At a traditionally testing time of year, Chelsea bucked the trend in 2004/05 with four wins out of four over the festive period. We tell the story here...
‘A group of hungry players, a lot of them young, who haven’t won anything but are desperate to win something together can carry you just as far as experience can.’Frank Lampard
It would be a slight exaggeration to say the Christmas period can make or break a season. However, with three games taking place over a period of seven days, it is a time when a campaign can start to unravel, as Chelsea had discovered to our cost a year earlier; lose form at this stage and title hopes can be eaten up just as swiftly as your Christmas dinner.
‘We’ve had too many rubbish Christmases in the last few years, and now is the time to change that,’ declared John Terry.
The Blues were notorious for their festive struggles in the years leading up to Jose Mourinho’s first campaign as manager, and the pundits were sharpening their knives ahead of his first experience of the ‘busy’ Christmas period.
‘It is a full decade since a side without a single player boasting title-winning experience carried away the Premiership crown,’ wrote Martin Lipton in The Mirror, while The Guardian’s Simon Johnson was slightly more optimistic in adding: ‘In recent years Chelsea’s championship challenge has disintegrated before the decorations come down, but the players will be able to enjoy their Christmas lunch with a five-point lead.’
Arsenal’s form was simply adding to the intrigue. Following our thrilling 2-2 draw at Highbury in mid-December, when the home side had twice led, the Gunners rediscovered that winning feeling and racked up a 12-point haul from their next four fixtures. Mourinho knew his side couldn’t afford any slip-ups, and he took on the congested schedule with the perfect attitude.
‘We understand what football means here – Boxing Day and New Year are for the people,’ came the message from the manager via his programme notes ahead of our meeting with Aston Villa. ‘We’re happy to make this small sacrifice because people love football.
‘Chelsea is a second family to everyone at the club, so even on Christmas Day when we trained, it wasn’t like being at work because for just a few hours we left our family at home to come to our family at work.’
There was also the early Christmas present served up by the Champions League draw – a last-16 meeting with Barcelona in the New Year.
‘We can’t think about it too much because it is not until February and March, but it will be a big, big moment for us and for them,’ said Mourinho. ‘You will remember the fantastic quarter-final against them five years ago. I was in the Barcelona camp, of course, and I remember it well. Now Chelsea have the chance to take revenge for defeat in that tie.’
First, however, it was time to consign those festive frustrations to history. Having beaten Norwich City 4-0 seven days before Christmas – the sixth time we had scored four times in the previous nine outings – it was time to welcome Aston Villa to the Bridge on Boxing Day.
A Damien Duff goal proved to be enough to separate the sides, with the Irishman opening the scoring for the sixth time in his past nine matches. It was only our fourth Boxing Day win in the previous 16 years – another had also come against the Villans, while Southampton were defeated in consecutive seasons in the late-Nineties, including the infamous ‘foreign XI’ game – and ensured we were five points clear at the halfway stage of the campaign.
The win over Villa may have been relatively straightforward, but a trip to Portsmouth proved anything but. With a raucous Fratton Park crowd behind them, Harry Redknapp’s side suffocated the Blues with their relentless pressing.
‘I told the players at half-time: ‘You have no chance to show what great players you are, no chance to dribble, no chance to play a beautiful game. But you can show that you don’t want to go home without the three points’,’ revealed Mourinho.
True to form, that’s exactly what the players did, securing a win which was described by Terry as ‘our best of the season. You get games where you just feel that the character you show, the extra quality you fight to bring out, is deservedly rewarded.’
It took a world-class save from Petr Cech to keep the home side out – ‘Save of the season,’ declared JT. ‘Shame he didn’t hold it, but we’ll let him off!’ – setting up the late onslaught which saw Arjen Robben’s shot deflected home and Joe Cole scoring his first goal since early October.
The impact of our wingers was not lost on the press. Either Duff or Robben had netted in 13 of the previous 15 matches, a record most strike partnerships would have been proud of.
‘Remember when wingers made goals for others?’ asked Clive Tyldesley. ‘Robben and Duff don’t. Chelsea changed gear when Mourinho let his wide boys loose on the Premiership at the start of the autumn, but even he cannot have expected them to score as many goals as they have created. Luxury players they are not.’
Even when the duo weren’t on target, there was someone else to pick up the goalscoring slack. For the final leg of our Christmas trilogy, the Blues travelled up to Liverpool on New Year’s Day looking to achieve our first league double over the Reds since 1919. On that occasion, Harold Brittan scored the winner in both matches – and now he had a successor.
Step forward Joe Cole, who followed up his late winner against the Reds at the Bridge in October with the only goal of the game at Anfield five minutes after coming on as a substitute. Just as at Fratton Park, Chelsea hadn’t been at our best; once again, the spirit was unquestionable, laying the foundations for another victory.
‘What we have is a group of people so close in spirit, so strong and united in ambition, that tiredness, little injuries and occasional set-backs cannot knock us from our path,’ insisted the manager.
Lampard, meanwhile, took aim at those who felt the Blues didn’t have the experience to stay in the title race for the long haul. ‘A group of hungry players, a lot of them young, who haven’t won anything but are desperate to win something together can carry you just as far as experience can. Of course there will be testing times to come and a lot of hard work, but we believe in ourselves.’
- By Richard Godden - Chelsea matchday programme editor
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