The 2015/16 season will always be remembered for Leicester’s historic title win. However, as Mahrez and Vardy et al were storming their way to the top of the table, Chelsea were languishing dangerously close to the relegation zone. This is the story of how one club conspired to have the biggest post-title slump ever seen in English football.
The Blues came into the season full of confidence after winning the title the previous year, eight points clear of second place Manchester City. In the first half of the season, they had blown teams apart before adopting a more conservative and pragmatic approach. The second half of the season may not have had the same glamour, but everyone involved in Chelsea would have expected them to at least have an attempt at retaining the title.
Just looking at Chelsea’s transfer activity in the summer of 2015 shows instability and unrest at the club. Club legends such as Didier Drogba and Petr Cech left the club whilst they also sold or loaned out players who, with the benefit of hindsight, could have been a great asset to the team. These included the likes of Mohammed Salah, Juan Cuadrado and Felipe Luis; who since have been performing exceptionally at their respective clubs.
In terms of acquisitions, Chelsea brought in Baba Rahman from Augsburg who made 23 appearances across all competitions that season. Players such as Asmir Begovic, Kenedy and Papy Djilobodji were also signed. Chelsea’s most significant transfers that summer were the capture of Pedro from Barcelona and a loan deal for Radamel Falcao from Monaco.
Pedro started the season brightly, scoring on his debut against West Bromwich Albion. However, he did not maintain this form across the season and only managed to score eight goals. As for Falcao, he came into Chelsea off the back of a loan at Premier League rivals Manchester United. The Colombian striker was still considered by many to be one of the top number 9s around. However, he struggled with injury and form on his arrival at Stamford Bridge and only scored once in 10 appearances for the Blues.
The first signs of an impending disaster were seen in Chelsea’s first match of the season. Mourinho publicly lambasted the first team doctor, Eva Carneiro, for going onto the pitch to treat Eden Hazard. Mourinho felt his injury was not of a serious nature and his comments drew great criticism from the public and media alike and led to Carneiro leaving her position and eventually winning a £5million settlement.
This incident set the tone for the season and was the first sign of Mourinho losing his grip on the club which he had molded in his own vision so successfully ten years previously.
Chelsea’s first half of the season was nothing short of disastrous. In the month of August alone they lost to Manchester United, Crystal Palace and Everton. By the end of November, they were in 16th position in the table and were already in full damage limitations mode.
The board decided to relieve Jose Mourinho of his position after a defeat to Leicester left them only a few points above the relegation zone at the halfway point of the season. Previous manager Guus Hiddink returned and did a good enough job at steadying the ship until the end of the season.
Much has been written and discussed about why Chelsea fell so short in that season. It ultimately comes down to a once great manager being overtaken by the modern game and losing control of the dressing room which he once commanded with such authority.
It does have to be noted that many players failed to perform too. Eden Hazard being the most notable. In the title-winning season the year previously the Belgian was at his mercurial best as he fired Chelsea to league success. Just a few months later he was a shadow of his former self and drew the ire of many Chelsea fans. Hazard was not the only player to underperform that season. Other than possibly Willian and a handful of young academy players, almost every Chelsea player was culpable. Most notably Oscar, Hazard and Nemanja Matic, who all at times looked they would rather be anywhere else than on the Stamford Bridge pitch.
This apparent apathy coupled with the loss of Chelsea’s historic spine in the likes of Drogba, Cech and Lampard and the decline in influence of John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic was a potent mixture which combined to give Chelsea a torrid year. After the sacking of Mourinho, Chelsea’s fortunes started to look up. They went unbeaten in the league from the 19th December (Hiddink’s first game in charge) until the 9th of April. There were convincing wins against Crystal Palace, Newcastle and Aston Villa in this run whilst they also drew against Manchester United twice.
Outside of the league, Chelsea were having an equally bad time of it. They exited the FA Cup in the sixth round after losing 2-0 at Everton and were knocked out of the League Cup in the 4th round by Stoke. They were eliminated from the Champions League in the round of 16 by Paris Saint-Germain in a limp display in which former Chelsea defender at the time, David Luiz, was one of the standout players.
If there were any positives from this season they were few and far between. As mentioned previously Willian kept his reputation intact and at times looked like the only Chelsea player who was playing for the shirt he was wearing. The likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Matt Miazga and Tammy Abraham were all given first team debuts and were not as embarrassing as their first-team team members.
The one moment from this season which all Chelsea fans will savour and relish is the match against Tottenham on 2nd May where they came back from two goals down to end Spurs’ hopes of winning the title and confirm Leicester as champions. The match has now been dubbed ‘Battle of the Bridge’. It was a heated affair which saw Spurs pick up a Premier League record of nine yellow cards in one match. Moussa Dembele also gouged Diego Costa in the eye which saw him banned for six games. After the final whistle, there was a mass brawl involving both sets of players and coaching staff which resulted in Guus Hiddink being knocked to the floor.
It is perfectly acceptable to not feel much sympathy for Chelsea or fans when thinking back to 2015/16. They have been one of the most successful teams of the 21st century and have won every trophy possible since Abramovich bought the club. It also has to be remembered that in the following season they won the title under new manager Antonio Conte.
Whilst the 2015/16 season may have just been a one-off, it was interesting to see a team who had no worries of finishing outside the top four be forced to deal with the trials and tribulations of a midtable Premier League slog.
It goes to show that if the cards are stacked in the right way than any team can find themselves in Chelsea’s position.
Jose Mourinho now feels long gone from Stamford Bridge. Whilst Chelsea’s fortunes turned around quickly, his have not. He is drawing criticism readily for the job he’s doing at Manchester United and seems to have never really recovered from the disastrous start to the season he oversaw four years ago.
Chelsea are now under the stewardship of Maurizio Sarri and will be looking to start challenging for the Premier League title once more. For the players who were there during that fateful season, they will know what can happen if they do not give their all to the club and will be hoping this dreaded season does not happen once more.