Chelsea’s Contrasting Benches: Then vs Now


As lovers of the beautiful game of football, we have well observed that a team’s strength not only lies in its starting 11, but also how well the substitute bench looks.

In a game that leads itself into extra time, both teams are left with players that are low on stamina by the end of 90 long minutes of tireless football. This is when a young and talented centre-forward (or an experienced and game-changing midfielder) is thrown into the game in the hope of breaking the deadlock.

The managerial role is never more important than the time when he is held responsible for making a change in his squad during equally-matched fixtures. By bringing in one or two players and changing the tactics of his team to suit the changing nature of the game, the entire squad thrives to support the substitute(s) and win the game using the substitute(s)’ fresh pair(s) of legs.


The year of 2004 saw the homecoming of a Portuguese manager: the very one without whom Chelsea Football Club wouldn’t have seized one FA Cup, two League Cups and two Premier League titles before his departure from the club in the September of 2007.

Jose Mourinho left Chelsea after having earned the respect and love of Chelsea supporters from all over the world. We called him ‘The Special One’, not only because he called himself that in front of the media, but also because of the visible depth he brought to the once-nonthreatening Chelsea squad.

His first era saw the rise and development of players who proved to be the reason behind Chelsea’s success for years to come. Names like Joe Cole, Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard had been on the fans’ lips at all times.


The substitute bench in the period of 2004-2007 consisted of some game-changing characters: the small man Eidur Gudjohnsen, the current midfield sensation Arjen Robben, the once-young holding-midfield player Tiago and the reliable center-forward Salomon Kalou; to name a few.

Mentioning of key individuals in the bench might highlight the overall attributes of all the substitutes, so here we go.



Reliability and dedicated performance in his respective position is one of the key factors one expects from a substitute, and the then-Chelsea bench screamed “reliability”.

– Salomon Kalou (2006-2008 under Jose)

I was told I would have to wait another year for citizenship and I was prepared to do that until I met Mourinho. Chelsea were interested and I went to see Mourinho in a London hotel. But from the moment I met Mourinho I wanted to play for him. He knew things about my game even I hadn’t been aware of. He started to tell me how to improve my game. Do this, don’t do that. “Have you been following me?” I said. “Of course I have,” he replied. – Salomon Kalou, 2006

When Didier Drogba was at his peak, he could’ve entirely been held responsible for the goal-getting. But the one true ‘second-striker’ had always been Salomon Kalou. The Ivorian has scored 60 goals in 254 appearances throughout his Chelsea career. Kalou never failed to step up as a super-sub for The Blues. One unforgettable instance where the 29-year-old proved his worth under Mourinho’s first reign was when the man scored a volleyed goal from 12 yards against Spurs in the FA Cup Quarter Final in the season of 2006-07.


Depth in the Chelsea midfield during The Special One’s first era was of great proportions. Every midfield player, be it a one with attacking attributes (Shaun Wright-Phillips), or a defensive-minded midfielder (Marcel Desailly) played key roles in bringing depth. Wright-Phillips, however, spent 60 of his 125 appearances from the bench and was hence regarded as a super-sub on several occasions.

– Shaun Wright-Phillips (2005-2008 in blue)

Born in 1981, the former Man City player made his debut in a Chelsea shirt in 2005. His key role as a substitute was to be replaced with the likes of Michael Ballack or Kalou (who sometimes played on the wing) and provided some fresh energy on a flank. In his Chelsea career, the Englishman was known for his crossing and pace. He also used to backtrack well; having kept a balanced work-rate. He also used to lob the ball into the heart of The Blues’ midfield and provide stability in play. However, he was in a pretty poor run of form in his first season. One key moment when Wright-Philips had to pick up the form and step up his game, was in a 2006-07 Premiership fixture against West Ham United away from home. Chelsea had to win in order to catch up with leaders Man United, and Wright-Philips showed his potential by scoring twice in a game which ended 4-1 to The Blues.


After former Chelsea boss, Rafa Benitez was sacked, Mourinho once again came in and sat on the blue throne (or should I say, blue horse?); responsibilities and all.

His job of rebuilding the Chelsea squad has resulted in the near-perfect Blues team that we see today. The Special One is known for winning titles in his second season at a club, and that is exactly what is happening with The Blues this time.


The Chelsea bench today is warmed by some big names: Mr. Dependable Loic Remy, King Drogba, one of the world’s best keepers Petr Cech, the pacey Ramires, left-back Felipe Luis, Mikel, Zouma/Cahill and our newest acquirement, Cuadrado.



This Chelsea bench is strong in the truest sense of the word. Zouma, Drogba, Mikel, Felipe Luis and Loftus-Cheek (when he features) are big and strong players in their positions. They hold a high jumping attribute and are aggressive, too.

The current Chelsea team push forward in attack in the wide areas (including fullbacks) while the defensive midfield takes an active part in passing the ball to key areas. This is done with efficient and beautiful-to-watch backtracking by every single player who moves into an attacking position. The substitutes carry their roles extremely well when it comes to building up the overall attire of the starting 11.


One of the things that a Chelsea fan would notice is that Mourinho has become a lot more tactical and that some players are put on the pitch to execute certain specific roles offered to them. In other words, most Chelsea substitutes today are thought of by Jose as tacticians that stick to the strategy he tries to bring in during a game.

Take Loic Remy, for example. He has always been brought onto the pitch when Chelsea are on the desperate lookout for a goal, (it happened against Hull City just last Saturday!) or when we are in the lead and Diego Costa needs a rest post 80 minutes in a game.


Now then. Which Chelsea bench looks more likely to go out and win more games?

My verdict is this:

If Jose’s tactics are to be followed to the T, then I would say that the current bench line-up would be better-off in winning games than the bench of 2004-07.

This is because, with the constantly evolving game of football, players of today are likely to be more organised and are likely to carry out specific instructions a lot better than the footballers of yesterday.

But in saying that, tactics might be put to an eventual rest when beautiful football is always seen played. This is what, I think, is happening with the current Chelsea team. When a team plays good football no matter what instructions are shouted out to the players, i.e, if the players are increasingly ‘instinctive’ in their actions on the pitch, then one would think that there is not much need for many specifics to be followed.

In that case, the Chelsea bench of, say 2006-07 is probably the better-looking bench.

But what of strength in depth? Which bench has more depth?

I would say the one in Mou’s previous era. If it’s one thing that that bench featured, it is the depth. This is because, although the current Chelsea bench has some game-changing players, they sometimes fail to provide that depth and balance in the Chelsea game overall.

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

“Just go out there, and play the best football you’ve ever played”, and an exact replication of that would be the final step for Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. This is where I, as a Chelsea supporter, would like to see my team heading.


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Edited By: Ojas Tripathi

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