As much as the focus has been on the Chelsea youth this season, Frank Lampard would be the first to tell you that the older, more experienced players were just as important to the team’s success.
Much was expected of those in the squad who were in or near their primes especially, and several of them delivered as well. Mateo Kovačić, whose loan from Real Madrid was made permanent last summer, has been chief among those, with a legitimate claim on being our Player of the Season, even.
He may not have hit his statistical targets — just the two goals (his first two in three years!) and three assists — but that just means he has something concrete to strive towards in terms of personal development.
“I’m happy with my performances. I think I’ve had a good season and I’ve settled well in my second year. Obviously I’m missing the statistics, which is the thing lacking in my game at the moment, but I’m improving on that as well.
“I feel great here, so happy and honoured to be at this great club. Now I need to pay it back on the pitch, to be better and better every season, and hopefully next season is even better for us than this one.”
Kovačić, still just 26, has won a trophy in each of his previous four seasons, dating back to the first of three Champions Leagues in a row with Real Madrid in 2015-16, and now he wants to add the FA Cup to last year’s Europa League title as well.
“It will be really nice to be in another final. The most beautiful thing in football is to play finals and then to win them. Chelsea is used to winning titles so we will do everything we can to play a good match in the FA Cup final and then let’s see what happens.”
-Mateo Kovačić; source: Chelsea FC
It was a slightly less positive season (in terms of individual performances) for Antonio Rüdiger, who was set to be the elder statesman of the defense following David Luiz’s departure, but failed to truly establish himself thanks to injuries and inconsistent form. And while he’s just as happy with where Chelsea have ended up as anyone else, he’s far less happy with his own performances.
“For me personally, first of all I do not want to give any excuses. It has been a tough season with everything going on. Just in the performances, there were some good games and also bad games. It has been up and down.
“Me, personally with my season, I am not that happy. But at the end of the day as a collective, we achieved our goals and this is what matters. We still have two games to go and this is what I am focused on. Everything else I will analyse myself and go on to next season.
“If I reflect on the way we had to get to this final, it was tough. The season was tough for everyone. I had injuries, the coronavirus pandemic, it was really difficult. But we are there now and we want to do everything to win that trophy.”
The team’s defensive woes extend well beyond any one player — as does any potential solution to them — but Chelsea do have the players and the talent to win today, if we can put it together like we have on several occasions this season.
“It is definitely something we need to work on. I think it has more to do with consistency. On our day, yes, we can beat everyone. Then when it is not our day, we can also lose against everyone. This is the balance we have to find.
“It is like life, to find the goal in the middle is difficult sometimes. It is something we have to work on. We are aware of that, I am aware of that. We still have two games for this season and we have to finish them on a high.”
The last time we were in the FA Cup final, Rüdiger was named Man of the Match as we beat Manchester United, 1-0 in 2018. A repeat of that sort of performance would certainly not go amiss today.
“This is what I expected when I came here to Chelsea, to play for titles. For me, I don’t see this as a small cup — a title is a title. If I am there I want to win.”
-Antonio Rüdiger; source: Goal
So say we all.