Chelsea's wheel of fortune turning in their favour

Posted by Phil Lythell

Carl Court/AFP/GettyImagesDespite all the rollercoasters this season at Stamford Bridge, the Chelsea faithful's support of the players has never wavered.

Maybe it's the afterglow of beating one of your most hated rivals or maybe it's just the eternal optimism of a football fan, but if you look closely, you will see the slightest twinkle of light that suggests that Chelsea's fortunes might just be starting to change for the better.

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Different strands of the club that previously felt frayed and distant appear to be coming closer together, if not in harmony, then at least for the common good of the team. The squad itself is getting stronger while performances on the pitch, albeit far from perfect, are certainly improving. Ahead of what will be a testing night in Swansea for the second leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final, that can only be a good thing.

The most talked about aspect of Chelsea during the last two months has been the reception and treatment meted out to Rafael Benitez by the club's supporters. It has generated countless column inches and has given commentators from outside the club the opportunity to preach to Chelsea fans about how they should be supporting their club. This has been frustrating in the extreme but, contrary to what has been written in some quarters, the open protests from the stands have hugely diminished since his first match in charge against Manchester City. Don't be mistaken, there is not a lot of love for the former Liverpool boss among the die-hards of Stamford Bridge but there appears to be common acceptance that voicing a full-blown mutiny for 90 minutes at every match is only going to be detrimental to the team. Most anger and derision is now focused on the things that usually annoy all match-going fans such as tardy substitutions or incompatible tactics. Protests at Benitez's mere presence is kept until after the game.

One example in point was the 2-2 draw at home to Southampton. When Jason Puncheon volleyed home the equaliser, I was fully expecting vitriol to pour down the stands towards the dugout as irate punters sought a scapegoat for the squandering of a two-goal lead. Instead, despite the obvious howls of frustration, the Chelsea fans simply got behind their team with even more noise that they had shown in the previous 75 minutes, saving their vocal disappointment for the final whistle.

On Sunday against Arsenal, there was no audible hostility towards the manager at all even if Fernando Torres was testing the fans' patience. It obviously helped that Arsenal are even more despised by the Stamford Bridge faithful than Benitez and the eventual and much-needed win was also vital in boosting morale around the stadium. With the 2-1 victory ending the puzzling winless sequence at home -- and in the same stroke halting the interminable sermons from journalists about the destructive negativity of the Chelsea fans' ire -- the general form of the team is looking fairly positive. Performances on the road have been little short of perfect over the past eight weeks which is particularly handy seeing as Chelsea play their next four fixtures in all competitions away from home. If the same attitude and confidence can be applied to every display, wherever it may take pace, then the sheer quality of the squad at Benitez's disposal should be enough to acquire the right results.

The announcement that Ashley Cole has signed a one-year contract extension has supplied another big fillip to previously disillusioned supporters. It always looked as if releasing one of the world's great left backs was an idiotic move but it seems as if the club's board finally saw sense. Something must have changed since Cole refused Chelsea's initial offer but whether it was simply the money that talked or the players himself choosing to remain in a place where he is both settled and idolised, it really doesn't matter. One of Chelsea's very best players will be staying at Stamford Bridge. What the likelihood is of Frank Lampard joining him in the team photo next season remains to be seen, though at the moment it would appear to be highly unlikely. However should the decision-makers opt to continue this refreshing new course of negotiating with common-sense in mind rather than brainless prejudice then maybe, just maybe, the greatest Chelsea player of them all might just be given another campaign in the number eight shirt.

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The issue of personnel is looking up generally. The addition of Demba Ba has provided a trusted alternative to Torres and the Senegalese has quickly acclimatised to both the pressures and pleasures of playing for a club nearer the top of the Premier League than the bottom. John Terry is now back in full training and is available for selection having recovered from an injury that initially appeared as if it would end his season extremely early. As accomplished as Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic and David Luiz have been in his absence, there is no doubt that the squad as a whole have missed his drive and leadership. His return will have a demonstrable impact on the team.

Add to that the fact that in two weeks' time, or perhaps sooner, should Nigeria fail, the likes of John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses will have completed their international obligations at the Africa Cup of Nations and Benitez should have a full complement of players to choose from.

It does feel as if we have reached the tipping point to Chelsea's season. Wednesday's trip to the Liberty Stadium will tell us whether that feeling is vindicated or if it is just a little premature.

Follow Phil Lythell @PhilLythell

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