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Remembering Branislav Ivanović’s epic 2011/12 season

Chelsea

The Serbian’s contributions at Stamford Bridge were pivotal in European success in consecutive years.

Branislav Ivanovic and Chelsea were fighting what was the battle of their lives. The venue was Stamford Bridge and the opponents, Liverpool in the 2nd leg of the League Cup semi-final in 2015.

The Reds of Merseyside and the Blues from London have had many historic clashes in the past and this was one of them.

With the tie stuck at 0-0 and in extra time, the match was calling for a hero. In stepped, Ivanovic. Not the flashiest of characters, hardly the material of a hero in a movie, he was nonetheless the man who came to Chelsea’s rescue. A towering header past Simon Mignolet who was left stunned in the middle of the goal.

The goal was reminiscent of several important goals that he had scored in previous years for Chelsea. In many ways, he was one of Roman Abramovich’s shrewdest recruits and one of the club’s greatest servants.

Of those several important goals, a few stand out. One in particular against Napoli in the 2011-12 season in the UEFA Champions League.

Poor start to the season

Before the success in Europe came along, Chelsea’s season was not going as well as Blues fans would have hoped.

Andre-Villas Boas came with a glowing reputation from his success at Porto. It was thought that the young Portuguese could replicate his compatriot, Jose Mourinho’s, incredible impact.

The season began with a draw away at Stoke City and that set the tone for the season. The Blues failed to win more than three games in a row until Villas-Boas’ eventual sacking in early March.

Chelsea were fifth in the league standings and when Roberto Di Matteo was appointed, not a lot was expected of the former Chelsea player. It was a move to stable the ship more than anything.

In the Champions League, Chelsea ended up topping the group after the last game of the group stages, defeating Valencia 3-0 to set up a tie with Napoli in the round of 16.

Little did they know that their roller-coaster ride of a season was about to take another big twist.

Season-defining clash for Chelsea

It would be an understatement to say that the tie against Napoli was a season-definer in many ways for Chelsea.

They raced into a 1-0 lead in Naples thanks to Juan Mata, however, the lead would not last long. Villas-Boas saw his time crumble in front of his very eyes once again as Walter Mazzarri’s Napoli took them apart to secure a 3-1 victory in front of a rampant home crowd.

In the return leg, Roberto Di Matteo had it all to do at Stamford Bridge. These are the sort of occasions that call for a hero to step up and deliver. That night, amongst others, Ivanovic stood tall.

After a lot of drama at both goal-mouths, the game headed into extra time at 3-1 with either side needing at least one to win the tie.

Second half of extra time and the ball dropped to the feet of the ever-present Ramires. The Brazilian took on two Napoli defenders before cleverly slipping the ball to Didier Drogba who somehow managed to cross the ball between his markers legs into the box.

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Normally, the Ivorian was on the end of these crosses. And yet, this time, it was Ivanovic’s turn. Drogba’s cutback found the Serbian in the perfect place at the penalty spot and he smashed it past Morgan de Sanctis to give Chelsea the lead on the night and on aggregate as well.

That goal summed up the night and the tie summed up Chelsea’s season perfectly. Ivanovic’s goal gave Chelsea the boost in confidence necessary to progress and it was not the first time that the Serbian right-back had delivered the goods for his team. Scoring 22 goals across 7 seasons as a regular first-team player, this may have been his most important one.

Breath-taker in Barcelona

Chelsea’s 2nd leg at the Camp Nou was a night to remember for many reasons. While most of the internet celebrates it in connection with Gary Neville’s exuberant outburst on commentary, Blues fans will remember it as a momentous occasion for the club’s history.

Pep Guardiola was in no mood to take prisoners. Aside from Sergio Busquets, his front five were all attack-minded players, who kept the Chelsea defence on their toes throughout with their movement.

Ivanovic found himself in central defence after Gary Cahill limped off early on, John Terry was sent off for a rash challenge on Alexis Sanchez. The Serb had it all to do. And he stood strong like a warrior. To contain an attack with the likes of Lionel Messi, Sanchez and Andres Iniesta is no easy task, after all.

After Sergio Busquets opened the scoring and Iniesta later made it 2-0, it looked a peak too tall for Chelsea to climb. But the second half was a different tale altogether.

Ivanovic and his defence held on against Barcelona’s barrage of attacks. The Serbian’s versatility came to the fore in this game as he made important blocks and tackles to ensure that his team still had a chance.

History now tells us that the clash at Camp Nou will famously be remembered for Fernando Torres’ late winner. Nonetheless, it was Chelsea’s defence that built the solid foundation for their historic night.

For Ivanovic and several other Chelsea heroes on the night, it was a disappointment in particular to miss out on the final due to suspension. He in particular deserved to be on the pitch for their historic triumph.

After all, it was his goal that turned around their campaign. A goal that lifted Chelsea spirits all over. A moment that etched his status permanently into Stamford Bridge folklore.

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