A LOOK BACK: 10 years on from an October nightmare at Loftus Road was where things started to go wrong for Andre Villas-Boas at Chelsea, but seven months later the Blues were lifting the Champions League trophy
There have been plenty of butterfly effect moments in Chelsea’s history, where one small change could have set the Blues on a very different course.
We’ll always wonder how crucial their final-day Champions League qualification was to Roman Abramovich’s takeover in 2003, while a John Terry slip in 2008 may have ended up as a pivotal point in the future of both them and Manchester United.
Chelsea were eventually crowned European champions four short years after losing the final to United in Moscow, but even that came a few months after another of those what-if moments.
The Blues were meant to lift the title under Andre Villas-Boas. At least that was the hope, after the Portuguese coach was brought in to replace Carlo Ancelotti in 2011.
Instead, though, it was Villas-Boas’ successor Roberto di Matteo who led the team to glory in Munich – and it was 10 years ago this weekend when the wheels began to fall off for the former Porto boss.
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When Villas-Boas joined Chelsea, he was *the* in-demand manager in Europe, with a positively Jose Mourinho-esque career trajectory to boot.
The Portuguese coach had led Porto to Europa League glory, with an exciting squad including the likes of Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez and Hulk.
After a summer which saw Juan Mata and former Porto midfielder Raul Meireles join the club, the Blues won six of their first eight league games, though the period may be better remembered for Fernando Torres missing an open goal in their sole defeat against Manchester United.
Things were looking good, though, with an unbeaten European start and 20 league goals by mid-October. And then they travelled to Queens Park Rangers’ Loftus Road ground for a west London derby.
Newly-promoted QPR were still awaiting their first home win of the season when they took on their neighbours on October 23, having experienced three draws and one defeat in front of their fans.
However, that soon changed after a forgettable 90 minutes for the visiting side.
Perhaps Manchester City’s surprise win over neighbours Manchester United earlier that day had provided a shock to the system, distracting a Chelsea side who knew they could leapfrog the reigning champions with three points.
Whatever the reasons, though, it was a defeat which far influenced beyond the game itself.
Villas-Boas responded to Chelsea’s defeat by hitting out at referee Chris Foy, and it’s certainly true that things went against the away side.
Heidar Helguson scored the game’s only goal, putting away a penalty which he won himself after going down under a challenge from David Luiz.
That was one of the contentious issues, but it got even worse for the Blues when their full-back Jose Bosingwa was sent off after being adjudged to have committed a last-man foul on former Chelsea winger Shaun Wright-Phillips.
John Terry and Didier Drogba were visibly upset with the decision, and the latter was soon leaving the field himself, having been shown a straight red card for a two-footed foul on Adel Taarabt just 12 minutes after Bosingwa’s dismissal. It wasn’t even half-time.
“It’s the third time in row where a referee has directly influenced the result for us and we’re not happy with this,” Villas-Boas said after the game.
“In three games there have been blatant refereeing mistakes. I’m very disappointed with Chris’ performance.”
The Chelsea boss was charged for his outburst, while the club were fined after following their two first-half red cards with seven yellows after the break.
Perhaps most importantly for him, though, the mask of calm had slipped, and there was no going back.
QPR boss Neil Warnock put Villas-Boas’ comments down to inexperience, but maintained the referee got his decisions right.
“When you are beaten like that and have two men sent off, it’s easy to blame the referee,” he said.
“When you’re young, you do that. I’ve done that in the past.”
Whether it was a case of the Chelsea squad and manager still thinking about what they saw as a travesty, or whether they were simply weakened following the red cards, the next week brought another notable reverse.
Without the suspended Drogba, the Blues were beaten 5-3 by Arsenal the following weekend, with another Terry slip allowing Robin van Persie in to help the visitors claim victory.
There was a mini revival over the next few games, as Chelsea found some much-needed defensive solidity, but that one week in October had left Villas-Boas with less margin for error.
Sure enough, a run of three wins from 12 league games around the turn of the year spelled the end for the manager, and Di Matteo stepped into the fold. We don’t need to be reminded of how the story ends.
How different might things have been if that game in west London had played out differently?
If David Luiz’s nudge hadn’t been deemed worthy of a penalty, or if Bosingwa had been booked instead of sent off, would Chelsea’s season have taken a different path?
Would Villas-Boas have stuck around, changing the trajectory of the Tottenham team he inherited after his Chelsea dismissal and also bringing different paths for his successors in the Blues’ dugout?
For all we know, a different result at Loftus Road could have ended up prolonging Villas-Boas’ Stamford Bridge spell far beyond March 2012, but then would the team have had that memorable night in Munich?
Sometimes, one little thing can change everything.
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