In mid-April 2005, Chelsea were approaching the finishing line in our hunt for a maiden Premier League title. But there was still work to do, as we recount ahead of tomorrow's #CFCWatchParty...
‘If at the beginning of the season somebody had told us that on 20 April we would play at Stamford Bridge against Arsenal and have an 11-point lead, nobody would have believed it – not even ourselves.’Jose Mourinho
It was remarkable just how quickly Jose Mourinho managed to instil a winning mentality throughout Chelsea Football Club – from the players to the staff, right the way to the supporters at Stamford Bridge who were witnessing a procession towards the Premier League title.
‘I think the manager has brought that spirit, the mentality that we have the quality to win,’ revealed Cameroonian midfielder Geremi. ‘He has put this mentality in our heads. When I was at Real Madrid, there was this same feeling.
‘I remember my first year here, Chelsea had thoughts that we were not great players and when we played Arsenal we still had doubts. But this year when we went to Arsenal and Manchester United, we went to win.’
Confidence is a fickle mistress, though – one week it is there and you are on top of the world, but in the blink of an eye it can evaporate, leaving you bereft of all belief. The trick is maintaining it, something the Blues had seemingly become masters of in the space of a matter of months.
It’s easy to see why, with the records tumbling all around them during a record-setting season. Indeed, the previous week’s victory over Southampton had established several top-flight marks for the club: most games unbeaten (22 since slipping to a 1-0 loss at Manchester City); highest points tally (80); greatest number of wins (25); most away victories (13); and most consecutive wins (7).
The most important figures, however, were 13 and seven – our points lead over second-placed Arsenal and the number of matches remaining.
Birmingham City were the next visitors at Stamford Bridge for three consecutive home league games, which came between a mouth-watering Champions League quarter-final with Bayern Munich.
‘We have won our last seven games and there is no reason why we should stop that run now,’ declared Mourinho after a 4-2 victory over the German giants in the first leg of the tie, which featured one of Frank Lampard’s best-ever Chelsea goals. The Blues no.8’s chest, swivel and half-volley was simply majestic – naturally, he was the focus of praise from all quarters.
Joe Cole’s maturation from the untrustworthy playmaker at the start of the campaign into a relentless, decisive attacker was also becoming evident, as he was named Premier League Player of the Month.
However, it was the importance of Claude Makelele which was about to be highlighted against our fellow Blues.
‘No one deserves a rest more than he does, and that is why he is having one today,’ said Mourinho ahead of Birmingham’s visit.
‘I think he is the most underrated player in the Premiership, but that’s only because he doesn’t score goals. I believe you know how important he is.
‘He has been magnificent and is crucial to our wonderful defensive record. His work and his consistency are extraordinary, and it is his quality that allows Frank and now Eidur to attack like they do from midfield. We have been playing recently with five attacking players, and Claude is the reason we are able to do that.’
Without the man who former manager Claudio Ranieri described as the ‘battery in the watch’, Chelsea laboured to a 1-1 draw against Steve Bruce’s side, rescued by a late equaliser from Didier Drogba after Walter ‘The Rifle’ Pandiani had given the visitors a shock lead. As Zinedine Zidane had remarked after Real Madrid sold Maka to Chelsea in 2003, ‘Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?’
Still, the endorsement of the world’s top manager and one of the greatest players of all-time wasn’t convincing enough; when the nominees for PFA Player of the Year were announced, Makelele’s name was nowhere to be seen. Just as surprising was that only three Chelsea names were in the running to become the first Blue to win the award: Petr Cech, Frank Lampard and John Terry. Previously, the club had only ever had four nominations: Lamps, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Gianfranco Zola (twice).
Arjen Robben, meanwhile, was our sole representation in the running for the PFA Young Player of the Year award.
‘I think we all deserve it, and a few more do as well,’ said JT. ‘So if Lamps or big Pete win, it’ll be for all of us. We can all claim it. Whereas if I win... nah, it’ll still be for all of us. We are the Chels!’
With the draw against Birmingham contributing to our lead being cut to 11, Arsenal’s midweek trip to the Bridge took on slightly greater significance – although it was undoubtedly a visit to the last-chance saloon as far as the Gunners’ Premier League title hopes were concerned. Not that the Blues’ manager was giving them much hope.
‘If at the beginning of the season somebody had told us that on 20 April we would play at Stamford Bridge against Arsenal and have an 11-point lead, nobody would have believed it,’ he wrote in his programme notes. ‘Not even ourselves.
‘To be fair, my dream at that time was that this game could be like a final: the decider of the championship. But we find ourselves 11 points in front, so the game lacks a little bit of emotion and spice.’
Mourinho was spot on, as a largely lifeless 0-0 draw was played out, prompting Arsene Wenger to concede the title. ‘The fact that they didn’t lose tonight means they will be champions,’ he said.
The failure to defeat the reigning champions was, perhaps, the only disappointment of our Premier League campaign. As John Terry noted, the last time the Blues won a league game against the Gunners was when he was 14 years old and on ball-boy duties at the Bridge!
It also meant that even victory in the final chapter of our home trilogy, against Fulham, wouldn’t be enough to seal the title on the 50th anniversary of our first title success, although a 3-1 success duly followed. Cole opening the scoring with a wonderful effort and further goals from Lampard – our 100th of the campaign – and Eidur Gudjohnsen proved too much for our neighbours.
Although the wait for glory went on, Mourinho wasn’t bothered about where, when or how his side won the title; all that mattered getting our hands on the trophy.
‘In Porto I won the league playing at home, and I also won it in the hotel when we didn’t have a game as others played,’ said the manager. ‘At Barcelona I won the league away from home. The feeling is the same – it is always good!’
Chelsea fans wouldn’t have to wait long to find out. Although there was the first leg of a Champions League semi-final against Liverpool to contest first, the Blues then had a trip to the Reebok Stadium on the horizon for our date with destiny.