Chelsea's ultimate XI of the 21st Century - including big N'Golo Kante and Diego Costa calls

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Picking a best XI of Chelsea players who've starred for the club this century - including Premier League and Champions League winning titans.

It would be fair to say that Chelsea's glory days have firmly ground to a halt. Following former owner Roman Abramovich's dramatic exit from SW6, the Blues have nosedived ever downwards, with a chaotic combination of new ownership and an almost entirely fresh, inexperienced playing squad seeing the club slip well off challenging for the major honours that before seemed an inevitability.

With Christmas now upon us, what better time to banish the harrowing thoughts of Marc Cucurella failing to complete yet another cross or a panicked Robert Sanchez slicing a wayward kick into the depths of the West Stand, and replace them with a lovely stroll down a trophy-laden memory lane.

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It's worth noting that this isn't simply the best players to have worn a Chelsea shirt - after all the club have really cornered the market in the niche area of signing players well past their sell-by date as well as letting go talented youngsters far too early. Case in point, during the 2013/14 season, the Blues could have fielded an audacious front three consisting of Eden Hazard, Mohamed Salah and Fernando Torres. Unfortunately for Chelsea, then-manager Jose Mourinho didn't fancy Salah, and Torres was a forlorn shadow of his former self. What could have been, eh?

Instead, this XI consists of players who thrived at Stamford Bridge this century, writing themselves into club folklore with consistently stunning performances with a meaty haul of silverware to show for it. Behold our chosen 4-3-3 formation, that boasts a refreshingly vague forward line that may well fold under light scrutiny, but is entirely necessary to accommodate three bona fied club legends:

GK - Petr Cech

Easy one to kick us off, really. The phenomenal Czech stopper, now a professional ice hockey player, was an immovable object somehow capable of halting seemingly unstoppable forces in their tracks during a stellar decade between the sticks for Chelsea.

Petr Cech was a solid stopper between the sticks for ChelseaPetr Cech was a solid stopper between the sticks for Chelsea
Petr Cech was a solid stopper between the sticks for Chelsea | Getty Images

He swiftly became renowned as one of the best goalkeepers in world football, overcoming a horror skull fracture that could have claimed his life during his third season at the club. Head now swaddled in what became an iconic piece of headwear, he went on to break all manner of club and Premier League goalkeeping records at Chelsea, winning four league titles and seven domestic trophies.

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To cap it all off, his inspirational performance guided Chelsea to their first ever Champions League title in 2012, under interim manager Roberto Di Matteo. With the odds stacked firmly against them, taking on Bayern Munich in their own back yard, Cech saved a penalty from former Blues star Arjen Robben in normal time, before producing further heroics in the dramatic shootout - saving spot kicks from Bastian Schweinsteiger and Ivica Olic that helped his side finally get their hands on the trophy.

RB - Cesar Azpilicueta

To list the Spanish defender's trophy haul at Stamford Bridge would require the author of this piece to be on the kind of 'danger money' usually reserved for ice road truckers, given the potential risk for career-ending finger blisters and repetitive strain injury. Let's just say, he won it all.

Naturally a right-back, he also proved himself to be a highly versatile operator, at times playing at left full-back, and also thriving on the right of a dynamic central back three during Antonio Conte's whirlwind spell as manager. The pressure is now firmly on his successor Reece James to build a legacy up there with that of 'Dave'.

CB - John Terry

Captain, leader, legend. John Terry almost spent his entire career as a rock-solid presence in the Blues back line. As we've already stated, listing trophy hauls is a tedious business - suffice to say, you'd have a harder time naming a trophy he didn't win with trophy as oppose to ones he has.

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Terry will go down both as a Chelsea and Premier League legend, playing an invaluable roll in the club's highly successful period under Abramovich. And while that infamous slip and miss in penalty the 2008 Champions League final vs Man Utd will always haunt him, the 2012 triumph more than made up for it. Let's just not mention that post-match full kit celebration when he didn't actually play in the final.

CB - Gary Cahill

The trickiest pick, this was. Ricardo Carvalho ran him pretty close, but Gary Cahill's stellar haul of three major European trophies and the fact he skippered the side sees him pip the Portuguese to the post by a hair's breath.

Filling the cavernous hole left by Terry's departure was always going to be a struggle, but the former Bolton Wanderers star pulled it off with aplomb, forging some fearsome partnerships along the way.

He also deserves a knighthood for being tasked with keeping his fellow defender and gloriously unhinged Brazilian ball of footballing chaos David Luiz under control for much of his time at the club.

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LB: Ashley Cole

Signing Ashley Cole from direct title rivals in Arsenal was an absolute coup for Chelsea. Arguably the best left-back in Premier League history, the England international built upon his 'Invincibles' legacy created at Arsenal by winning two league titles and the Champions League with their west London rivals.

Honourable mention here for the criminally underrated Wayne Bridge, and indeed Celestine Babayaro, if only for his stunning, and indeed rare, backflip goal celebrations.

MC - N'Golo Kante

Winning back to back Premier League titles with two different clubs is one hell of an achievement, and even more so when you take into account one of those clubs was Leicester City. The humble Frenchman was a relentless force of energy in Chelsea's midfield - wrestling possession back from opposition players time and time again before starting a flowing counter-attack.

N'Golo Kante won back to back Premier League titles with Leicester City and ChelseaN'Golo Kante won back to back Premier League titles with Leicester City and Chelsea
N'Golo Kante won back to back Premier League titles with Leicester City and Chelsea | Getty Images

His role in Chelsea's midfield did change over his time at the club, with some managers playing him in a more advanced role. This arguably lessened his effectiveness in the side - after all, it's not much use having a 5ft 6' midfielder challenging towering centre-backs to win headers - but he still managed to adapt to the demands of the new position, fulfilling his duties with trademark gusto and even bagging the odd goal.

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Kante's decision to continue plying his trade in Saudi Arabia doesn't destroy his Blues legacy by any stretch, but it was a pretty disheartening decision nonetheless.

MC: Frank Lampard

To borrow Lampard's classic interview technique of a weak joke followed by a jolt back to business: a load of deflected goals and penalties? What's the big deal? Haha, no but seriously, he was a world class, era-defining great who would stake a good claim to be listed in the top three players ever to pull on the royal blue shirt.

Joining from West Ham United as a promising youngster, Lampard quickly established himself as a formidable goal-scoring midfielder - and that's something of an understatement. In his prime, Super Frank went five seasons in a row bagging over 20 goals in all competitions, and finished his dream career at Stamford Bridge having netted over 200 times.

It was a real shame that Lampard couldn't replicate his stardom in the managerial hot seat for Chelsea, but those damning of his abilities as a coach would do well to remember he guided the club to a top four finish and an FA Cup final during a transfer embargo, which was a decent effort to say the least.

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MC: Claude Makelele

A player so good he had a role named after him, he combined both the dogged determination of a workhorse defensive midfielder with the grace and composure of a world class deep-lying playmaker. The 71-cap France international was a key part of Jose Mourinho's side that won back-to-back Premier League titles between 2004 and 2006, establishing himself as a modern great of the English top tier.

It was a real pity that Makelele never won the Champions League with Chelsea, having been part of the infamous 2008 final defeat to Manchester United, but he did manage to achieve the milestone earlier in his career, winning the trophy as part of a quite frankly ridiculous Real Madrid side peppered with footballing royalty including Roberto Carlos, Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and Raul. Steve McManaman was also involved.

FW - Gianfranco Zola

Chelsea's greatest ever player? He's got to be in the conversation. Zola was among a handful of new foreign players who transformed the Premier League from a meat 'n' potatoes hoof fest into a thing of beauty, bringing his own brand of Italian class to English shores.

Gianfranco Zola has gone down as an all-time Chelsea greatGianfranco Zola has gone down as an all-time Chelsea great
Gianfranco Zola has gone down as an all-time Chelsea great | Getty Images

The Sardinian sorcerer of soccer was a mainstay of Chelsea's mid-late '90s side, winning a slew of both domestic and European trophies long before Abramovich surged into Stamford Bridge riding a tidal wave of oil. In his seven years at the club, Zola, not an out and out striker by any means, scored 59 league goals and provided 42 assists - what a thing it would be to have that kind of reliable points hauler in your Fantasy Premier League team these days.

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FW - Eden Hazard

Just imagine a Chelsea side with both Zola and Hazard in the attacking line. The Belgian winger was in some ways predictable - dancing his way along the edge of the area, dragging opposition defenders with him, before unleashing a precision shot into the bottom corner. He did this time and time again, and his adversaries could rarely lay a glove on him. Hazard could do this trick with either foot, and wasn't so much an opponents nightmare as an endless, fraught fever dream.

He also developed a canny knack for slyly tripping up his opponents when he was in possession, with his rapidly moving legs flicking out as he darting left and right, something rarely spotted by referees that worked an absolute treat as defenders went sprawling in their pursuit of a precocious puff of smoke. And for the record, we know you kicked the ball out from underneath that Swansea City ball boy rather than booting him right in the ribcage as certain quarters of the media suggested, Eden, we really do.

FW - Dider Drogba

It would be remiss of us not to mention how utterly inept Chelsea have been when it comes to signing strikers in recent years: Radamel Falcao, Alexandre Pato, Gonazlo Higuain, Michy Batshuayi, Claudio Pizzaro, Mateja Kezman, Loic Remy, Timo Werner, Andriy Shevchenko, Samuel Eto'o, Alvaro Morata, Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang. Some monumental striking pedigree among the names there, and every one of them turned into an absolute dud upon arriving at SW6. Half of them where well over the hill before Chelsea managed to sign them, to be fair.

Drogba, however, was different gravy. The bustling Ivory Coast international took some time to get going in a blue shirt, but he really hit his stride in his third season, smashing in 33 goals in all competitions. He also played a vital part in that famous night in Munich, scoring a precision header to take the game to extra time, and coolly slotting home the winning penalty.

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An absolute icon for both Chelsea and the Premier League, Drogba was a ruthless goal-machine who always popped up with the goods at the right time. Honourable mentions of course for Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Diego Costa and Nicolas Anelka but, fittingly there was just no stopping Drogba here.

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