First off, what a season it has been, the rollercoaster full of ups, downs, and plenty of turns have made for a head-spinningly dizzy time for Chelsea and its supporters. After the result against Aston Villa on Sunday afternoon and a little help from Tottenham, Chelsea now sit in the top-four to finish the season. Not only did that fulfill the goal of hiring manager Thomas Tuchel, but it fulfilled the season's aspirations for the club with one final test remaining next weekend in the Champions League final against Manchester City.
However, the journey to this ultimate destination was perhaps the most beautiful part of this season. To start, the global pandemic spurred on by COVID-19 waged on across the country and the globe as healthcare workers, first responders, educators, and a multitude of other heroes put themselves on the line for the rest of us. They are what allowed this season to start, continue, and ultimately come to a successful conclusion through their sacrifices.
Much like the hope that the global pandemic would soon be abated, so too was there hope of what Chelsea could accomplish this season. After spending nearly £220 million on incoming transfers over the summer, along with club legend Frank Lampard at the helm, the aspirations for the season seemed limitless in August.
Despite a promising start to the season, especially undefeated play in the Champions League Group Stages, as Christmas and New Years approached the club faltered. No amount of skill or talent from the players seemed to be able to pull them from the downward spiral they were incurring. Young manager Frank Lampard was not yet equipped with the skills to reverse the spiral and faltering morale, and as such the club fell to ninth in the Premier League table. The writing was on the wall.
Perhaps the most heart-wrenching part of the season was the inevitable departure and sacking of Lampard. The legend had done so much for the club on the pitch, and most recently had led Chelsea to a top-four finish in 2019/20 without the ability to acquire new players via transfer. However, Chelsea's owner, board, and supporters expect a winning product on the field. Champions League qualification is merely the minimum standard.
As such, Lampard was sacked. Despite what transpired, one thing should be clear: he is still the best player to ever wear the shirt and should be respected as such.
Lampard gave it his all, both on and off the pitch for the club. The fact that he is worried about his legacy and standing with Chelsea supporters is frustrating.
"I have to say that when you lose your job it's hard," Lampard told The Telegraph. "Anyone who says anything differently is a liar. It's not the truth.
"Very quickly the dust has to settle and one of the biggest things for me - living in Chelsea, a mile from the ground - is that I walk around and see Chelsea fans all of the time.
"You do wonder what the reaction will be because you've lost your job - will they be happy with what you did or not? And I think it made me realise even more, the bond I had with them from my playing days but also what they saw, what I was working towards in season one [as coach], up until the point where I left in season two."
However, this club moved forward and continues to do so after master tactician Thomas Tuchel was brought in to take on the difficult task of turning Chelsea's season around from sitting in ninth to qualifying for the Champions League next season. He rose to the occasion and exceeded the standards set forth before him by the club.
Ensuring top-four status took until the 38th and final match of the season and if it weren't for a little help from Tottenham, then Chelsea would have been on the outside looking in. Of course the Champions League final was always another path for entry into next season's Champions League Group Stage, but no one wanted the hopes to hang on that.
But, that is just it. Despite the success of finishing top-four, despite the appearance in the Champions League Final, the loss against Aston Villa on the final day of the Premier League season is what helps define this season's squad.
Chelsea this season has been defined by reaching the highest of highs, while also relinquishing points and trophies to lesser quality clubs. When Chelsea has scored first, they have won the majority of those matches. However, when scored on first, as evidenced against Villa, they have lost the majority of those matches. Whether it be the youth, lack of on field leadership, or lack of belief in the system, this season's squad has shown the inability to fight back, overcome adversity, and play with a killer's instinct.
It is easy to point fingers towards the failures of certain players for the above issue. Timo Werner, one of the most expensive transfers of last summer's window, has been the target for a lot of criticism when it comes to Chelsea's shortcomings this season. However, he has helped create chances, has scored goals, and his pace can help alter the outcome of the game. However, Werner leaves a lot to be desired as evidenced by the club's outspoken desire for a true striker this summer.
Yet, leadership on the squad has been the key to helping the club get to where it is at this season. The youth on this club has helped propel it, but the veteran leadership has helped navigate a managerial change, overcome pivotal moments such as losing against Leicester in the FA Cup final then defeating them in a must-win match three days later, and keep the club on track after the Super League debacle.
In essence, this club is only a few players and a mentality shift away from competing for the Premier League title. Chelsea, its board, and its owner undoubtedly hold that goal for as soon as next season. And yet, the greatest prize and challenge of all still awaits this club in the Champions League final next weekend. Another victory over Manchester City could bring more prestige to this club than it could have mustered with an FA Cup Final victory or a top-four finish. And that is the dichotomy that has defined this squad.
Looking back on the tumultuous season, the goals set forth were accomplished, even if the club needed a little help in the eleventh hour, and expectations were exceeded. There have been learning curves for new and veteran players alike, along with the new coaching staff that had yet to experience what managing in the best league in the world was truly like.
All in all, this season was a foundational stepping stone for improvement and the potential for even bigger heights awaits next season. Meanwhile, the quest for European glory isn't even over yet.