Changing times, changing line-ups

Five years ago this month, a precocious young Brazilian announced his arrival at Chelsea, scoring a memorable brace against Juventus as we kicked off our Champions League campaign with a 2-2 draw against the Italian side (then under the guidance of Antonio Conte).

Now 26, Oscar was again in Champions League action this week. However, while the Blues were preparing to take on Azeri champions Qarabag at Stamford Bridge, he was nearly halfway around the world in China, trying to help Shanghai SIPG to reach the semi-finals of the Asian version of the competition.

It turned out to be a pretty wild encounter as SIPG contrived to throw away a 4-0 lead from the first leg against Chinese rivals Guangzhou Evergrande and had two players sent off, but eventually snuck through after winning a penalty shootout, with Oscar converting one of their spot kicks.

And so the Brazilian managed to keep alive his team’s hopes of winning a continental club title and playing in the FIFA Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates later this year.

I want to wish him (and SIPG’s former Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas) the best of luck in winning the tournament, even if I can’t help recalling his wonderful debut against Juve and reflecting on how he never quite managed to fulfil his great potential as a Chelsea player.

However, he has moved on and he is far from the only one to do so in recent years.

Five years may not seem like a long time but the Chelsea eleven which started against Juventus on 19 September 2012 bore no resemblance at all to the side named by Conte to play against Qarabag.

To be fair Eden Hazard did come on as a substitute against the Azeris and David Luiz was on the bench on Tuesday, but the other nine starters against the Italians – Petr Cech, Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry, Ashley Cole, John Mikel Obi, Frank Lampard, Ramires, Fernando Torres and Oscar – have either retired or moved elsewhere since 2012.

Even if you go back two years to our last Champions League opener against Maccabi Tel Aviv, you’ll find only four players – Gary Cahill, Cesar Azpilicueta, Cesc Fabregas and Willian – who also started against Qarabag this week.

Thibaut Coutois was then recovering from injury, Pedro was left out of the line-up and Andreas Christensen was on loan at Borussia Monchengladbach but N’Golo Kante, Marcos Alonso, Davide Zappacosta and Michy Batshuayi were still a year or two away from signing for us at the time.

Not that it should matter too much because what we saw on Tuesday night was a freshness and zest to the team as they tore into Qarabag and equalled the club record for our biggest ever win in the Champions League by scoring six goals without reply.

Of course, there will be tougher opponents to come this season but it was a wonderful sight watching the Blues in full flow and producing a big result at the Bridge with a rapturous crowd pushing them on. The faces may have changed from five or even two years ago but they were still our Chelsea team and they gave us a game and a result to be proud of.

The squad we have now has an exciting look about it with the potential to push on and try to emulate what was achieved in the past by the likes of Cech, Terry and Lampard.

Oscar may not be part of that movement forward but hopefully he will achieve some measure of success at Shanghai SIPG in the next couple of months and beyond.