By Chris Myson
John Terry is unlikely to win any popularity contests held by those either inside or outside of football, but in a year that has seen more scrutiny than ever placed upon his character; the Chelsea captain’s performances on the pitch have been exemplary.
The Blues have rallied impressively since Andre Villas-Boas was sacked at the start of March and replaced by assistant boss Roberto Di Matteo until the end of the season.
But, while the Italian boss does deserve praise for steadying the ship and succeeding with some bold team selections, he will be thankful to his skipper, who has been making the difference with a string of inspirational displays.
This was a season that started with shaky performances, like the one he put in during the 5-3 defeat to Arsenal, a racism charge after comments allegedly made to Anton Ferdinand and the subsequent England captaincy saga which led to the departure of Fabio Capello.
In recent months, though, Terry has been able to produce consistently strong displays at the heart of Chelsea’s defence, despite what is still hanging over him off the field.
| TERRY'S CHELSEA RECORD SO FAR IN 2012
AV. GOALS CONCEDED PER GAME
Terry’s stats in 2012 say it all – a remarkable run of seven clean sheets and just two goals conceded by Chelsea in the nine games he has played this year, with a spot in the semi-finals of the Champions League now looking likely to go along with similar progression enjoyed in the FA Cup.
Terry’s name is a notable absentee on the teamsheets for each of the Blues’ most recent defeats – the first leg last-16 loss in Naples, the reverse at West Brom which ultimately cost Villas-Boas his job and Di Matteo’s only defeat at the hands of Manchester City – highlighting his importance to the team’s change in fortunes.
His commanding presence in the back four has helped David Luiz to grow in confidence, culminating in a terrific defensive performance from the duo when Chelsea defeated Benfica in midweek. Gary Cahill is also starting to settle nicely when he is paired alongside his international colleague, following his January move from Bolton.
Some analysts, including this writer, somewhat cheekily suggested Terry and his senior colleagues would effectively become managers of the Blues after the arrival of Di Matteo.
And the sight of the Englishman directing traffic with managerial hand gestures from the dugout after he came off in the closing stages of the second leg against Napoli did little to quell suggestions he had been given an even greater influence over the team.
But the truth is the 31-year-old’s leadership and organisational skills have been priceless since his return to the team from injury – he has stepped up and served everyone with a reminder of exactly why he had earned that level of responsibility in the first place.
In that second leg against Napoli, he led by example in defence with a number of timely blocks and interceptions before heading home a priceless goal as his side turned the tie around to complete an improbable comeback.
Victory and another solid display against Aston Villa this weekend would set Chelsea up nicely for their upcoming Premier League games against Wigan and Fulham, after which they will hope to have secured nine points and be much closer to the top-four shake-up.
|"Terry's leadership and organisational skills have been priceless since his return to the team from injury – he has stepped up and reminded everyone why he is so crucial to Chelsea."|
If fit, Terry will be the first name on the teamsheet at Villa Park as he looks to ensure he gets another shot at Europe’s elite club competition next season.
The Blues have only won five of their 15 away games in the Premier League this season - one of the reasons why they currently find themselves five points adrift of the Champions League positions.
They will need to display all of their new-found resilience to claim three points on the road - even if the Villans are struggling badly in the table - and the expectation will be on Terry to come to the fore again in leading another disciplined performance.
Judging from his displays of late, that is exactly what the captain will do as the club’s revival under Di Matteo continues.
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