Chelsea's 2012/13 season was a rollercoaster ride that was both exhilarating and excruciating in equal measure. Acrimony and anger were as commonplace as ecstasy and entertainment as Chelsea veered back and forth from the sublime to the ridiculous with all manner of off-field controversies commanding as many headlines as events on the pitch.
There were 69 competitive fixtures in all, here is part one of eight matches that shaped this crazy campaign.
Tottenham 2-4 Chelsea – 20th October 2012 – Premier League
The 4-1 demolition at the hands of Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup aside, Chelsea had begun the season in fine fettle. Unbeaten in the league and with a regulation 4-0 win over Danish minnows FC Nordsjaelland in their opening Champions League fixture, the Blues were full of confidence and sitting on top of the table as they headed to White Hart Lane. Tottenham were shorn of Gareth Bale's services as the Welsh superstar was attending the birth of his first child, yet even had he been available he would have struggled to eclipse the performances of Eden Hazard and Juan Mata as they tore Andre Villas-Boas' side apart.
With the exception of a whirlwind ten minute period from the hosts after half-time in which they scored twice to give them a 2-1 lead, the match was dominated by an exciting, attack-minded team choreographed by Roberto Di Matteo. The win also provided their second victory in North London in a matter of weeks with Arsenal having already been vanquished 2-1 at the Emirates. Pre-season predictions of aiming simply for Champions League qualification were hastily upgraded to whispered talk of a genuine title challenge among the Chelsea fans. Things were looking good.
Chelsea 2-3 Manchester United - 28th October 2012 – Premier League
What a difference a week makes – or eight days to be precise. Chelsea went into what many were already citing as a title-defining six-pointer against Manchester United having been given a football lesson during the 2-1 defeat at Shakhtar Donetsk in the midweek Champions league fixture where tactical deficiencies were exposed. They were exposed still further within 12 minutes of kicking off in their next match as United raced into a two-goal lead by exploiting the space left behind the full-backs. Chelsea rallied admirably to level the score at 2-2 but the real drama was still to come. First Branislav Ivanovic was sent off – correctly – for hauling down a goal-bound Ashley Young. Then referee Mark Clattenburg deemed Jonny Evans' foul on Fernando Torres to have been a dive on the Spaniard's part and promptly issued him a yellow card – his second of the game – which was accompanied by a red.
Chelsea rightly seethed with injustice – a common theme of the campaign – a feeling that was exacerbated by Javier Hernandez netting a late winner against Chelsea's nine men despite being offside when the ball was played into him. The match was infuriating enough but what followed dragged the Blues' reputation into the gutter into the eyes of journalists, neutrals and rival fans when Clattenburg was incorrectly accused of racially abusing John Obi Mikel, a charge from which he was eventually exonerated. Chelsea's name was mud and many of their fans forged a conspiracy theory that the unfathomable array of bad decisions the club received over the course of the next few months was payback for their treatment of Clattenburg. That always seemed a little far-fetched but the events did strike the tone for the rest of the campaign while the defeat spelt the beginning of the end of Di Matteo's gilded stewardship.
Chelsea 0-0 Manchester City - 25th November 2012 – Premier League
A season that had started so serenely had now plummeted into turmoil with the depths plumbed by the arrival of public enemy number one, Rafael Benitez. It was bad enough that a playing legend and European Cup winning manager Di Matteo had been unceremoniously dispatched, though the flames of dissent became an inferno with the arrival of the former Liverpool boss. If either Benitez or Roman Abramovich were left in any doubt as to the supporters' opinions on the subject, they were made immediately aware of the growing disquiet as the latest appointment strode out of the Stamford Bridge tunnel prior to kick off against Manchester City.
The cascade of boos and whistles that greeted Benitez as he emerged into the glare of the floodlights for the first time was surely unprecedented in the annals of football hostory. The game itself was a bore draw - though it did offer a glimpse into the new manager's focus on tightening up the defence – yet the occasion grabbed all the headlines due to the ferocity of the fans' protests, a presence that would continue until the season's final day.
Newcastle 3-2 Chelsea - 2nd February 2013 - Premier League
For the neutral, the five-goal thriller at St James' Park showed just why the Premier League is held in such high regard around the world. High tempo, end to end football, great goals and a grandstand finish were a joy to behold – unless you were connected to Chelsea. There were certainly highlights - not least the world class strikes from Frank Lampard and Juan Mata that put the visitors into a 2-1 lead - but there was even more to ponder. Chelsea had begun to get into the suicidal habit of being unable to hang on to a lead with advantages against humble outfits such as Southampton and Reading being thrown away in recent games and the trend continued on Tyneside.
The game was also notable for John Terry's rash challenge in the middle of the pitch which allowed Moussa Sissoko to equalise when Chelsea were in the ascendency – a mistake that decisively shifted the momentum in Newcastle's favour It obviously made an impression on Benitez who subsequently relegated the club captain to the substitutes' bench for the team's more important matches over the rest of the season. Oh, and Demba Ba got kicked in the face by Fabricio Coloccini in the penalty area; a challenge that referee Howard Webb did not consider to be a foul despite Ba's nose having been splattered all over his face.
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