By Chris Harris
Second place and a possible Cup double? If you'd offered that to Chelsea fans five years ago they would have bitten your hand off. Silverware was hard to come by in those days but, of course, expectation levels have rocketed in recent years.
Roman Abramovich's investment and Jose Mourinho's management have delivered back-to-back titles to Stamford Bridge but a hat-trick looks unlikely after Manchester United stretched their lead at the top of the Premiership to five points last weekend.
The Carling Cup may be in the bag and an FA Cup Final against United looms large, but there is a sense of regret among Chelsea fans as the bigger prizes slip through their grasp. Losing the title would be bad enough but it has been compounded by Tuesday's Champions League exit at the hands of Liverpool.
You can be sure of one thing - Chelsea will come out fighting against Arsenal at Emirates Stadium on Sunday. Critics argue that the champions have 'bought' success but Mourinho has fostered a team spirit and resilience which is, quite frankly, priceless. Without it, Chelsea would probably have been out of the title race long ago after losing key players to injury.
We spoke to Tim Harrison of the Kensington and Chelsea News ahead of Sunday's big game. Read on for his thoughts on Chelsea's campaign, their outstanding performers this season, the potential future captain in midfield and the knock-on effect of this week's Champions League results.
THE STORY SO FAR
"It has been a fantastic season, one of the best. Some might argue that things have fallen apart at the end but Chelsea have had an astonishing winning sequence and they still have that tremendous home record. It seems they've been unbeaten at the Bridge since Stanley Matthews last pulled on a pair of shorts! There has been a great buzz at the Bridge, a full house every time, and Chelsea have been the pride of London. It's true.
"I'm not surprised they haven't done better in the Premiership. They won back-to-back titles and three in a row these days is almost impossible. I wonder if the hunger is quite the same as it was, purely because it's completely natural and evolutionary for it to drop when you've had so much success. Even a manager as inspirational as Jose Mourinho will find it difficult to harness that hunger after back-to-back titles and perhaps that is the one ingredient which has been slightly missing this season.
"There is a sense that people admire Chelsea's team spirit. Others have a perception that Chelsea are arrogant and because of that they are the new Manchester United, an object of hatred for a lot of people. Rightly or wrongly they think Chelsea have bought their way to the top. But some admire their style of play and accept that, while you can buy star players, you still need to mould them into a team.
"The injury to Petr Cech was a very serious blow. As for John Terry's absence, well, the results while he was out speak for themselves. He is indispensible. Having said that it has been a cracking season for Ricardo Carvalho and Michael Essien, and generally speaking the squad has been consolidated."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"The player of the season award is between Essien and Carvalho. I just think they have come on a lot, they have built on the strength of last season and been key figures. Chelsea have relied on them when pivotal figures like Terry were injured or others were rested. They are unsung to a great extent but deserve to share the player of the season award. Didier Drogba has had a stunning season up front, although he did well last season without enjoying the same scoring record. Really, it's hard to identify a weak link in the side."
THE BOY MOST LIKELY TO
"John Obi Mikel has come on and he will be a pivotal figure in the next five years. He's learning and is still a bit hasty in some of his challenges, but Mikel is a great leader and inspiration. I think he has the potential to be a Chelsea captain."
CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM
"Up until a week ago they were fighting on three fronts with the fourth in the bag. So I have no hesitation in saying this has been among the greatest seasons Chelsea have ever had, even if in terms of silverware it hasn't lived up to the last two."
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
"The FA Cup will be very difficult now because of Manchester United's defeat to AC Milan. Sir Alex Ferguson will see the league and cup double as their great hope now and he won't be distracted by the need to rest players ahead of the Champions League Final. The FA Cup Final is only four days before that so Ferguson would have been tempted to rest a few players. Not now though."
"I don't think Mourinho will rest anyone or rotate the squad. I think Chelsea will go flying at it. Emirates Stadium is a tough place to go and get any points but it is perhaps not the impregnable fortress it might be. Arsenal's season has tailed off and I think Chelsea will go all out for the win. In fact, I think they fancy themselves to get a win."
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