Sport

The best Chelsea team, according to me.

Yes, the last piece I wrote was about Chelsea and I’m writing another one straight afterwards. I’m not going to apologise for that. As we approach the end of the decade, we’re seeing lots of best of the decade lists, for everything from songs to football players etc. So, I thought I would get in on the act and then alter it a bit. I’m going to put together my ultimate Chelsea team over the time I’ve actively supported them, which is the start of the 2002/03 season. Players have to have been at the club at the start of that season and beyond to be considered. I’ll be using a 4-2-3-1 formation, because although Chelsea have won trophies using all manner of formations, but this is the formation that much of their success has come from using. And it’s the formation I use in Football Manager and it’s as simple as that. This is the ultimate team of players who have played for Chelsea over the last 17 years, according to me.

Goalkeeper- Petr Cech (2004-2015, 4 Premier Leagues, 4 F.A. Cups, 3 League Cups, 1 Champions League, 1 Europa League)

I was never going to pick anyone else. This man was a colossus in goal for Chelsea for over a decade. I genuinely think he could be the finest goalkeeper Chelsea has ever had, and I do include Peter Bonetti in that. He set a record of 1,025 minutes without conceding a goal in the Premier League and so, so often he put in titanic performances that helped establish Chelsea as one of the powerhouse teams of the 2000s and 2010s.
He came back from a life-threatening injury that has earned Stephen Hunt the eternal hatred of all Chelsea fans, with no drop in his abilities or performances. And he has still made the best save I have ever seen live at a game, against Manchester United in the sixth round of the F.A. Cup in 2013. Cech’s reactions were so quick to tip the ball over the bar from Javier Hernandez’s header that many people in the stadium, my dad included, thought the header had hit the bar. A fine goalkeeper who was not just one of Chelsea’s greatest, but one of the greatest goalkeepers of the modern era of football.

Right Back- Branislav Ivanovic (2008-2017, 3 Premier Leagues, 3 F.A. Cups, 1 League Cup, 1 Champions League, 1 Europa League)

This was a very difficult decision but for me, at the moment at least, Ivanovic just squeezes Cesar Azpilicueta out by a whisker. Brana had a difficult start to life at Chelsea failing to nail down a starting place for a long time. He also played at both right back and centre back, before injuries allowed him to finally establish himself as the first choice right back. And it was in that position that he wrote his name into Chelsea history, not just with his defensive abilities, good in the tackle as well as in the air, but the number of important goals he was able to score as well. By the time he left, it was clearly time to part ways but Branislav Ivanvoic’s contribution to the successes of Chelsea Football Club over the last 17 years cannot be denied.

Centre Back- John Terry (1995-2017, 5 Premier Leagues, 5 F.A. Cups, 3 League Cups, 1 Champions League, 1 Europa League)

Another that was never going to be left out of my team. John Terry is Chelsea, Chelsea is John Terry. Other football fans may deride and despise him, but to Chelsea fans he is approaching god-like status. One of the finest centre-backs the English game has produced, Terry left everything on the field every time he played for the Blues. His timing of a tackle was superb, his heading ability critical at both ends of the field, and his ability to inspire and organise the team was vital to the success Chelsea have enjoyed over the last two decades. He is also one of the finest passers of a football I have ever seen. Much can be said about his transgressions, and I don’t forgive him those, but this list is on footballing merits and on those criteria, John Terry must be included.

Centre Back- Gary Cahill (2012-2019, 2 Premier Leagues, 2 F.A. Cups, 1 League Cup, 1 Champions League, 2 Europa Leagues)

There are a number of players who could fill the second centre back berth over my time of watching and supporting Chelsea. Marcel Desailly, Ricardo Carvalho, Alex. An argument could be made to move Ivanovic into central defence and put Azpilicueta in at right back. However, I’m going for Gary Cahill. The player that joined Chelsea from relegation threatened Bolton in January 2012 and was a European champion four months later.

Cahill was vital in both of Chelsea’s most recent Premier League winning campaigns and helped to win a Champions League final where Chelsea were second favourites having rushed back into the side after suffering a hamstring injury in the semi-final. Cahill proved himself a leader during the 2016-17 season where he spent much of the time as captain on the field and took on the captaincy properly when John Terry left. It was a disappointing season for him last year as he rarely got a look-in, but Gary Cahill deserves to be remembered as one of Chelsea finest defenders in the Abramovich era.

Left Back- Ashley Cole (2006-2014, 1 Premier League, 4 F.A. Cups, 1 League Cup, 1 Champions League, 1 Europa League)

Ashely Cole is widely regarded as one of the finest full backs ever produced in the English game. The way he was able to combine great tenacity and acumen as a defensive player with genuine quality in his delivery further up the field has set the template for the modern full back on the left- or right-hand sides. Trent Alexander Arnold and Andy Robertson are great examples of the threat full backs can carry going forward while also being really solid defensively. They follow in the footsteps of Ashley Cole. The number of times Ashley Cole was able to reduce or negate completely the threat of world class attacking players is truly remarkable and was a huge factor in the successes Chelsea enjoyed during his stay. When Cristiano Ronaldo says you were the toughest left back, he’s played against, you’re doing something right.

Central Midfield- N’Golo Kante (2017-Present, 1 Premier League, 1 F.A. Cup, 1 Europa League)

N’Golo Kante has the shortest Chelsea career out of anyone on this list, but his impact in the time he’s been at the club has been immense. He came to a side in disarray and helped it rise back up from its ruin. His first two seasons showed everyone the qualities and skills that had made such a hit at Leicester City in their title winning season. His scampering terrier like ability to sniff out a chance to win the ball and get the team moving forward. That was one of the foundations of Antonio Conte’s side.

However, and this is to Maurizio Sarri’s great credit, he was moved to a more advanced role last season and it showed a new side to his game that had been hinted at before but not allowed to flourish. Kante’s ability to carry the ball forward himself, his low centre of gravity making it very difficult to knock him off the ball. It was all shown in a more attacking sense. It was so effective that Frank Lampard has kept Kante in that role this season, rather than simply moving him back to his previous role.

Central Midfield- Frank Lampard (2001-2014, 3 Premier Leagues, 4 F.A. Cups, 2 League Cups, 1 Champions League, 1 Europa League)

If you thought that anyone other than Frank Lampard was going to be in my central midfield, you are mad. He is Chelsea’s record goal scorer. End of conversation. The fact that he did from midfield makes it even more remarkable. One of the cornerstones of the side for so many years, he was also a fantastic passer, and was strong in the tackle. A man who worked and worked and worked until he was one of the best players in the world of his generation. A true Chelsea legend.

Right Wing- Joe Cole (2003-2010, 3 Premier Leagues, 2 F.A. Cups, 1 League Cup)

I really struggled over who would take this spot, Joe Cole or Willian. In the end, I went for Cole. Joe Cole was a raw talent when he came to Chelsea in the first spending spree of Roman Abramovich’s reign. Wonderfully talented on the ball, but the final product was sometimes lacking. But Jose Mourinho took him to task and worked with him to improve and hone his talent into real impact on the field. Even when he was weighed down by injuries, Joe Cole was capable of turning a game on its head and to Chelsea’s advantage. He learned to be tenacious without the ball to enable him to work his magic when he had it. A great player for the club.

Centre Attacking Midfielder- Gianfranco Zola (1996-2003, 2 F.A. Cups, 1 League Cup, 1 Cup Winner’s Cup, 1 UEFA Super Cup)

Zola helped to absolutely confirm to me that I was a Chelsea fan. We were staying in London for the weekend and were in the hotel room watching the Premier League highlights show which was on ITV at the time. Chelsea had played Everton that weekend and won the game comfortably but it was the final goal of the game that made my jaw drop. Zola chased a ball that had been punted down the Chelsea left, saw that the keeper was off his line and casually lobbed the ball over him from the edge of the penalty area and into the net. It was perfect and utterly typical of the man. Zola’s time at Chelsea is littered with golden moments like that. His mazy dribble past three Liverpool defenders in his last game for the club, the back-heel goal against Norwich. You could go on forever. His touch was exceptional, his vision sublime and he is one of the finest free kick takers I’ve ever seen. No one has ever had a shirt number retired at Chelsea, including Zola, but his number 25 is apparently considered to be effectively retired. I can think of no higher honour for one of the club’s finest players who helped transform the culture of the club before Chelsea was one of the biggest in the world.

Left Winger- Eden Hazard (2012-2019, 2 Premier Leagues, 1 F.A. Cup, 1 League Cup, 2 Europa Leagues)

Eden Hazard was the talisman of many of the Chelsea sides he played in. If Hazard was on form, even if Chelsea as a team were not, they had a chance of scoring or nicking a result. If he was having a poor run of form, the whole team faltered. Brilliant with the ball at his feet, able to effortlessly glide past players, he was the man Chelsea so often turned to if they hadn’t found a way to goal. Most effective on the left wing, but able to play across the attacking line, he was able to do things with a football that sometimes beggared belief. In the end, I feel the team and managers became slightly too reliant on him to create and score the goals for the team and that could only go so far. He was always going to be missed this season and that has proven to be the case, but he gave seven years of exceptional service to the club and wrote his name in shining lights in the history of Chelsea Football Club.

Striker- Didier Drogba (2004-12, 2014- 2015, 4 Premier Leagues, 4 F.A Cups, 3 League Cups, 1 Champions League)

Didier Drogba really struggled in his first two seasons at Stamford Bridge. He only scored 31 goals in all competitions in his first two seasons at the club and faced accusations of diving and derision for his poor ball control and lack of goal scoring form. But he left a king, having scored over 160 goals and having claimed the prize that obsessed Roman Abramovich the most. As Martin Tyler said in Munich, he was the man for the big occasion, the big man. Wonderful in the air, a fantastic dribbler, a deadly finisher, he was the all-round perfect striker. He is the one I would choose to lead the line any day of the week.

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