West Midlands opposition, Far East sales and FA Cup tales were the theme of Chelsea stories this week five, 10 and 15 years ago…
In a prelude to more recent times, one of our players left for China this week five years ago. It was a far more unusual move back then though, when Nicolas Anelka swapped Stamford Bridge for Shanghai Shenhua, bringing an end to a three-year Chelsea career during which the French striker was our top scorer twice and the Premier League golden boot winner once. He helped us win the League and Cup double plus another FA Cup a year earlier.
The team he left behind ended 2011 badly when, after Didier Drogba had given Andre Villas-Boas’s Blues the lead at home from the penalty spot, they let Aston Villa equalise quickly and then score two further goals in the last 10 minutes for a 3-1 New Year’s Eve defeat.
Drogba’s goal was his 150th for Chelsea, drawing him level with Peter Osgood’s total so it was highly appropriate he scored from the spot under which Ossie’s urn is buried. Drogba paid appropriate tribute to ‘the King’ but the mood after the game was not one of celebration, as the result made it four league games without a win, though there was next to no wait for another chance with a game against a second West Midlands side two days later.
This time Ramires gave the Blues the lead at Wolves but we again conceded inside the final 10 minutes. However Villas-Boas had restored Frank Lampard to the side having used him as a sub against Villa, and the midfielder was involved early in an 88th-minute move he then finished in such trademark fashion. A late, great Petr Cech save ensured a 2-1 win and a place back in the top-four.
'After a bad day at the office two days ago it was great to get the opportunity to play again and put it right.’ Lamps said. ‘You see the amount of fans that travelled up, sang throughout the game and backed their team and they deserved that.’
Villa were again a thorn in our side this week a decade ago when in the first game of the new year, and after two home draws for Chelsea at Christmas, they held Jose Mourinho’s team to a 0-0 at Villa Park.
The Blues had the better of the game, but it was a fatigue-effected encounter so typical of those at the end of the crammed-in festive fixtures. We were left six points behind leaders Manchester United but there was some positive outlook from Mourinho after the game when he announced:
'Unless something negative happens, I have John Terry for the next Premiership game, and unless something happens I have Arjen Robben and Petr Cech, not for the Wigan game, but for the next one so in mid-January. And I look forward to that. My team won't be at full power because Joe Cole is to forget for the next couple of months, but at least I have people back.'
The news about Cech was especially significant. The goalie was on his way back from the fractured skull suffered less than three months earlier.
The FA Cup brightened the view too with the third round serving up our then biggest win under Mourinho – a 6-1 win over at home to League Two Macclesfield who had their keeper sent off when 2-1 down. Well among the goals on a very wet day was Frank Lampard, who scored his first Chelsea hat-trick and created a goal for Shaun Wright-Phillips. Then John Mikel Obi in his first Chelsea season scored his first Chelsea goal, with Ricardo Carvalho completing the scoring against Paul Ince’s Macclesfield’s side.
Mourinho handed debuts as substitutes to 17-year-old striker Ben Sahar and 16-year-old midfielder Michael Woods, who became the fourth youngest to have played for the club.
Claudio Ranieri’s Blues had finished 2001 strongly with four wins out of five, punctuated by a Boxing Day defeat at Highbury, but on New Year’s Day it all went wrong when we folded at home against struggling Southampton.
The team had recovered from James Beattie converting a free-kick from a huge distance out to lead 2-1 at the end of a poor first half. The flourishing Hasselbaink-Gudjohnsen partnership had seen to that, but a lack of performances across the pitch after half-time allowed the south coast side to head home 4-2 winners.
Chelsea were now sixth in the Premiership and eight points off the top and this time the FA Cup was no respite either, at least not initially anyway. Norwich, at the time fourth in the division below, were the team we had drawn away in the third round, so four days after the Southampton defeat we ran out at a chilly Carrow Road and this time took part in a goalless draw, with plenty of reason to thank Carlo Cudicini afterwards for two outstanding second-half saves.
If nothing else, it set the scene for what would be a memorable replay, and a very special Gianfranco Zola goal to say the least!