What a strange, odd game this one was! Moments of utter crap, punctuated by moments of sheer brilliance...with a whole lot of nothing in-between.
There was the Premier League's signing of the season, Papiss Cissé, taking aim at Petr Cech's goal twice in 90 minutes, scoring both times with two goals of increasing class, difficulty, and jawdroppery (and luck, too, sure). At the other end, there was Fernando Torres, fresh off a hat-trick, flitting about with his usual industry, setting up both Daniel Sturridge and Florent Malouda for good chances and even finding the cheek to sprinkle in a rabona-cross.
Cissé would obviously end up having the larger impact on the game as Chelsea concentrated on doing their best possible impression of Barcelona and dominated possession (errr...pass volume) and shots. Of course, as it tends to happen when we run out of ideas, most of those shots were hopeful long-range efforts and those were only turning to magic for the aforementioned Cissé.
So, where does this leave us?
SEASON OF DARKNESS; WINTER OF DESPAIR
For all intents and purposes, our Premier League season is over. While technically we still have a chance at 4th place, it would require a rather implausible string of results:
- Chelsea, of course, would have to win both remaining matches, away to Liverpool and at home to Blackburn. Both are certainly winnable, but it's not hard to envision us walking away with less than maximum points. Anfield has become even less of a fortress than Stamford Bridge recently, but there are enough talking points between these two teams to make this a bigger occasion than it would otherwise be. Blackburn, meanwhile, will be embroiled in some sort of a relegation scenario, so you know they will be up for a fight.
- Two of the three teams ahead of us would have to go winless in their final two. I really don't see that happening, especially with both Spurs (away to Aston Villa; home to Fulham) and Arsenal (home to Norwich; away to WBA) facing easy schedules.
- Newcastle will not have an easy run-in, as they face off against Manchester City at home, before finishing the season away at Everton. But seeing as how we're guaranteed the Europa League already, it really doesn't matter at all if we finish 5th or 6th.
It's been a decade since Chelsea finished outside of the Top 4 (9 years since lower than 3rd) and we're currently sitting on our lowest points total since 1996-97 when we finished with 59. Our current haul of 61 matches the final tally from the 2000-01 season. In short, this league season has been an unmitigated disaster, most certainly in terms of recent history.
Losing 4 games at home is bad, conceding 23 is terrible. That is the MOST number of goals that Chelsea have conceded at home since the formation of the Premier League (we did concede 30 in the last days of the old Division 1).
Our current total of 6 away wins are the fewest since 2001-02, while our current overall goal difference of +21 is the smallest since 1999-20 (+19 for the season). It would easy to blame Andre Villas-Boas for much of this, but the truth is that Chelsea's away form has been appalling for a couple seasons now: our away league record since winning The Double stands at 13-12-12 (+15).
Another mitigating factor for AVB is the fact that Roberto di Matteo has not improved Chelsea's league form at all, averaging just 1.67 points-per-contest (4-3-2) v. AVB's 1.7 (13-7-7). If we're looking for a reason not to give Roberto the job full-time for next season, this one is unfortunately it.
SEASON OF LIGHT; SPRING OF HOPE
Of course, it would be entirely dis-ingenious to judge Di Matteo purely on league performance. His overall record is miles better than AVB, better than Scolari, and even Carlo Ancelotti. Di Matteo has brought the best out of the squad on the biggest occasions. For as much of a disaster as our league season has been, this season still may yet turn out to be one of the greatest ever in history.
Chelsea will have a (good) chance to lift the 7th FA Cup trophy in club history this weekend, two weeks before getting to play for the ultimate club football trophy of them all: The Champions League. Four years on from the heart-break of Moscow, this "Golden Generation" of Blues gets a chance to avenge those horrible memories.
It's not often you get that second chance, but Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Petr Cech, Ashley Cole (and a few others, including of course the suspended John Terry) will get theirs. Against all odds, the mostly 30+ "Old Guard" gets that one more shot to write their names truly in gold into the Chelsea history books.
With all our struggles this season, the continuing disappointments in the Premier League, the inconsistent form of just about everybody in the squad, the constant controversies and media scrunity, it would be beyond remarkable if we pull off a victory on the 19th.
Yet, I have hope. It feels like destiny. The 4-1 v. Napoli, the 2-2 at Barcelona. Hollywood could not written better scripts.
This. Is. Our. Year.