After a week full of emotion, Chelsea signed off their 2012-13 campaign with a flourish in their 2-1 home win over Everton on Sunday. With Frank Lampard scoring the goals that places him alone at the summit of Chelsea's all-time scoring list and Branislav Ivanovic securing the club a second major European trophy in two years, the team could have been forgiven for being off the boil in the 70th game of a ludicrously exhausting season. Instead, there was energy, desire and more than a little creativity as Chelsea made sure of the third-place finish that they so utterly deserved.
In a season of constant flux and surprises, not many of them pleasant, Chelsea's 2-1 win over Benfica in the UEFA Europa League final was perhaps the craziest game of what has been the campaign's craziest period. A series of high-profile must-win games that has seen Manchester United, Tottenham and Aston Villa dealt with over the preceding days culminated in the acquisition of another piece of silverware albeit secured largely against the run of play. That Chelsea were second best on the pitch in terms of performance matters little in a final.
When Chelsea began the 2012-13 season, one of the main objectives was to once again contest a major European final in May. Their eyes were firmly fixed on becoming the first club to retain the Champions League title, but tumultuous circumstances dictated that it would be the Europa League that the Blues would be fighting for 12 months after that glorious night in Bavaria. At the time of Chelsea's exit from the Champions League group stages, there was little consolation in knowing that the club would still be continuing their pan-continental competition.
A recently retired and highly decorated manager once said, "Football, bloody hell!" If you had to pick one phrase to describe Chelsea's turbulent 2-1 win over Aston Villa on Saturday, Sir Alex Ferguson's memorable statement would be the perfect fit. A match that was topsy-turvy in the extreme and sent emotions cartwheeling from the depths of despair to unmitigated joy -- at least for the visitor's supporters -- resulted in every objective eventually being accomplished. -Delaney: Lampard scores in typical fashion -Lamps: Record for my mum The roller coaster plummeted as Chelsea fell behind to an effervescent Villa team and went a man down following Ramires' sending off before soaring skyward through Christian Benteke's dismissal to the crescendo of Frank Lampard's brace.
"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Albert Einstein coined that phrase in the early part of the last century and while he might not have intended it to refer to the game of football it perfectly encapsulates Chelsea's approach in the 2012/13 season, its apogee arriving in the 2-2 draw with Tottenham at Stamford Bridge. Yet again, Chelsea embraced the two elements that have undermined them all campaign – failing to capitalise on the chances created and then conceding a costly late goal.
There are barely enough adjectives in the English language to describe the magnitude of Chelsea's 1-0 win at Manchester United on Sunday. The landscape of the top four was dramatically altered the moment Juan Mata's deflected shot crept inside Anders Lindegaard's left-hand post to leave Chelsea on the brink of qualifying for next season's Champions League. -Okwonga: Man United drift to finish -Jolly: Rafa's resume gets a boost -Kenyon: Mourinho only choice for Chelsea Barring a mathematical miracle, a win against Tottenham on Wednesday will guarantee Chelsea's return to Europe's elite competition.
Whenever Chelsea and Manchester United have met in the Premier League era it has been a huge fixture. Before the Roman Abramovich reign began and even prior to the days of Ruud Gullit and Gianluca Vialli, Chelsea were always a thorn in United's side, famously winning both league games against them in the 1993-94 season while Sir Alex Ferguson's side were marching towards the first domestic double of the manager's tenure -- a feat secured by beating the Blues in the FA Cup final at Wembley. In the two decades that have passed since then, the two sides have gone toe-to-toe in the title race on a number of occasions as well as contesting finals in both the FA Cup and Champions League -- each side having their moments in the sun.
Chelsea will take part in their second major European final in 12 months and their third in six seasons after beating Basel 3-1 to book their place in Amsterdam. - Chelsea reaches Europa League final - Brewin: Benitez leads Chelsea towards European history The Blues now have the opportunity to become the first team ever to become holders of both the Champions League and the UEFA Cup/Europa League at the same time even if it would only be for a matter of days. They could also become only the third team -- fourth if you include Barcelona's Inter-Cities Fairs Cup triumph -- to win all three major UEFA tournaments if they can add to the European Cup and Cup Winners Cup that already reside in their trophy cabinet.
With so much to play for and opportunities to pick up points dwindling rapidly, it was absolutely vital that Chelsea made the most of their visit to Swansea. They did just that with a comfortable 2-0 win Sunday, courtesy of Oscar and Frank Lampard. The game might not have had the intensity of last Sunday's match with Liverpool, but the importance was just the same. Chelsea were patient and content with controlling the tempo as well as possession, waiting for chances to present themselves. A sudden injection of urgency just before halftime was enough to tilt the balance with a lovely one-touch move opening the scoring before Lampard effectively put the game beyond the visitors' reach before the break.
As the clock ticked down on Chelsea's Europa League semifinal first leg at FC Basel Thursday, it looked like being the same old story. A match largely dominated by the European champions was not killed off, early which left the door open for another catastrophic refereeing decision to allow their opponents to score a late goal. That was until David Luiz stepped up and set the record straight with the last kick of the game to give the Blues a deserved 2-1 victory. -Late strike gives Blues advantage -Delaney: Rafa just the ticket The Luiz winner aside, that scenario was developing from the moment that Fernando Torres struck the upright with the goal gaping midway through the second half as Chelsea began to retreat deeper and deeper in a bid to protect the 1-0 lead they held.
Chelsea face Basel on Thursday evening in a Europa League semifinal first leg that will focus the attention of all involved at the club. This competition represents the last and only chance of winning silverware this season, an alarming turn of events seeing as Chelsea have been entered into eight competitions if you factor in both major European tournaments. Rafael Benitez will hope that it is a case of the third time being lucky, seeing as he has seen his team crash out at the penultimate stage twice already in the Capital One Cup and the FA Cup.
As Chelsea's 2-2 draw with Liverpool on Sunday showed in horrific style, football can be the cruelest of sports. For the second time in a week, the Blues were denied their just desserts through another shocking display of refereeing. Last Sunday, it was Chris Foy who saw Sergio Aguero's two-footed stamp on David Luiz only to book the player before turning down one of the clearest penalties you are ever likely to see as Fernando Torres bore down on goal. -Suarez again villain & hero in draw -Suarez could face discipline -Tyler: Takeaways from a manic game Sunday, Kevin Friend outdid his colleague by failing to send off two Liverpool players who then combined to score the last-gasp equaliser 40 seconds after the frankly ludicrous six minutes of stoppage time had been completed.