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Keep, Sell, Loan: Branislav Ivanovic's 2015-16 season in review

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Taking a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of each and every Chelsea player's season. Next up, Branislav Ivanovic, Vice-captain and Scapegoat of the Year.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images


Appearances: 43 starts.
Minutes: 2918 in Premier League; 540 in domestic cups; 360 in Champions League.
Statistics (per 90 minutes, Premier League): 1.54 tackles won (45.1% success rate); 1.85 interceptions; 0.3 successful crosses (2.3 attempted).

With Didier Drogba and Petr Cech leaving Chelsea at the end of last season, Branislav Ivanovic suddenly found himself as one of the longest serving players on the team, and third among active players on the all-time appearance list.  Given his role as the captain at the national team level, it wasn't too surprising that Jose Mourinho chose him as the official vice-captain over the likes of Gary Cahill or Cesc Fabregas.

Ever since a Jose Bosingwa injury in 2009 forced Carlo Ancelotti the use Ivanovic as a full-time right back, the Serbian ManBear has been a fixture in Chelsea sides under six different managers.  His height and his versatility had given the team a unique advantage on the right flank (and a few unique drawbacks as well), though some managers (most notably Benitez) preferred to use him as a center back instead.  Like many in the squad, he was coming off of a career year in 2014-15, winning titles and individual awards and plaudits aplenty.  He was named in the PFA's Team of the Year for the second time in his career after that first full season under Ancelotti.

Alas, 2015-16 wasn't nearly as glorious to Ivanovic as the previous season or seasons.  It was rather disastrous, in fact, especially early on.  His high-profile struggles against the likes of Swansea City, Porto, Southampton, Everton, Manchester City — basically any team not named Arsenal in the first dozen matches of the season — set in stone the narrative of his season, hanging him up on the gates of Stamford Bridge as the Scapegoat of the Year.

Unfortunately, it wasn't all his fault.  The reality of the situation was far more complicated and Chelsea's early season struggles continued even after Ivanovic picked up a hamstring injury that ruled him out for over a month.  He made his return towards the end of November, just in time to participate in the final days of Mourinho.  While his personal form improved once fully healthy, by then, the magnitude of Chelsea's implosion was clear to all and the focus shifted away from him personally anyway.  Few actively noticed that Ivanovic missed just two games from late November for example, at one point starting thirty (30!) matches in a row at either right back or center back (following John Terry's injury).

That's not to say that any one point he rediscovered what made him such an amazing force in years past, a battletank ready to demolish all who stood in his way as he steamed his way up the right side, and he's now cemented his inability to properly judge the flight of a cross-field pass, but as the team leader in minutes-per-appearance, he's continued to be a steady presence in the team.  The one-year contract extension signed in January, well in advance of John Terry signing his, irked many, but Ivanovic is three years the captain's junior and perhaps the only person in the squad who had actually out-ironmanned JT's efforts at playing as many minutes as humanly possible during the previous seasons.

Ivanovic finished the year with 43 appearances, his seventh season in a row with 40+ and depending on signings and tactical setups, looks set to gobble up nearly as many next season.

The Good: In late February, Chelsea still harbored hopes of making it back in the Europa League spots.  Ivanovic's late winner at Southampton had us all believing.

The Bad: His play before the injury.

The Ugly: 1-v-1 against most wingers, ringers, thinkers, possibly your grandmother as well. Please don't let this happen ever again.

Verdict: At this point, Ivanovic's "reputation" might be irrecoverable, but the sad part is that even when Azpilicueta played right back, the situation didn't improve either in defense or in attack.  Arguably, Azpilicueta offers less going forward, especially in the air, and he seems far more comfortable defending as a left back nowadays than a right.  Perhaps that can improve with renewed familiarity of the right flank.

Chelsea do have plenty of up and coming talent on the left flank, including Baba Rahman, Nathan Ake, Jay Dasilva, and perhaps even Kenedy if we choose to go the wingback route.  Is Conte content with Ivanovic and Azpilicueta as his right back options?  If not, this needs to be a priority in the summer market and so far, other than the equally old Lichsteiner, there's been very little in the way of transfer rumors in this position.  What Conte will no doubt appreciate is Ivanovic's versatility, including the ability to play in a back three as he did several times for Mourinho when we would be chasing results back in 2013-14.

While Ivanovic is definitely staying at this point, for what could be his final year at the club, his role, for the first time in many seasons, is not exactly known.