2019/20 in Review – Chelsea
In the first of a weekly series of articles that will cover a number of different clubs’ seasons, Jack Donnelly takes a look at a Chelsea campaign that was perhaps better than what many expected.
Chelsea have had to endure a season of real transition at the club but have come out the other side looking much better than people ever expected. The departure of the much-loved Eden Hazard and with an inexperienced Frank Lampard taking the managerial reigns at his beloved Chelsea in only his second year of management, many pundits were quick to write the Blues off in terms of earning a Champions League place come the end of the season.
With a transfer ban, the new blood at the club came from some of their loan fodder, with the likes of Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount becoming regular starters in the first team. Chelsea fans saw a new lease of life in their team as Lampard trusted his youngsters more than any other manager before him, with seven players under the age of 23 making a minimum of 20 appearances.
Despite poor results against the big clubs in the early stages of the season, many believed Chelsea deserved more after displays of attractive, attacking football caught the attention of many. Additionally, Stamford Bridge looked nothing like the fortress it once was, with most of Chelsea’s best results coming away from home.
December was probably Chelsea’s most important month of the season. Qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League after a 2-1 win at home to Lille was crucial in terms of appeasing the club hierarchy, while away wins against both Arsenal and Spurs gave Lampard his first big domestic wins of the season. However, the Blues endured inconsistent form for the month, with home losses against both Bournemouth and Southampton. Weird month.
After a fairly good spell of form in January, February was more of the same inconsistency. Another win against Mourinho’s Spurs was huge, but a home loss to Solskjaer’s United and a humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich showed that there was still a lot of work to be done. They looked to have turned a corner right before football was postponed, with young Billy Gilmour capturing the attention of the footballing world with impressive performances in wins against both Liverpool and Everton.
Chelsea overachieved this season, with both a squad and a manager who were largely untested in top level football. Due to their success, the club has garnered more criticism than is truly warranted and fans should be pleased with their current position. With investment in the necessary areas of the pitch in the window, Chelsea could see themselves battling at the top of the pile more consistently sooner rather than later.
Player of the Season – Mateo Kovacic
This was a fairly easy accolade to award. Despite many players standing out for various reasons this season, no one has been as consistent in terms of high-level performance as Kovacic.
Following a decent loan spell last season, the club made the Croatians move permanent and will be thankful that they did. While the stats may not show it, Kovacic has been crucial for the Blues this season. Kovacic moves as if the ball is glued to his feet and is revered for his dribbling ability, attempting 4.7 per 90 minutes in the Premier League, with a 79.3% success rate. Kovacic scored his first league goal for the club – a deftly placed half volley – in a 3-1 defeat against Everton and if he adds more goals to his game, Chelsea will have a truly incredible midfielder on their hands.
What stands out most about Kovacic is his ability to excel in tough situations. After the 3-0 loss to Bayern, Lampard said: “There were a couple of performances in our team – namely Mateo Kovacic – who played with a personality and a quality that makes you go, ‘Okay, he can play in virtually any team at that level.’” If every other player in Chelsea’s team had that ability, they’d be winning trophies like it was nothing.
Underperformer of the Season – Michy Batshuayi
Poor Michy Batshuayi. Nothing’s gone right for him ever since he scored the title winning goal against West Brom in 2015.
The Belgian striker has been used sparingly this season, with Lampard preferring to use Abraham as his first-choice striker, using Premier League veteran Olivier Giroud as his deputy. Batshuayi did receive a number of chances earlier in the season and scored the match winner against Ajax but despite this, he has been massively underwhelming.
Fans were calling for his head on social media after he blew chance after chance in Chelsea’s FA Cup match against Nottingham Forest. His only league start came against Manchester United in February and had little to no impact, looking lost and frightened in the situation. If he could recapture the form he had during his loan spell at Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea may want to keep a hold of him but, ahead of a summer with lots of rebuilding expected, Batshuayi may well be one of the first to leave.
Young Player of the Season – Mason Mount
The hardest part of writing this piece was picking out which of Chelsea’s youngsters stood out the most in the most inclusive season for academy graduates in a very long time. Despite Tammy Abraham’s 15 goals in all competitions, Mason Mount just edges it for me.
Having played under Lampard at Derby County last season, many were quick to label Mount as this generation’s version of his manager – a direct box to box midfielder with a keen eye for goal. He’s certainly working his way to being worthy of the comparisons, with six goals and four assists in the league this season.
However, what stands out about Mount is both his versatility and work rate. The 21-yeal-old has been deployed as a deep playmaker, an attacking midfielder and a left winger this season and has still attacked each match with the same direct and tireless play that fans have come to expect and appreciate. There were moments that Mount’s form would dip, but then he’d put in a performance beyond his years against Spurs and remind everyone of what he could do. Having been at the club since the age of six and with his idol in his corner, Mount has all the makings of a future Chelsea legend.
Signing of the Season – Hakim Ziyech
This is a bit borderline, considering that he hasn’t played a single game for Chelsea but, seeing as the club could not/did not make any signings in the two transfer windows, it will have to do.
Chelsea have a lot to look forward to with Ziyech. The Moroccan playmaker, signed for around £34 million in February, brings something to Chelsea that they are sorely lacking – an excellent player in his prime years. While their batch of talented youngsters will only get better, Ziyech brings quality and experience in bucketloads. Most notably, the 27-year-old brings invaluable European experience, having played an integral role in Ajax’s storming Champions League run from last season.
Renowned for his long passing, dribbling and finishing from both long and short range, if Ziyech’s Stamford Bridge audition in November is anything to go by, the Blues have got an absolute bargain waiting to join them in the summer.
Goal of the Season – Fikayo Tomori vs Wolves (A)
An incredible way to open your Chelsea account.
In a frantic seven goal thriller that saw Tammy Abraham bag a hattrick, Tomori’s first half wonderstrike stands out as the best goal of the season. Willian works the ball down the right and lays it off to Mason Mount. The midfielder is dispossessed by Diogo Jota, with the ball racing towards the edge of the area. As it continues, Jorginho leaves it for the onrushing Tomori, who strikes it first time and watches as his effort curls round into the top left corner, leaving Rui Patricio with absolutely no chance.
Honourable mentions go to Kante’s 20-yard strike against Southampton, Abraham’s chip against Watford and Reece James’ limbs-inducing equaliser against Ajax.
Moment of the Season – Doing the Double Over Spurs
This was something special for Chelsea fans. After Mourinho effectively burned his bridges with the club by taking over at Spurs, adding fuel to the fire with his comments about Lampard’s selection policy after the 4-0 loss to United, everyone associated with Chelsea will have felt it all the more sweet when their club did the league double against their former manager.
These games were Frank Lampard’s second and third encounters with Jose, having played his United side in the Carabao Cup early last season, making it three wins from three for the Chelsea manager against his former mentor.
The first game will be remembered as the more impactful of the two. After a poor loss at home to Bournemouth, the media and fans alike weren’t filled with confidence for Chelsea to get a result. However, Chelsea proved the doubters wrong when Willian, the Brazilian that famously had his medical with the North London club before signing for the Blues, scored a double at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Roars of “He hates Tottenham, he hates Tottenham” blasted from the away end as a tactical switch up from Lampard stunned Mourinho.
Lampard implemented the same three-at-the-back system in the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge in February, where Mason Mount put on a show and bit-part players Giroud and Marcos Alonso got the goals that sank Mourinho’s ship yet again. While Chelsea had beaten Mourinho’s United side on a number of occasions in the past, including the famous 4-0, something about Lampard being at the helm with a batch of youth products in the squad made these encounters that much sweeter.
Moment to Forget – Humiliation Against Bayern
It was a case of men against boys when Bayern Munich made the trip to London in February, and while Chelsea’s youngsters put up good showings against the better teams domestically, they weren’t prepared to deal with the sheer class and ruthlessness that Bayern came with.
While Chelsea fans were worried when the draw was made, there was history of their team playing some attractive football against the bigger teams. However, with a number of players sidelined due to injury, many expected a whitewash similar to the one that Spurs suffered at the hands of Bayern in the group stages. While the scoreline wasn’t as soul-crushing, there were very little positives to take from the performance as Bayern enjoyed yet another successful trip to London.
Serge Gnabry bagged a brace through some deadly link up play with Robert Lewandowski, who went on to score the third. Meanwhile, Canadian phenom Alphonso Davies ran the show down the left, as the system that had worked so well against Spurs was pulled apart, allowing the German giants to easily gain their three-goal lead in the tie.
As Lampard admitted afterwards, only Mateo Kovacic really stood up to the standard that Bayern were showcasing. Now, looking to the future, the club may invest heavily in the summer, so as to not suffer a similar fate in future European competitions.