Season review – Chelsea – Ancelotti axed as Abramovich shows failure is unacceptable

Always eventful, the 2010-11 season was one of the most disappointing in recent memory for Chelsea fans for a number of reasons. Just one year ago, the Blues lifted the Premier League title and FA Cup in manager Carlo Ancelotti’s first season in West London. By the end of the season, both crowns had been relinquished and their popular manager had been ruthlessly ousted in the wake of a trophy-less campaign.

Despite a summer overhaul that saw only two incoming transfers, midfielders Yossi Benayoun from Liverpool and Ramires from Benfica arriving to replace five experienced players who exited Stamford Bridge, the Blues stormed out of the blocks by winning their opening five matches to top the Premier League table; rattling in 21 goals and conceding just once in the progress. Significantly, however, talismanic midfielder Frank Lampard underwent surgery on a groin hernia which would lead to him vitally missing four months action until mid-December.

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Though they slipped to a first Premier League defeat at Eastlands in a 1-0 loss to Manchester City at the end of September, ten points from a possible 12, including a Didier Drogba-inspired 2-0 win over Arsenal saw Chelsea end October five points clear of nearest rivals Manchester United. The Blues endured a torrid time at Anfield as Fernando Torres double downed them in Liverpool with Drogba sidelined for the first half with a mystery virus. It was later revealed the Ivorian marksman had contracted malaria, a condition which clearly affected the forward in the coming months.

Despite the defeat at Anfield, Ancelotti’s men still led the league by four points after beating Fulham 1-0 at Stamford Bridge on November 10. The following day, Chelsea made the surprise announcement that assistant manager Ray Wilkins would be leaving the club with immediate effect, an abrupt end to employment for a crucial cog in Ancelotti’s back-room staff. Three days later, with captain John Terry joining Lampard and the suspended Michael Essien on the sidelines, the Blues suffered their heaviest home defeat in over eight years, thumped 3-0 by Sunderland in a Stamford Bridge horror show.

Though progression in the group stage of the Champions League was safely secured, much worse was to come over the coming months for Chelsea as they embarked on their worst League run in 15 years, taking just ten points from a miserable 11 games, which left their title challenge in tatters and qualification for the Champions League in serious doubt in the New Year. Now in fifth place, the January transfer window saw the Blues splash mid-season cash like never before in an attempt to battle back into the title race. So long a tormentor as an opponent, Chelsea broke the British transfer record to sign Spanish striker Torres from Liverpool for an eye-watering £50m on transfer deadline day with Brazilian defender David Luiz joining from Benfica for £21m.

Ancelotti was left facing the difficult task of integrating Torres into his starting line-up immediately and often opted for the misfiring Spaniard in favour of Drogba, though not even the Ivorian could prevent the Blues crashing out of the FA Cup in a fourth-round penalties defeat to Everton at Stamford Bridge. His side were to fair better in the Premier League as they rallied through March and April to take 22 points from eight games, cutting what had been a 15-point deficit on league leaders Manchester United to just three going into a crunch match with their Champions League quarter-final conquerors on May 8.

At Old Trafford, just three weeks after their Champions League exit, the Blues failed to turn up again and were simply blown away by a rampant United, the 2-1 score-line flattering the visitors greatly as their Premier League crown was all but wrenched from their hands. Ancelotti was unceremoniously dumped by the Chelsea board just an hour after a 1-0 defeat to Everton on the final day of a trophy-less season. Despite all the credentials on his CV, one season that ‘fell short of expectations’ was all it took for the axe to fall on the likeable Italian and, once again, the Blues will spend their summer scouring the globe for a manager to take the Stamford Bridge hot-seat.

Coach – Carlo Ancelotti: Now deposed, the Italian paid the price for Chelsea’s failure to retain their Premier League crown nor satisfying his employers’ craving for European glory in the Champions League as the Blues fell to United. Without assistance, he appeared forlorn during the clubs’ winter woes and cause was not helped by pressure of incorporating the expensive Torres into his plans. Sacked just 12 months after leading the club to their maiden League-FA Cup double in its 106-year history.

Turning point: Thursday 11 November 2010 – With no official reason given, whether Wilkins’ sacking as Chelsea assistant manager was as reported a result of falling out with influential superiors at the club or a cost-cutting exercise remains to be seen. What can be said is the impact of his departure detrimentally affected the players and Ancelotti for far too long and was probably more damaging than any single performance throughout a disappointing season.

Player of the season: Petr Cech – After a season in which no player really reproduced their title-winning form, Czech Republic goalkeeper Cech was voted Chelsea Player of the Year by fans having excelled throughout. Solid and rarely at fault, but for Cech’s presence the Blues may have dropped more points and suffered more than the nine defeats they fell to. Honourable mentions go to new-comers Luiz and Ramires who impressed throughout their first season at Stamford Bridge.

Average starting XI: Cech

Ivanovic – Luiz – Terry – Cole

Ramires – Essien – Lampard

Anelka – Drogba – Malouda

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