Comment: How must Jose Mourinho be feeling on his first anniversary?
It is easy to forget the chaos that was overwhelming Chelsea on this day last year.
Shortly after he had taken training and attended the player’s Christmas dinner at the club’s Cobham training ground on this very day a year ago, Jose Mourinho was sacked after a tumultuous meltdown that had seen his team of Premier League champions recast as under-achieving flops.
Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard were among the guilty men who had, apparently, downed tools and refused to play for the manager who had guided them towards Premier League title glory a few months earlier, but their loyalty to a coach who had burnt his bridges with too many at Chelsea had long since evaporated.
Chelsea’s players let their football do their talking for them in the weeks before Mourinho was sacked and while it is hard to admire their decision to turn off their talent taps, they had made it perfectly clear that it was them or him who had to go.
Inevitably, the club took the option to remove the singular problem rather than try to quell the group revolt and 12 months on, that decision has proved to be incredibly shrewd.
As Chelsea recorded their 11th successive Premier League win to move an imposing nine points clear at the top of the table, they moved towards a position that might inspired them to be tagged as champions-elect.
Tellingly, when Mourinho’s replacement Antonio Conte was asked to pick out the one shining quality driving this Chelsea team forward, he identified the ingredient Mourinho lost in such desperate fashion during his final months at the helm.
“First of all we are a team, that is the most important thing,” declared Conte after their latest victory, achieved once again with a solitary goal scored by their talisman striker Diego Costa.
“I see every single moment, every day. It is commitment, the way we prepare for the game and the way they fight.
“We see the way they are playing for each other and it is just fantastic. We now win 11 games in a row and we do not want to stop here.
“We are nine points ahead now, but only before our rivals play and we don’t think about this at the moment.
“Our concentration and our focus is not on our position in the table now as that is not important. We only worry about that later.”
Chelsea’s win at Palace was ground out after a less than vintage performance, yet it was the kind of display you would associate with champions.
Patient, steady and strong at the back, Costa’s winning goal came with their first genuine chance of the game and in truth, Palace rarely threatened to bite back at them.
The impressive Cesar Azpilicueta provided the assist for Costa’a latest match-winning, with his magnificently floated cross picking out the Chelsea marksman who applied a neat headed finish.
It was simple, effective and ruthless and that is what Chelsea have become over the last couple of months, with their solid defensive base providing a platform for their attacking stars to shine.
You might suggest they look like a side Mourinho would have been proud to call his own during his two spells as Chelsea manager and we should not be surprised that his DNA is still running through this team, even if his direct influence in their story was so publicly rejected by his players.
Twelve months on and Chelsea’s revived heroes toasted the anniversary of Mourinho’s demise with a win that added further salt to the wounds of their old boss at a time when he is struggling to find his feet at Manchester United.
What a difference a year makes.