazard Hat-trick v Newcastle
It’s been a year of countless highlights for the Belgian and easily the best of his career to date. So many times, particularly last season, he was the difference maker and the man to lift us out of the ordinary. Surely his best individual performance came at home in the league against Newcastle, where a wonderful first time finish, and beautiful one-two with Samuel Eto’o and a typically cool penalty kick sealed his first ever hat-trick for the club. It was also one of the first real signs of just how irresistibly good he could still end up becoming.
8) Schalke 0-5 Chelsea | Di Matteo’s Men Dismantled
So far it’s been a season filled with some fantastic displays, but none quite so dominant or as ominous as our 5-0 victory in Gelsenkirchen, as we completely blew away our former manager’s new side, with an, at times, breathtakingly powerful and fluid offensive performance. We still may be some way behind Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich on paper, but this victory was our first real warning sign to the rest of Europe that we truly belong among its powerhouses once again. The result also ensured we finished the group stage as the tournament’s top scorers.
7) Samuel Eto’o Hat-trick v Manchester Utd
Overall, 2013/14 wasn’t the most successful of seasons for the African striking legend, but it was by no means a bad one either. The former three time Champions League winner turned up in big home league matches throughout the campaign, scoring key goals against Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham at Stamford Bridge. His best game without question though came against David Moyes’ Manchester United side. The Cameroonian turned in a vintage striking performance with three goals from close range to seal our most straightforward win against the Manchester side for an extremely long time.
6) Everton 3-6 Chelsea | Instant Classic on Merseyside
Two of my all-time favourite Chelsea games have been against Everton (the 3-2 league win at Goodison in 2006 and the 2009 FA Cup final), but this might have topped them both. The early season contest had absolutely everything – fantastic goals, unbelievable saves, hilarious mistakes, Diego Costa bust ups – while the result hung in the balance almost until the very end. Costa continued his run of scoring in every game since his debut, while Nemanja Matic scored his first ever goal for the club to eventually seal the win. All in all, not our best performance of the year, but by far the most entertaining.
5) Demba Ba Goal v Liverpool
As soon as Steven Gerrard slipped over, everyone knew what was going to happen and everyone knew what it meant for the league title. It was one of those moments where as soon as it happened, you felt it was destined to go down as one of the most tragically hilarious incidents in the history of the competition. Liverpool’s winning run up to that game was phenomenal and against a second-string Chelsea team, (who were resting most first team players for the upcoming CL semi against Atletico Madrid) they had a fantastic chance to seal their first ever PL trophy. The manner in which the result fell away means Demba Ba’s goal is unlikely to be forgotten by most scousers for many painful years to come. Oh well.
4) 2014/15 Season Opener
As I said earlier, 2014 is a year which will be remembered for the major signings it witnessed; a fact which was evident from the very first time all four set foot on the pitch together at Turf Moor in August. Fabregas and Matic controlled the game from minute one; Courtois finally made his long awaited debut and Costa scored on his first appearance too, in a game which, looking back, served as a wonderful preview of things to come.
3) Demba Ba Goal v PSG
Easily the year’s most memorable goal and its most memorable goal celebration. Ba’s 89th minute goal against the French champions meant we could add another remarkably tense and dramatic CL knock-out round victory to our already immense collection. Mourinho’s sprint down the touchline to celebrate with his players at the corner flag is probably the most memorable image taken from the season also.
2) Nemanja Matic Debut | ‘Mourinho Master-class’
It seems a ridiculously long time ago now, but our victory at the Etihad back in January remains by a distance our most impressive of the year. It was a performance relentlessly described as a defensive ‘master-class’ as we kept out Manuel Pellegrini’s eventual champions for the duration of the fixture. Branislav Ivanovic sealed the victory with as a sweet a left foot strike as he’s ever hit in the first half, but the Man of the Match by a distance was Matic. Making his debut in the Premier League, the Serb instantly showed what he was about, dominating Yaya Toure and Martin Demichelis in midfield, making tackles and interceptions for the entire game and almost scoring a screamer in the second half. It was without question, the most impressive debut performance for the club I have ever seen.
1) Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal | Wenger’s 1000th Game
For obvious reasons, the top moment of 2014 has to be our drubbing of the Gunners back in March, on what was Arsene Wenger’s 1000th game in charge of the club, he was made to endure to his worst (and probably most humiliating) ever defeat. Arsenal were truly terrible, as was the referee, but it’s easy to forget that we were extremely good value for the victory, as we produced some of our most direct and decisive and intense football that I’ve ever seen us play. Arsenal’s atrociousness and Kieran Gibbs’ sending off for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s handball added much appreciated comedy to the occasion, but this was an imperious performance from Chelsea, and so one-sided that you almost even felt sorry for Arsene and his men. Almost.