Chelsea’s 2014 was really a mixed bag, a tale of two seasons really. The second half of the 2013-2014 campaign led to a mixed bag of results. Triumphs over PSG in the Champions League and wins over Manchester City and Liverpool away from home provided good moments for the players, manager Jose Mourinho, and the supporters. However, being eliminated by Manchester City in the FA Cup while playing a relatively similar team to the one that won in the league and a 3-1 defeat at home in the Champions League against Atletico Madrid produced moments that Blues’ supporters would like to forget.
The start of the 2014-2015 season was much more promising, with Chelsea embarking on an unbeaten run that lasted until 06 December when they met defeat at the hands of Newcastle United at St. James Park. After that, 2014 closed with a bit of a ropey Christmas period and saw Chelsea’s lead in the Premier League cut to just 3 points.
With all those highlights and lowlights from 2014, there are a few good, bad, and ugly moments that stand out, though not really on the ugly side.
Last season, Jose Mourinho lamented about his side’s lack of a striker and how his team was a little horse that needed nurtured when asked about title challenges. He wasn’t far off. The lack of punch up front was an issue that lingered all of the 2013-2014 season and was an area that needed addressed, among a few others.
The good thing is that while his title rivals last season, City and Liverpool, struggled a bit with recruiting players to fit their needs for this season, Chelsea did not. In fact, all of the holes that Mourinho saw in his side last season found solutions in the players that he brought in over the summer, and he did so rather quickly.
Lacking striking power, Mourinho brought in Diego Costa, a man who tormented Chelsea in the second leg of last season’s Champions League. Despite Costa’s success in front of goal in La Liga during the 2013-2014 campaign, there were questions about his ability to play in the Premier League due to not having a long track record of success. All those questions were put to rest with his start to the season, scoring 10 goals in his first 8 matches.
Not only did Mourinho shore up his striking options by bringing in Costa and Loic Remy, along with the return of Didier Drogba, he also fixed the creativity problem the Blues suffered from last season, namely against teams that sat deep and defended. The addition of Cesc Fabregas has brought 13 assists to a team that sorely needed that invention from midfield, and his partnership with Nemanja Matic has made the Chelsea midfield one of the most balanced in the league.
The one negative to 2014 was the second-half woes of the Blues’ 2013-2014 season. While last season was always going to be a bit of a transitional year under Mourinho, after a 6-0 thrashing of Arsenal, challenging Liverpool and Manchester City, who were decidedly the frontrunners for the title, became a real option. However, losses away to Crystal Palace and at home to Sunderland proved a sticking point that cost the Blues the title, and highlighted the deficiencies in both creativity and mentality in last season’s team.
Those issues were only exacerbated by Chelsea gamely getting a 0-0 result in the semifinals of the Champions League away from home against Atletico, only to throw away a 3-1 result at Stamford Bridge, courtesy of too many defensive errors.
Jose Mourinho teams don’t often crumble under pressure when they have control their own destiny when it comes to winning trophies, but last season, they did. Mourinho would address that issue over the summer, but it did cost the Blues the chance to win the title in Mourinho’s first season.
There wasn’t too much that was overly ugly about 2014 for Chelsea. Most of the issues from a personnel perspective were rectified over the summer, and expectations were a bit tempered for Mourinho’s first season back in charge. If you were to really nitpick, however, you would have to point to one major thing that could cost the Blues in 2015.
The handling of Frank Lampard’s contract situation at the end of the 2013-2014 season looks a bit of a mystery. While many details remain unknown, the fact that he wasn’t retained by Chelsea, signed for New York City FC in the MLS, and during his short-term contract at City has made an impact could be a major factor in this season’s title race.
We don’t really know if Chelsea offered him a contract or whether Lampard turned down the contract on offer, but the fact remains that his time at City has produced moments that could change the title race.
It also calls into question the darker side of the game, namely the loopholes in Financial Fair Play and enforcing it and the fact that teams will actively look for loopholes to get around it. While we all acknowledge businesses, including football clubs, don’t always act ethically, when you put it in the context of the FIFA World Cup debates and the precedent that this episode could set, it could lead football down a very dark path, one that shows that dark side of the game in a more public light.