Legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson once claimed: “attack wins you games, defence wins you titles”.
While the majority of fans want to see free-flowing, attractive football, there’s something to be said for a solid, robust and organised defensive unit keeping a tight lid on their 18-yard box.
Arguably one of the greatest rearguards we’ve seen in the modern era was that of Chelsea’s famous 2004/05 Premier League title-winning side, with the likes of John Terry, Ricardo Carvalho and William Gallas making it almost impossible for opponents to get in on goal.
And even when the opposition did breach that air-tight defence, the tall, imposing figure of goalkeeper Petr Cech was there to meet them.
So ruthlessly effective was this combination that Jose Mourinho‘s side conceded just 15 goals en-route to that title win — a competition low in the Premier League era — losing just one game along the way.
So, just how do you break an unbreakable defence? We’ve taken a look back on all 15 goals Chelsa conceded en route to the title to assess whether their defence was breached due to mishaps or moments of magic…
José Mourinho’s 2004/05 Chelsea side set the record for fewest goals conceded in a single Premier League season.
15 goals conceded in 38 games is obscene. ? pic.twitter.com/NwQL31UjUq
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 26, 2020
1. James Beattie (Chelsea 2-1 Southampton, matchday four)
Chelsea kept clean sheets against Manchester United, Birmingham City and Crystal Palace before finally conceding at home to Southampton on matchday four. However, it took just 13 seconds for that goal to arrive, and what a strike it was.
Chelsea kicked off but quickly surrendered possession via a sloppy Joe Cole pass back toward his centre-backs. The ball ended up at the feet of striker James Beattie and although the way it found him was rather fortuitous, what happened next was anything but. The England international allowed the ball to run beyond him and with one touch and fired a wonderful 30-yard volley beyond the unsuspecting Cech.
Of course, Chelsea rallied and found themselves 2-1 up at half-time via an own goal from, yes, you guessed it, Beattie, and a Frank Lampard penalty. The Saints were never going to recover from there.
2. Nicolas Anelka (Man City 1-0 Chelsea, matchday nine)
It took another five games for Chelsea to be breached again but this one made it clear that, if you’re going to get past Mourinho‘s side, you’ll likely have to pounce upon an early error.
This time, future Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka was the man to find the net, converting a penalty for Manchester City which came about after a William Gallas slip had surrendered possession to Paul Bosvelt. Still inside his own half, the Dutchman launched the ball forward toward Anelka, who outpaced Paulo Ferreira and was clumsily bundled down inside the area by the full-back.
Anelka calmly sent Cech the wrong way and City held on to inflict Chelsea‘s first and only Premier League defeat of the 2004/05 season.
3. Zoltan Gera (West Brom 1-4 Chelsea, matchday 11)
Chelsea recovered quickly from their loss to City, hammering Blackburn 4-0 before easing their way past West Brom in week 11, although that game did see them concede for the third time of the season.
The Blues were already 2-0 up by the time Zoltan Gera hammered home a powerful, low shot from the edge of the box in the 56th minute, after Nwankwo Kanu’s original effort was blocked. Damien Duff restored Chelsea‘s two-goal advantage just three minutes later, while, once again, Mourinho‘s side only conceded thanks to a moment largely out of their control.
4. Papa Bouba Diop (Fulham 1-4 Chelsea, matchday 13)
Just a couple of weeks after beating West Brom 4-1, Chelsea once again won by the same scoreline, this time against west London rivals Fulham.
Lampard had given the Blues a half-time lead before Papa Bouba Diop unleashed a rocket of a volley to level the scores after the break — a hallmark of the Senegalese midfielder’s game at the time.
Once again, it was a remarkable moment that saw the Blues concede but, in keeping with their resilience that season, they were back ahead within two minutes thanks to a fantastic solo goal from Arjen Robben. Mourinho‘s side predictably asserted their dominance from there to return to the top of the table.
5. Kevin Davies (Chelsea 2-2 Bolton Wanderers, matchday 14)
It took until the 14th game of the season for Chelsea to concede more than once in a single game, throwing away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at home against Bolton Wanderers.
Duff and Tiago had put the Blues firmly in control but in typical style, Kevin Davies headed Sam Allardyce’s men back into contention after Radhi Jaidi (more on him later) had flicked on a Wanderers free-kick.
This was perhaps the first goal Chelsea had conceded all season where Mourinho would be truly displeased with his defence.
6. Radhi Jaidi (Chelsea 2-2 Bolton Wanderers, matchday 14)
The Bolton comeback was completed in the 87th by the man who had assisted their first goal, Jaidi.
This time, Davies played the role of supplier, heading down a lofted Bruno N’Gotty free-kick right into the path of Jaidi. The Tunisian needed no second invitation to rifle home, low beyond Cech’s left-hand side.
Despite trying to see the game out and having the likes of Glen Johnson, Wayne Bridge and Scott Parker available to him on the bench, Mourinho decided against using substitutes in this match — perhaps a deciding factor in letting this lead slip so late on.
7. Thierry Henry (Arsenal 2-2 Chelsea, matchday 17)
Chelsea once again recovered from disappointment, crushing Charlton Athletic and Newcastle United 4-0 following the 2-2 draw with Bolton. However, up next was fierce rivals and defending champions Arsenal at Highbury.
It took all of two minutes for Thierry Henry to put the Gunners in front, with the Frenchman sweeping home in style with his left foot after exchanging a headed one-two with forward partner, Jose Antonio Reyes, even beating Carvalho in the air.
8. Thierry Henry (Arsenal 2-2 Chelsea, matchday 17)
Terry equalised in the 17th minute for Chelsea but Arsenal once again found them ahead just before the half-hour mark. Predictably, Henry was again the man to deliver, although this time in much more controversial fashion.
Robert Pires picked up the ball midway inside the Chelsea half and charged between Lampard and Claude Makelele before being brought to the ground on the edge of the box. However, upon closer inspection, the Chelsea midfielders appeared to make little to no contact with the Arsenal winger.
With Cech still organising his wall, Henry used the initiative which served him so well throughout his career to take the free-kick quickly, catching the Chelsea ‘keeper out at the opposite post.
Eidur Gudjohnsen equalised shortly after half-time but Mourinho would walk away from this match ruing his players’ lapse in concentration.
9. Leon McKenzie (Norwich 1-3 Chelsea, matchday 28)
Chelsea promptly went on a run of nine wins in 10 games, also drawing 0-0 with Man City along the way, without conceding a single goal to take a firm grip of the title race.
Goal number nine was finally conceded in week 28 at Carrow Road as the Blues had to battle hard to sink a struggling Norwich side.
Joe Cole fired Chelsea in front in the 22nd minute and the Blues continued to put the Canaries under pressure until the half-time interval. After the break, a rejuvenated Norwich peppered the Chelsea goal with a number of efforts and the breakthrough finally came in the 68th minute when Leon McKenzie rose to meet a Darren Huckerby cross at the far post. 1,024 minutes after Henry’s audacious free-kick, Chelsea had finally conceded, although goals from Mateja Kezman and Carvalho ensured any panic was short-lived.
10. Aki Riihilahti (Chelsea 4-1 Crystal Palace, matchday 30)
By now, Chelsea were well in control of the title race, with Arsenal falling far into the distance and no other side adequately equipped to challenge them.
The Blues moved another step closer to that long-awaited title glory in week 30 but, once again, they were made to work for it.
Mourinho’s side took the lead at home to Crystal Palace thanks to a fine Lampard effort from long range, but were then pegged back by Aki Riihilahti, who profited when Lampard himself failed to deal with a corner at the near post, slicing his clearance right into the path of the Finland international.
A rare mistake from Lampard, but not a costly one as Joe Cole and Kezman did the business in the second half to hand Chelsea a 4-1 victory.
11. Kevin Phillips (Southampton 1-3 Chelsea, matchday 31)
Although Chelsea followed up their win over Palace with a victory away at Southampton in April, they conceded in back-to-back games for just the second time during the 2004/05 season — and the first occasion since November — in the process.
Having taken a two-goal lead thanks to strikes from Lampard and Gudjohnsen, Chelsea were pegged back thanks to a true striker’s effort from Kevin Phillips.
The England international used all his experience and goalscorer’s instinct to lose Johnson in the box, finding the space to turn home a low, powerful cross from Paul Telfer.
The joy for the Saints was short-lived, however, as Gudjohnsen sealed the win 14 minutes later, edging Mourinho’s rampant side even closer to the title.
12. Walter Pandiani (Chelsea 1-1 Birmingham City, matchday 32)
Chelsea made it three in a row without a Premier League clean sheet for the first and only time of the campaign on matchday 32, labouring to a shock 1-1 draw at home to Birmingham City.
In Mourinho’s own words, the Blues were “low on pace” and “low on quality”, clearly struggling after juggling European and cup football with their Premier League aspirations.
And they were punished in the 65th minute when Cech was caught in no man’s land trying to claim a deep cross, allowing Matt Upson to head the ball back to Uruguayan striker Walter Pandiani, who slammed the ball home despite the heroic efforts of Terry, who came agonisingly close to keeping it out.
Didier Drogba was able to find a late equaliser but this was a rare off day for the eventual champions.
13. Collins John (Chelsea 3-1 Fulham, matchday 34)
Chelsea moved to within touching distance of the title with a 3-1 win over Fulham on matchday 34 but had to endure a pretty horrific defensive moment in the process.
The Blues allowed Luis Boa Morte to venture deep inside their half, giving firm invitation for the Portuguese winger to play a defence-splitting pass to Dutch forward Collins John.
Even so, Carvalho looked to have things under control but was outpaced and outmuscled by John, who coolly slotted home beyond the onrushing Cech.
Party time was resumed, however, by second-half goals from Lampard and Gudjohnsen. Chelsea would go on to secure the title with a 2-0 win away at Bolton a week later.
14. Ruud van Nistelrooy (Man Utd 1-3 Chelsea, matchday 37)
With the title secured, Chelsea headed to Old Trafford on the penultimate week of the 2004/05 season and would walk out to a guard of honour.
That clearly went to Mourinho’s head (or was he just showing off?) with the Portuguese tactician choosing to bring the likes of Geremi, Johnson and Carlo Cudicini into the starting XI having previously used them sparingly throughout the campaign.
Such was their rotation, Chelsea got off to a sluggish start. Some haphazard defending ensured the ball found its way to Roy Keane on the left-hand side and the Irishman unleashed a shot-cum-cross beyond Cudicini. The ball looked to be going wide, but Ruud van Nistelrooy produced a lovely flick to send the ball home and put United ahead.
However, this seemed to spark Chelsea into life and goals from Tiago, Gudjohnsen and Joe Cole sealed a 3-1 win for Mourinho’s men, who set a then-Premier League points record in the process.
15. Geremi own goal (Newcastle 1-1 Chelsea, matchday 38)
On the final day of the season, Chelsea knew they needed to restrict Newcastle to one goal or less to break Liverpool’s post-war tally of 16 goals conceded in a single season, equal Preston’s record from 1888/89 and set the record for the Premier League era.
Things became a little tense, however, when Geremi prodded the ball into his own net having come under pressure from Newcastle centre-back Titus Bramble while trying to deal with a corner.
Lampard equalised from the penalty spot minutes later but the Blues still required Cudicini to pull off a fantastic save to deny Dutch veteran Patrick Kluivert in the second half, ensuring Mourinho and his champions held on to another little piece of history at the end of a remarkable campaign.
Will Chelsea’s famous Premier League record ever be beaten? It’s going to take a very special team to do it…