Ask the Opposition

Ask the Opposition 20 – Chelsea

City are in the Champions League semi-finals, a remarkable feat, but on the domestic front are involved in a tense fight to play in the same competition next year. Tomorrow, City face Chelsea and to get a lowdown on their season and fortunes for the future, we spoke to Joe Tweedie, a Chelsea fan who writes for Chelsea fan site Plains of Almeria

Your season is coming to a wrap and it’s an empty-handed one. Is there a sense of disappointment; embarrassment or just down right relief in the air?

I think I have personally worked through the required stages of anger to comfortably just accept this season. There is a huge amount of disappointment and embarrassment at the utter capitulation. From champions to a genuinely bad side in the space of a few months is simply astonishing. Though, ultimately, I think this type of season has been lurking on the horizon for some time: admittedly I did not believe it would be as bad as this.

This is the first time in an incredibly long time that Chelsea have had nothing to play for at this stage of the season. No cup final to look forward to, no Champions League semi-final and clearly no league title to play for. It feels strange, but I guess it is a testament to how consistent Chelsea have been since the late 1990s. Chelsea have generally been involved in at least a cup run since 1997 onwards.

It is a terrifying prospect going forward. Chelsea have survived in perpetual chaos for so long mainly due to this insane core of players. In Čech, Terry, Lampard and Drogba (supplemented by Ashley Cole, Ricardo Carvalho, Michael Essien, Claude Makélélé, Michael Ballack etc.) Chelsea have had a spine of players who could simply put all the nonsense behind them and win football matches. It was a truly special group who were mentally as strong as anyone in football. It is no coincidence that with Terry being the last man standing this season, that standards within the squad have dropped and performances nosedived.

The season cannot end soon enough. I just hope that Chelsea’s superb crop of youngsters get some playing time before the season finishes. Arguably the only positive from this season would be if Chelsea lifted the FA Youth Cup and UEFA U19s Champions League again.

What have you made of the signing of Antonio Conte? I personally think it’s a great appointment.

A huge fan of Antonio Conte’s appointment and he adds to a potentially superstar mix of managers next season. His work at Siena and Bari was special, and perhaps forgotten in the context of his achievements with Juventus. However, the parallels between the situation Conte found himself at Juventus and what he walks into at Chelsea give cause for optimism.

I think the universal level of praise from players, young and old, concerning Conte tells you a lot about the manager. He is sort of a pre-Madrid version of José Mourinho: demanding but not to the point Mourinho was while at Madrid and his second spell at Chelsea. Conte is tactically flexible, a wonderful coach and someone who can inspire a group to achieve great things. I have high hopes for him.

With no European football next season and an expected revamp of your squad, do you think any big names could leave?

I think it is almost certain with Chelsea’s policy of “self-funding” any potential additions. I could see at least one of Thibaut Courtois, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa going for big money. While players like Oscar, Pedro and perhaps a few more certainly should add to the war chest. Ideally I would let Courtois go for big money and reinvest it in Chelsea’s midfield.

How do you rate our chances in Europe? Do you think we could win it?

I think with City, the hurdle has always been getting to the semi-finals. You have probably had better teams than this, but speaking from experience when I say that often does not matter. I fancy City in a one-off game against anyone left in the competition. The draw versus Real Madrid is probably the best, in terms of styles, that City could have got. How delicious would a Bayern Munich vs Manchester City final be given the implications?!

Prediction?

Probably going to be the weirdest Chelsea versus Manchester City game for some time. City on a comedown from such a high in Europe. Chelsea being the Chelsea of this season. I think City will win by one or two. Unsure if Chelsea turn up at all.

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