Chelsea see mixed fortunes under Scolari and Hiddink
The ghost of Mourinho still lingers at Stamford Bridge as the Blues cling to hope of FA Cup win
Chelsea's season, which began with such high expectations, could yet end with a trophy - but their journey to the FA Cup final and a top three Premier League finish has been a strange one.
The prospect of the Blues manager being lauded as his team marched out at Wembley would not have seemed far fetched to fans last summer, but no one would have ever guessed that Guus Hiddink would be the manager in question.
When Luiz Felipe Scolari was unveiled as the new boss at Stamford Bridge in early July his reign was heralded as a new dawn after the Avram Grant era. But the former Portugal and Brazil boss was eager to avoid comparisons with Jose Mourinho - who is fast becoming the 'elephant in the dressing-room' at Chelsea. Asked if he was the new Special One, Scolari responded: "I am special for my friend, family and country. As a manager - so, so."
The early signs suggested he was just being modest. He kept Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba at the club, brought in Deco and Chelsea's performances in the August sun promised much - taking the Blues to the top of the league.
Scolari cut a less than impressive figure - where were the expected fireworks?
But as the weather turned so did Chelsea's luck and in October they lost 1-0 to Liverpool at Stamford Bridge. The defeat ended a home unbeaten run that stretched back four years, eight months and 86 games. The Blues then lost to Roma in Europe and crashed out of the Carling Cup to Burnley. Although they were still top of the league they lost at Stamford Bridge for a second time in late November - this time to Arsenal. Then came a run of just two wins in six games as Liverpool and Manchester United (who beat them 3-0) both went above them in the table.
Off the field, Scolari was cutting a less than impressive figure – he seemed like an affable sort of chap, but where were the fireworks everyone had been waiting for? The players were off-colour, performances lackadaisical – lynchpin Didier Drogba was dropped. Scolari's aura seemed to be diminishing and his assessment of his managerial abilities suddenly seemed accurate.
After another defeat to Liverpool and a limp goalless draw with Hull, Roman Abramovich had seen enough and Scolari was shown the door after just seven months. With the league as good as gone, and Joe Cole out for the season and others injured, Chelsea's dreams of European redemption were also hanging in the balance.
But finally, in the eyes of the Blues fans, Abramovich did something right. He hired Russia boss Guus Hiddink on a temporary contract until the end of the season and immediately the canny Dutchman went to work on his charges.
Chelsea won four in a row in the league, and whispers of what might have been echoed around the Bridge. They knocked Juventus out of the Champions League. Then came the almost traditional European battle with Liverpool, Chelsea prevailing after a thrilling second leg that ended 4-4.
A reborn Didier Drogba secured Chelsea's path to Wembley as the Blues beat Arsenal in the FA Cup semis. Then they became the first club to stop Barcelona scoring at the Camp Nou all season as they battled to a 0-0 draw in the Champions League semi final.
Then came the defining fixture of their season. Chelsea were within touching distance of a place in the final when Andreas Iniesta scored a Barcelona winner in injury time. Ultimately Chelsea had failed to achieve their goal, but despite the over-the-top recriminations they had showed the mettle that appeared to have been lost earlier in the season.
Whoever takes over in the summer, fans will be hoping it is Hiddink rather than Scolari's Chelsea they see next season. ·