Season 2013/14 – Memories Are Made of This

It was billed as the first season under the rebranded 'Happy One' – but how happy an experience was this season home and away with Chelsea?

Season 2013/14 – Memories Are Made of This

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May 12th, 2014

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It was billed as the first season under the re-branded ‘Happy One’ – but how happy an experience was this season home and away with Chelsea? It was a season that was initially characterised by utter relief – that the man almost everyone wanted was back. The outset brought much optimism, but more than anything it brought a party feel that seemed to raise everyone’s mood into a bubble of goodwill. Hull City at Stamford Bridge on the opening day brought scenes of adulation – the precise opposite of the greeting the previous boss had received.

The champagne football was welcomed – with the exception of a pragmatic shut-out at Old Trafford, when the boss decided his ‘little eggs’ weren’t ready for the full omelette treatment quite yet. In the beer-soaked merriment in Prague’s Old Town Square, ahead of the penalties defeat to Bayern in the Super Cup, everything felt right with the world. The sun shone, and the crowds sang a song that went on to soundtrack the season: “He hates Tottenham…”

Even in the aftermath of that defeat, the talk was of great things to come – though there was later disquiet at the departure of Romelu Lukaku on-loan, and his replacement by former critic of the club Samuel Eto’o (how perceptions of him would change). September was when reality settled-in. Defeat at Goodison, and at home to Basel, was followed by a pretty anticlimactic clash with Andre Villas-Boas (remember him?) at White Hart Lane. Nothing fluctuates more than the barometer of hope at Stamford Bridge, and it sometimes seemed to switch from positive to negative in 45 minute cycles.

A second trip of the year to the Romanian capital brought a storm-lashed Bucharest – complete with roads blocked by fallen trees. Even the goals were flooding in, and the few that went seemed delighted at the progress. There were yet more goals in Gelsenkirchen – a destination best known as being a sort of one-horse Milton Keynes with slag heaps.

The Tuesday night Chelsea exodus to the Emirates (and later Arsenal exodus from it), though ‘only’ a League Cup tie, was a high point – a huge Blue section taking ownership of the place. Post-match tweets from ‘traumatised’ Gooners only added to the delight of the 0-2 Chelsea win. And then it was all misery again: defeat at Newcastle, Basel (complete with Swiss pints pitched at prices best suited to bankers), and Stoke.

It was around the time of that loss at the Britannia, and in the League Cup at Sunderland 10 days later, that the season changed. Mourinho recently admitted it was when he ditched the flowing style for belt and braces. Did people care? Most true football fans tend to have three priorities: results, then effort by players, and last of all playing style. Beating Liverpool at The Bridge post-Christmas was the first of a remarkable double-double over the two sides that finished above Chelsea – each of them pushing expectations ever higher. And that was one of the issues with this season – people were led by results to expect too much.

The FA Cup exit at the Etihad, again witnessed by a huge travelling support, hurt. But the earlier win there in the league had sweetened the pill. Most who visited Istanbul in late February reported they had been to one of the world’s greatest cities – though the small number who felt the sharp end of a knife may disagree (and still UEFA, disgracefully, turns a blind eye). Didier Drogba’s fairytale return for the second leg played out exactly as hoped – with adulation before and after a Chelsea win.

The 10-0 combined home win over North London United will be a brace of games that will live long in Stamford Bridge folklore – the whole stadium singing, on the latter occasion,of the visiting dugout’s ‘specialist in failure’. Palace and Paris, within a few days, perfectly illustrated the folly of that elevated sense of expectation. Losing at Selhurst Park left a feeling of impotence and anger – not at any outside events, but that the team just wasn’t there. And the trip to the French capital was a Chelsea classic: gleeful bonhomie; great songs; tabloid outrage at a riot that never happened; and, a shambolic defeat. The turning around of that result was probably the season’s high point (and, in true style, the one game I missed) – Stamford Bridge delivering an epic atmosphere for the occasion. And there, again, went that barometer of hope. Atletico were ultimately the better side – and I don’t know of single Chelsea fan who thinks the they were undeserving in their win.

The season ended in the unseemly event of a poorly choreographed parade lap after a dirge of a 0-0 draw with Norwich, in which fans had no idea whether or not they were saying farewell to key players. Ashley Cole, looking most likely for the exit, did at least receive the heroes send-off he deserved on the final day at Cardiff.

Another mammoth season at 57 games – though a mere blink of an eye compared with last season’s epic 69. A journey that, though completed, never quite reached the destination we were all searching for.
Perhaps that will come next season?

Until then keep the blue flag flying high.

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