The notoriously busy month of December was upon us amid periods of inconsistency and an increasing amount of pressure upon Chelsea boss Luis Felipe Scolari. With Liverpool top of the league, the Blues were playing catch-up, and after the November defeat against Burnley in the League Cup, we were now left playing for three trophies.
Two wins in two competitions started off the month in the perfect manner, with Bolton beaten 2-0 in the league, and Romanian side CFR Cluj dispatched 2-1 to seal our qualification for the next round of the Champions League, albeit after we finished runners-up in Group A behind Roma.
Interestingly enough, after those two wins captain John Terry admitted that Chelsea were not at their best, and needed to improve.
The words of Terry rang true after the next league game as Gianfranco Zola’s West Ham side bagged a point at the Bridge in yet another exasperating draw at home. Craig Bellamy’s opener had West Ham leading until Nicolas Anelka equalised early on in the second-half, but in truth, that was the only time the system appeared to work. Frank Lampard was denied a blatant penalty late on in the game, but a point is probably – disappointingly – all we deserved.
The Champions League draw deflected away rumours of discontent both behind the scenes and on the stands at Chelsea, and the Blues were paired with Juventus – and ex-boss and all-round good guy Claudio Ranieri – in the first knockout round of Europe’s elite competition. With January quickly approaching talk of winter signings began to intensify, that is until Peter Kenyon unequivocally stated that there would be no movement during the transfer window. Basically, we were stuck with what we’ve got.
A 0-0 draw at Everton was another blow to Chelsea’s title hopes and a big two fingers up to Kenyon’s insistence that our squad was strong enough. John Terry saw red for a challenge on Leon Osman which would see him miss out the next three games, while Petr Cech kept Chelsea on course for a point after the captain’s dismissal with some vital saves.
A strange Boxing Day win over West Brom followed the Goodison Park stalemate. West Brom had suffered goalscoring problems all season and weren’t expected to challenge Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, and true to form they didn’t. Chelsea won 2-0, but other than that the game was pretty dead. The Blues should have destroyed the Baggies, but first-half goals from Didier Drogba and Lampard were seen as enough for Chelsea who simply went through the motions in the second 45. A lack of cutting edge or a calculated scheme by Scolari to rest players ahead of the upcoming months? If it was the latter, it didn’t work.
Two days later we went to Craven Cottage and threw away three points at the death. Clint Dempsey put Fulham 1-0 up and with the Cottagers so strong at home this season, alarm bells began to ring for Chelsea.
It took until the second-half for Lampard to equalise, and later put the Blues ahead, but with Scolari’s side on course for a vital win, that man Dempsey popped up in the 89th minute to head home an equaliser past a static Chelsea defence.
Two points dropped. And title rivals Liverpool beat Newcastle 5-1.
As we waved goodbye to 2008 (or should that be good riddance?) January promised better times. A new year, and the opportunity for a fresh start.
We were starting to look like we needed one.