This season was always going to be a rollercoaster for Frank Lampard’s Chelsea, though not many Blues fans would be able to anticipate just how thrilling and dramatic the ride would be.
When the Premier League fixture schedule was announced in June, all eyes turned to a bumper week at the end of December, a fitting way to end the decade. Chelsea were to make their first trip to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to face Spurs on 22 December, before returning to north London to meet Arsenal a week later.
Everyone at the club knew that would be the defining week of the season.
Two London derbies in the space of seven days would potentially make or break Chelsea’s season in what would be a huge test for Lampard and his youngsters. Taking six points out of six from their arch rivals was one thing, but earning ultimate bragging rights in London was just as significant.
Those rights are important to any team, and that is certainly the case on the banks of the Thames. Chelsea take pride in calling themselves the best team in London, and the pressure was on to win the December derbies and be the undisputed pride of the city going into the new decade.
The trip to Tottenham was preceded by an embarrassing defeat to Bournemouth, who scored late to punish a poor Chelsea side at Stamford Bridge. It gave little encouragement for the upcoming derby.
It gave birth to the perfect rhetoric: José Mourinho vs Frank Lampard, the master meets the apprentice in the Premier League. The former at the club he said he’d never manage, the latter at the club he loves.
Chelsea won a corner 12 minutes into the game. Willian played a short one-two with Mateo Kovačić, bursting into the box and guiding his shot into the bottom corner like a missile. Bedlam in the blue corner, pure joy on the touchline. He really does hate Tottenham.
Tottenham’s frustration was becoming apparent, and then proven when Paulo Gazzaniga absolutely clattered Marcos Alonso while trying to get the ball. The Blues somehow needed referral from VAR to get the penalty, which Willian duly tucked away to double Chelsea’s advantage.
That win at Spurs was one of the sweetest of Lampard’s short reign, a resounding victory in their bitter rival’s backyard. An early Christmas present gracefully accepted by Blues fans – the first test had been passed with flying colours.
Chelsea were brought back to reality on Boxing Day, defeated by Southampton back at the Bridge. Another lacklustre performance which proved that there was still work to do, but attention once again turned back to north London for the decade finale.
It was hard to imagine the win over Tottenham being topped, but Chelsea produced a remarkable comeback across town.
Just 13 minutes into the match at the Emirates, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang put Arsenal in front, with his header too powerful for Kepa Arrizabalaga to keep out. For most of of the game, the visitors were trailing and looking for a way back into the game. Would it ever come?
Mason Mount sent a tantalising ball into the Gunners box from a free-kick, which was seemingly heading into the arms of Bernd Leno. Not only did the German try punch it clear, but he missed the ball completely, leaving a clear passage for Jorginho to tap into an empty net from two yards out.
Chelsea were level seven minutes from time, but they were hungry for the win. Four minutes later, and they had a golden chance on the counter attack.
Antonio Rüdiger headed clear, as Callum Hudson-Odoi’s knock on fell to Willian. The Brazilian played it to Tammy Abraham and sped from his own box into the final third, at a tantalising speed. Retrieving the ball, the Brazilian pulled it back to Abraham, who did the rest.
The turn. The finish. The scenes.
Chelsea had scored two goals in four minutes right at the death, turning it around and sealing a dramatic late victory at the Emirates. From hapless defeat to the taste of sweet victory, albeit another London derby win. The final whistle was greeted by a huge blue roar, ending the decade with a fine Chelsea performance.
The celebrations were wild, the joy was priceless. Two huge derby wins – both away from home – within the space of a week was the perfect way to bring a fruitful decade to an end. Lampard’s debut campaign will be remembered for a multitude of on-field reasons, none more so than that week where Chelsea gave the capital a fresh coat of royal blue.