Goal nominates the top three performers from a mixed and ultimately trophyless season for the Blues - have your say in the comments section below!
While the first season of Jose Mourinho’s second spell at Stamford Bridge may not have marked an instant return to the trophy-hoarding traditions of his first tenure, there remains an ominous air around a side that has been impressive in its immediate remodelling in the new manager’s image. The flaws of the current Chelsea team are self-evident but there are few who do not fully expect the ironing-out process to ensure that barren campaigns such as this remain a notable exception.
Nor should a season without silverware necessarily equate to a season failed. After the many half-finished and varyingly fruitful rebuilding jobs that have been undertaken at Chelsea since Mourinho’s 2007 departure, the most effective of them appears to be the one commenced by the man himself. There is little doubt that serious progress has been made across the past 10 months.
And while much of the focus on Mourinho’s squad has fallen on the players who have failed to perform, it would be a shame if it was to detract from the displays of those who have spent the season exceeding expectations. Here, Goal looks at three of Chelsea’s most impressive performers as the club’s eleventh year under the ownership of Roman Abramovich draws to a close.
EDEN HAZARD | MIDFIELDER
It's been an odd fortnight for Chelsea's star man, who has been elected as both the Premier League's standout young player and his club's best performer while also enduring much of the culpability for his team's trophyless season being poured onto his shoulders by his very own manager.
Given the campaign Hazard has enjoyed, he could be forgiven for being less than impressed with Jose Mourinho’s recent comments – tough love or otherwise. Indeed, the Belgian has for long spells of this term been tasked with carrying the attack of a side with their eyes on every piece of silverware available.
With Chelsea's strikers primarily armed with blanks, and the creative prowess of Oscar and Willian frequently dampened in favour of their defensive diligence, Hazard has often stood alone as the team's inventive, goal-sniffing menace. To excel in such a context – and under a manager whose instinctive distrust of flair players is well-documented – is some feat, not least for a player of only 23.
The Belgian's imperious showing in Chelsea's 4-3 win at Sunderland sticks in the mind and was symbolic of the high-end, defence-piercing thrust that has characterises Hazard at his best.
He finishes the campaign topping both his club's goals and assists charts, and is by some distance the league's most prolific dribbler. There's little doubt that Chelsea's attacking unit is in need of drastic improvement, but this is emphatically despite rather than because of Hazard's input.
JOHN TERRY | DEFENDER
Until Mourinho's return to Stamford Bridge was announced last summer, many had all but consigned John Terry's regular contribution to top-level European football to the history books.
Indeed, it's now startling to discover that Terry only began 11 of his club's league fixtures last term, with the mobility and adventurousness of David Luiz popularly seen to have finally superceded the seemingly antiquated modus operandi of his captain.
Fast-forward 12 months and Mourinho's appointment has seen the immediate reinstatement of his trusted lieutenant with Terry having started – and completed every minute of – all but three of Chelsea's top-flight games. The return of a deeper-lying back four alongside the Portuguese's trademark low-risk football has seen Terry once again acting as the beating heart of a formidable backline.
The centre-back may not be fondly thought of outside of Stamford Bridge but his contribution within it is undeniable. Gary Cahill has excelled alongside him but it is Terry who has been the true lynchpin of a defence that is, by an astonishing margin, the division's most unyielding, having conceded 11 fewer goals than their nearest competitors.
Mourinho's team have hacked an entire third off the number of goals they let in last term, keeping a clean sheet almost every other game. The side's top end may be flawed and faltering but its foundation is demonstrably sturdy, in large part thanks to its skipper.
Turning 34 this year, Terry no longer represents his club's future in the way he once did, but there's little doubt that he remains an enduring part of its present.
CESAR AZPILICUETA | DEFENDER
Chugging quietly along at Stamford Bridge, behind all the misfiring strikers and away from all the spotlight-drawing press conferences, has been one the season's more low-key success stories. Despite the whispers that abounded upon Mourinho's return that the British old guard would be restored in place of the bourgeoning Spanish contingent, Cesar Azpilicueta has spent the majority of the season keeping Ashley Cole consigned to the bench.
The Spaniard may not have the profile of Cole but he has certainly supplanted the Englishman on merit, with his solidity having played an authoritative role in the side's rejuvenated back four. That his natural home is in fact on the right flank has not detracted from his performances: he has, from left-back, executed the most tackles of anyone in Chelsea’s squad and the most interceptions amongst its defenders.
Indeed, there exists a theory that the full-back's redeployment may have even assisted his advancement this term, with the forced curbing his more attacking instincts due to playing on the 'wrong' side having endeared him to a manager who prioritises impermeability. Whatever the reason, Azpilicueta has more than repaid Mourinho's faith and well surpassed the hopes that most had for a man who was, at the season's start, seen as little more than a squad player.
Ashley Cole may have welled up last week after what could well be his final outing for Chelsea, but the dependable showings of his replacement will have minimised the tears shed amongst Stamford Bridge regulars at their long-standing full-back's looming departure.