Just how do they do it? How do this Chelsea side continually snatch victory from the jaws of defeat as though the whole thing was scripted?
Their 2011/12 victorious Champions League campaign was littered with such displays against Napoli and then Barcelona. As if Europe wasn’t stunned enough, the Blues then impolitely pipped Bayern Munich to the crown itself in the German juggernauts’ very own Allianz Arena.
Not wanting the European football community to forget about them too quickly after a disastrous defence of their title, Chelsea then saw fit to continue their conquest with triumph in the Europa League against a bewildered Benfica.
Maybe it’s simple. Maybe Chelsea are able to pull off such improbable performances because they are a good footballing side who enjoy a sizeable helping of luck.
However, whilst Chelsea undoubtedly hold a place near the summit of the world’s most popular sport, they cannot have pulled off such absurd victories based on their footballing credentials and lady luck alone.
Indeed, you’d be hard pushed to find somebody, even a Chelsea fan, who believes the Blues were better than Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Benfica purely on footballing terms. As for the luck element, it seems rather far-fetched to suggest it has struck thrice. Either Chelsea are in for some seriously tricky seasons as their luck balances out or there must be something else responsible for their victories.
Bearing in mind their history, we shouldn’t have been surprised by Tuesday’s result. Yet, be honest; how many of you believed that Chelsea would prevail against their Parisian opponents? Luckily for Chelsea it didn’t matter whether or not we believed they could do it. What was important was that everybody on the Stamford Bridge pitch - including the PSG contingent - believed they could. This is the key to their success.
This Chelsea side have incredible, almost arrogant self-belief that appears to ask opponents: “why shouldn’t we win?” Unlike so many others when they find themselves in a tight spot, they remain utterly unfazed.
In big cup matches such as Tuesday’s, the psychological battle decides the result; it’s what makes cup matches so unpredictable and captivating. Why would the far superior Bayern Munich have been beaten at home by Arsenal in the 2012/13 knockout stages? Because they believed they had won the tie (having soundly beaten the Gunners in the previous leg) and so were unconsciously careless.
How did Bradford manage to make it to the League Cup final in 2013? Because each opponent they faced knew they should easily win and so the pressure to do so increased, increasing the nerves and causing mistakes.
Chelsea’s wholehearted and unquestioning confidence in their ability to win means they have the essential mental battle won before a ball is kicked in such cup games. Both teams on the pitch in these situations believe Chelsea can win which all but hands victory to the Londoners.
Having been played in by Yohan Cabaye, how did Edinson Cavani miss a seemingly simple chance to send his team to the semis? He managed to do so because the importance of a goal for his team weighed so heavily upon him that he was nervous enough to make a mistake.
Did André Schürrle or Demba Ba do the same when crucial chances came their way?
The source of this impressive confidence is difficult to determine, it is likely to be down to a number of factors and so attempting to pinpoint a crucial confidence enhancer will only ever be speculation.
However it appears this winning mentality is coming from the nature of Chelsea’s illustrious playing staff. The squad is filled with fearless young stars such as David Luiz, Eden Hazard and Oscar but it also retains a healthy helping of experienced club legends in the likes of John Terry, Petr Cech and Frank Lampard.
Each category of player is able to take confidence from the other. The experienced club heroes have confidence that the fearless young talents have enough about them to allow Chelsea to compete against anybody whilst the young stars take comfort, confidence and security in the presence of the legends; believing they will guide them out of any impossible situation.
Thus, the nerves of all of these players are banished leaving nothing but unswerving confidence in their place.
This confidence isn’t a physical commodity. It isn’t real. This is what allows Chelsea’s circle of assurance to exist; their two sets of players are essentially deceiving each other into confidence: there is no real reason to be confident.
Neither the young stars nor the old legends can ensure victory but the fact they both believe the others can mean all the players are confident in their team’s ability to win.
This is the magical factor responsible for Chelsea’s incredible (frustrating ,you might say) recent success: a confusing paradoxical circle of confidence.
In short, if you’re a manager trying to neutralise the Blue beast, you should repeatedly show Luiz and the rest of Chelsea’s young superstars a clip of Terry’s recent own goal against Crystal Palace just before your game. Their confidence in the club legends should be quickly shattered and the circle will be broken forever.
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