It has been the greatest season in the history of Chelsea. Under the Wembley arch the double was secured in stunning fashion by the season’s top goal scorer and fan’s player of the year. The club and players deservedly joined a short list of football immortals that have achieved a domestic double.
Not only that but it was also one of the most exciting seasons ever, with so many goal scoring feats achieved by the Blues that the statisticians could only scratch their heads and twiddle the abacus with dumbfounded incredulity. The FA Youth Cup was won for the first time in 49 years with some superb football, paving the way for a bright future for the club. Also, let’s not forget, John Terry hoisted up the Charity Shield in Ancelotti’s very first competitive game. There was a good chunk of Chelsea supporters who had a feeling that Carlo would deliver. No one had any idea it would be quite so spectacular.
When Ancelotti took over from Hiddink the common opinion, one shared by everyone’s favourite Knight of the Realm Sir Alex, was that the Chelsea squad were past it. Too many players were over thirty, too many players were in decline and too many didn’t have the desire or legs left to compete. Despite the calls for a mass overhaul of the playing staff only three signings were made, two of those on promising English talent, the third tied up before he even arrived at the Bridge. Instead Ancelotti focused on getting the optimum out of what he already had and made a key signing of his own. One of the few members of staff that joined Carlo at the Bridge was actually one of the most crucial. Bruno Demichelis was integral to setting up the infamous Milan science lab, the methods helping to prolong the careers of the likes of Maldini and Alessandro Costacurta into their forties. The medical expert joined Chelsea to reduce injuries, improve fitness and recovery from fatigue, hoping to give us an extra edge. Given how we’ve often dominated teams late on in games and still looked so full of running at the end of the season is a testament to the backroom work done. Keeping hold of Ray Wilkins was another masterstroke, not only with his knowledge of the English game but also his technical skills as a coach, both of which have proved invaluable.
The club wanted to play attacking, entertaining football and Ancelotti was tasked with delivering it. He immediately sought a more fluid system and opted for a diamond midfield. We had seen the diamond before of course, it offered neater triangles of passing play and could disrupt defensive lines but required lung-busting runs from full back to create width. To say that this system never worked for us is a fallacy. We posted routs of four nil against Bolton and Athletico, five against Blackburn and produced some superb performances against Sunderland and Arsenal away. However whereas some players excelled in this system others were more subdued. Lampard’s effectiveness was ultimately more limited as he was infrequently directing play or arriving late into the box whereas Malouda was having to do too much defensive cover. When teams cottoned on to the narrowness of the midfield and stopped the marauding full backs we didn’t suffer a Scolari type meltdown. This time Carlo had a plan B. A 4-3-3 system returned and produced goals a plenty. This system gave us width high up the pitch and more balance defensively. It also allowed more fluidity in the midfield positions and gave us an attacking edge from out wide and as well as midfield. It was perhaps this change in formation that allowed Lampard and Malouda to flourish in the second half of the campaign.
Carlo’s greatest piece of management was to create a strong group dynamic within the squad. This was underlined when he put forward one of his own thoughts for player of the season, Paulo Ferreira. Under Ancelotti every member of the squad played a part in our success, every player was given the chance to impress. Under previous managers players would make the bench but rarely get a start or even time on the pitch. From the beginning Carlo created the right balance between a consistent side and giving fringe players the games to impress. The likes of Paulo and Belletti had opportunities to influence key matches and if they played well, they often kept their place on merit. It was similar story with our younger players, Sturridge, Matic, Bruma, Hutchinson, Kakuta, Van Aanholt and Borini, all making appearances and all doing well. The balancing act of getting youth and experience right, of making every player feel important over the course of the season, and yet still being able to retain consistency, is a massive part of our success.
This close season the speculation will no doubt be focused on an overhaul of an ageing squad and which big money, marquee signing we’ll make. But remember they said the exact same thing last year and look where we ended up. At least this close season we know we can trust in Carlo. If we can continue to steadily bed in some of the young talent that we have at the club it’s not unfeasible to think that Ancelotti can build up a legacy at Chelsea to rival some of the very best.