It is always nice to end the year on a high and the Blues have certainly done just that. After some December wobbles those six points out of six from two tricky away games have made things look a good deal rosier. On top of that the league position has us only two points behind the much-lauded (in comparison to us!) Spurs and five ahead of Arsenal in the battle for the top four, meaning it is certainly a positive time.
The game at Crystal Palace was a real tester with Roy Hodgson’s men being ultra-defensive for the vast majority of the match, precisely what I dislike seeing from any home side. Roy, as ever, had the good grace to admit his team didn’t deserve even a share of the points. To be fair he had a point when he said that an open game against the Blues could have led to his team being picked off too easily. The ploy worked perfectly well for Palace against Manchester City, but it looks very much like a tactic that will only work once in a blue moon, sorry about that line to any City fans reading this!
I couldn’t get down to the match this time but watched it on TV with the rest of my family. My wife had just popped out of the room to make a cup of tea for herself, and to relieve some of the stress, when Chelsea scored the only goal. She came back in and asked who scored? I said who would you most liked to have made the goal and who would you have most liked to have scored it? Her answer was David Luiz to N’Golo Kante.
I suspect many Chelsea fans would have given the same answer considering how unfairly harsh the criticism is of David when he has as much as a hair out of place. Okay, the hair thing happens quite a lot I admit. Also considering the comments about N’Golo and his new position too, in many ways it was the perfect moment for Maurizio Sarri to turn and look knowingly at the press box. He didn’t do that, but I must admit I would have been sorely tempted.
More specifically it was noticeable how often N’Golo won the ball back high up the field during this game and his forward run for the winner was phenomenal, as was the pass into him. He is certainly looking more comfortable by the week in that position so I think we should wait to see how it all pans out between now and May. His move forward could still end up being accepted as a tactical masterstroke.
The end of the year also brought rather impressive news in the finances at the club, turning over more than Chelsea have ever done before in any season. This is, of course, important when considering any modifications the manager wants to make to the squad. The January transfer window is upon us and there is no doubt in my mind the club has been scouring the football world to add that little extra bit of quality that will fuel-inject the second half of the season.
The rumours have already started and it is not my intention to be specific, although I know who I would want and in what position I would like there to be a tweak. Every fan will have his or her thoughts on that too, usually involving creation and scoring goals, but the good financial figures are certainly a welcome sign right at this moment when you are looking at the market.
Having said that, it is a famously difficult time to get good value in the market. It is especially tough when you are one of the big beasts of the Premier league on the prowl, but Chelsea have obviously been pretty intelligent in the previous year. The number that jumped out at me from the figures was the £113 million profit on transfers, have a look around at everyone else in the top end of the Premier League and realise how unusual that is. That said, I suspect when the costs of Jorginho and Kepa make it on to the balance sheet it could be a bit more…balanced.
It is always a bit unfair to gauge any buy over a season anyway. Consider someone like Willian, purchased for £30 million. In season one that sounded like a lot at the time, but considered over six seasons, then £5million a year isn’t bad business at all. When you then think of Eden Hazard's alleged cost of £32 million amortized over seven seasons, then suddenly those figures look better than good, they are amazing. Yes I know there are wages to be considered, but these are among the reasons why the books read a bit better these days.
So has it been a good year in general? Well winning the FA Cup is never to be sniffed at and yes, that was a glorious day even if there was a great sadness and poignancy considering we had just lost one of our finest in Ray Wilkins.
Losing out on Champions League football has also been a blow but maybe a season of Europa League is, in retrospect, a decent thing because there has been plenty of opportunities to give the entire squad game time and hopefully the run in that competition will go all the way once more.
Obviously changing a manager is a stressful business, but rarely has that change looked so smooth than it has with the introduction of Maurizio Sarri. The football is as pleasing on the eye as you could hope for much of the time and the club certainly looks to have taken on board most of the modern technical and tactical football ideas out there.
Maybe the best thing about where we are now at the end of the year is the excitement about the year to come. It will be interesting, enjoyable, entertaining and hopefully successful. It will of course have its ups and downs, but what would I wish for most in the year to come at Chelsea? Like many of us in 12 months’ time I hope once again to be saying the phrase, 'Eden Hazard has had another great year for Chelsea’. If we can say that, then we will probably have some more silverware too.
I hope you all have a Happy New Year and KTBFFH.