baller/noun : a talented player of a ball game.
“Chelsea FC always have ballers in their side.”
We really are lucky to be fans of the Pride of London, as we have had no deficiency of “ballers” at Stamford Bridge. “Ballers” refer to those players who possess a sly trick up their sleeve – that one “moment of brilliance” to lift the fans off their seats. These “moments of brilliance” are interpreted by each individual in their own manner – it could be a jaw-dropping save, a stunning strike from distance or a cheeky bit of footwork to get past the opposition defender. At the club, we are blessed to have been able to witness all of these in abundance. Chelsea FC inevitably replaces an outgoing player of this calibre by signing another one with a similar skill set. Such quality has made my task a very tedious one: picking just few moments which stand out from a long list is very unjust to the ones omitted. However, I have compiled a list of certain flashes of excellence embedded deep in the chambers of my mind, chosen for both sheer quality, as well as the audacity to showcase this at a high-stakes game.
#5 Cesc Fabregas assist vs Burnley (2014)
Jose Mourinho’s second season, in his second spell at Chelsea, begun with a lot of anticipation following a fantastic transfer window that acquired Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Filipe Luis, all from the Spanish League. To start the season away at Burnley is never an easy one to begin with, as the Clarets are considered one of the most aggressive and gritty sides in the PL. However, our two new signings Costa and Fabregas were on song, with a goal and two assists respectively.
Cesc Fabregas’s first assist in Chelsea colours following his move from Barcelona was a thing of beauty – we could watch it over and over again. A deft touch of the ball with a perfectly weighted pass from the edge of the box to Schurrle, who had timed his run to perfection. The Burnley defence could only watch in awe, and the supporters in the stands shared this expression, both home as well as the travelling support. Just a few minutes after taking the lead Burnley were trailing, and it got worse soon after as Cesc grabbed his second assist from a corner, which saw Ivanovic head the ball into the back of the net. The game ended 3-1 in favour of the Blues, and it was our first of 26 wins which saw us clinch the PL title for the fourth time.
#4 Oscar goal vs Juventus (2012)
Few can forget this iconic and bizarre Brazilian attacking-midfielder. Iconic, because on his day he was one of the top players in his position, but bizarre because “his day” came once in a blue moon. His inconsistent performances were excused owing to his age, and he was the preferred option in comparison to Mata when Mourinho was at the helm. He did score some sublime goals at his time in London, along with displaying some exquisite skills. However, he was eventually sold to Shanghai SIPG in China during Conte’s reign.
The moment from this player I am picking is his goal against Juventus. Entering the competition as the winners, there was a huge aura of belief in the first game against the Italian champions. There were a host of Champions League debuts for some players, and a first start for our new signing, Oscar. He completely stole the show in the first half by scoring a brace. Despite the first effort being deflected from distance, the second goal eluded the requirement of needing any luck whatsoever. After receiving the ball at the edge of the box with his back towards Gianluigi Buffon’s goal, he gently touched the ball to take it away from Andrea Pirlo, and turned and hit the ball with absolute perfection. Oscar initially drifted the shot wide, and with the Italian goalkeeper stretching to his maximum in a bid to make the save, the ball dipped and went precisely into the top corner. The jaws of every single Chelsea fan in the stadium, as well as around the world, dropped. Despite this goal not having much significance in the outcome of our season, I felt the need to mention this, solely because very few 21-year-old’s in world football have the ability, and cojones, to even attempt to score in such a manner… on their first start for a new club… against one of the most defensively astute sides in Europe. To have pulled it off in such style, Oscar filled the hearts of every Chelsea fan with hope; he was the next best Brazilian after Pele. However, it wasn’t meant to be – the match, as well as his career at the club, ended on a disappointing note.
#3 Petr Cech save vs Liverpool (2012)
Skills are subjective: For a winger it could refer to a slick piece of skill; for a striker a clinical finish; and for a goalkeeper saving a certain goal. For our Czech giant keeper, this was a regular instance. He has made some stunning saves, and especially on big occasions when the team needed him the most. While most fans regard Didier Drogba as the hero of Munich in 2012, I would like to give that honour to Petr Cech. He made several critical saves, and was crucial in our penalty shootout as well. However, this save I am picking is not during that particular game, but just a fortnight earlier.
Despite having a troubled league campaign, Chelsea breezed through the
FA Cup, which included a 5-1 humiliation of Spurs in the semi finals. So, on the 5th of May, Chelsea walked out at Wembley against Liverpool, determined to end their season on a high and win a trophy, while trying not to think about arguably the biggest game in the club’s history awaiting them in 14 days time. In what seemed like an even game, Chelsea took the lead through Ramires, a lead that was then doubled by Drogba. Substitute Andy Carroll pulled one back for the Merseyside outfit, nearly equalizing nine minutes from time. And if it was any other goalkeeper in the world, Carroll probably would have. After being given a free header with a good lofted pass by Suarez, Carroll headed the ball from a tight angle and commenced his celebrations- there was absolutely no way he expected Cech to save a bullet header in the nick of time. But unfortunately for him, Cech displayed his quick reactions by getting his hands in the way of the shot, and deflected it onto the crossbar, to then be cleared away by Ivanovic. Chelsea went on to win the game, and could be fully focused on the Champions League final that awaited them. We didn’t do too badly in that game either.
#2 Nemanja Matic goal vs Spurs (2017)
Who doesn’t love a goal against Spurs? But when it is an absolute peach of a strike in a semi final at Wembley, it just makes it even sweeter. More stunning than sweet, actually, as it was from an unexpected source. Kurt Zouma’s famous expression caught on camera, perfectly captured everyone’s shock- so much so that the GIF continues to be used on twitter even today. This widely used GIF was a consequence of the stunning goal by our Serbian defensive-midfielder. With Chelsea holding a slender one-goal advantage over our bitter rivals, we seemed to be in for a intense final 10 minutes – that is, until Nemanja Matic decided to pull this unexpected surprise from his locker. The Serb is known for his strength and non-reluctance to do the dirty work, and the last thing we could expect from the lanky midfielder was a scorching goal, 30 yards away from the goal. He hit it with such perfection that Lloris couldn’t even be bothered to move or make any sort of attempt to save it. If there ever was a definition of a top bins goal, this was it. Despite it hitting the woodwork on the way in, the accuracy was astounding when seen from the camera angle of the ball. This fantastic goal also triggered the famous shocked-face celebration by Kurt Zouma on the bench.
#1 Eden Hazard vs other London teams
It is unfathomable to exclude Eden Hazard from an article which revolves around skills. Ever since he put out his famous “I am signing for the Champions League winner” tweet, the Belgian has been mesmerising Chelsea fans. Undoubtedly one of the best dribblers in the world, (probably only behind Leo Messi) we could write an entire article on his best moments alone. However, for this list I have picked his three famous goals against London opposition.
In chronological order, the first goal on this list is his curling effort against Spurs in 2016, which crowned Leicester City unlikely champions. Despite being 2-0 down in a game where tensions flared, Chelsea did a great job to come back and level the game. Eden Hazard was having the worst season of his career, but saw a strong finish. And this goal against Spurs is remembered by both sets of fans alike- but for contrasting reasons. The celebrations at Stamford Bridge, as well as Jamie Vardy’s house, were wild and rightfully so.
The second goal which I distinctly remember involved a French midfielder who goes by the name Francis Coquelin. Rumour has it that he is still spinning to this day. One of the best solo goals scored by Hazard, he picked up the ball at the halfway line before dribbling past six Arsenal players (which included Coquelin turning into a Beyblade) and slotting the ball into the back of the net, calmly as ever. He rounded this off with that famous knee-slide celebration that brings a tear to every Chelsea fan, even to this day. What a scintillating player he was.
The third goal which I would like to elucidate on is against West Ham in the 2018-19 season, under Maurizio Sarri. This remains, to this day, the best solo goal I have watched. His footwork was so rapid that no defender in the world could have managed to get a tackle in. It is simply impossible to put into words – you have to watch it to believe it. I remember watching the game sitting on the sofa, patiently waiting for the breakthrough and hoping it would be Eden Hazard, as he was my FPL captain for the week. When he received the ball a little way off the box, I was expecting a pass. But he continued. He got past a couple of our players, and created some space, and I anticipated a pass for the second time. But he went on. Finally, I expected him to win a penalty as a result of a reckless last ditch tackle. But before the defenders could process this, he had already got his shot away from the approaching Fabianski. The entire footballing world was brought to a standstill, staring at their TV screens in awe. The fans present in their stadium had their hands on their heads, not due to disappointment, but rather in shock, trying to process what he had done. Chelsea went on to win the game 2-0, with the little magician grabbing his second of the game to ensure the three points.
So there it is. X-rated skills, parental supervision advised. Censored on most platforms. Honourable mentions go out to players such as Zola and Robben, who donned the Royal Blue colours of Chelsea before I could comprehend three-syllable words. Honourable mention to Super Frank Lampard’s science-defying long shots and assists. Honourable mention to everyone part of our journey in 2012. Honourable mention also to Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s audacious kick-up in the Carabao Cup final against City. And lastly, to Mateo Kovacic who has been mesmerising us with his dribbling ability this season. As I mentioned in the very beginning of the article: Chelsea have never had a deficiency of “ballers.”
Edited by: Dan