Last season was another one of underachieving from our super rich neighbours. Despite having promised bring the premiership trophy back where it belonged John Terry’s season yet again ended in tears with three runners up medals for nine months of hard work. I don’t like United, not even a little bit, but deep inside me there is the tiniest bit of something like respect for the way their club is run and the style of football that they play. Chelsea is the exact opposite and at the end of the season they got what they deserved which was nothing.
Despite being the richest club in the world (assuming that Roman never tires of his club and calls in that £750 million or so debt) behind the scenes over the past year has been a shambles. First off, Jose was shown to be not so special when he was fired for failing to live up to the high standards that Roman had set. When Jose initially came in he was a bit of a breath of fresh air and I think that it was good for football overall (maybe not for us) that the top two were shaken up a bit by this new upstart. The problem with Chelsea under Jose was that they were never anything special to watch. They started off brightly and Duff and Robben were real wingers in the old style of play but after a while they became less and less effective and the style changed as well. Sure they were effective and remarkably hard to beat but they would never really entertain you. Maybe Jose, monstrous ego that he had didn’t want flair football to take away from his flair personality? Either way a team that has had at various stages exciting players such as Robben, Duff, Cole – Joe that is, Anelkea, SWP and many others seems to rather win by grinding down the opposition rather than playing around them. Now we all know that success counts and Arsenal fans are hardly in a position to be critical of a team that plays ‘ugly-effective’ when we have George Graham in our past but in fairness to George he didn’t have anything like the money Chelsea have. And I think that after spending maybe £500 or so million in a few years fans should be entitled to something more entertaining? Well Roman obviously thought so and while he was prepared to watch ugly football as long as the silverware kept coming in once the trophies stopped there was only one end result.
So out went a super –ego and in came a, well truth be told I’m not really sure what Avram Grant was at all. It was pretty clear from the start that Grant hadn’t much in the way of personality and it was also clear that some of the players were still smarting from Jose’s departure. But credit to Grant he did keep them in the hunt and the team had a pretty decent record under him didn’t they? Well again Roman begged (perhaps wrong phrase there) to differ and so out went Grant. Which brings us pretty much up to date with Scolari’s appointment, the third manager at the club in less than twelve months. With Big Phil measure up to the mark? Well lets see what he has to work with.
Cech is still one of the world’s top keepers. He hasn’t been as good since he came back from that kick in the head and he has been making some pretty high profile clangers (against us and again in the Euros) but he is still far better than the majority of what’s out there and I’d swap him for Almunia in a second. Carlo still plays second fiddle and is an example of all that’s wrong with football. When a player of his talent is happy to stay at a club purely for money when he has no chance of getting into the first team well it just makes me mad.
The back paring of Terry and Carvahlo is still one of the best in the league. Terry is still slow but Chelsea play so deep a line that it rarely matters. Terry is a committed player and is a good captain always urging his team on. His pace is suspect but with the simply excellent Carvahalo beside him it makes for a pretty impressive centre back pairing. This year, just like last they will be hard to score against.
On the left they have of course our one time crowd favourite Ashley Cole. I think that it’s fair to say that Cole has not reached the heights that he hit at Arsenal. I don’t know if it’s because the Chelsea style of play does not suit him or maybe he isn’t actually as good as we thought but for whatever reason poor old Ashley does not seem to be as good as I remember him, or maybe that’s just my rose tinted glasses. Behind him they have Bridge who I heard has signed a contract worth £80k per week!!! Now if Wayne Bridge can get £80k per week then you start to understand why some of our own players (not all mind) can get a bit irate at the Arsenal wage structure.
On a note aside to actual football the Chelsea board need to address their spiralling wage bill. The breaking even theory by 2010 is obviously bullshit but paying an average player (and a left back at that) £80k per week reminds me of the Seth Johnston to Leeds United transfer story. The way Johnston tells it he was greeted by O’Leary and the Leeds Chairman with an offer of over three times the max his agent was aiming for and the promise of playing for the next Champions of Europe. But that’s all beside the point
Over on the right they have the new guy Boswinga (??) who I know totally nothing about except that he cost something like £16million. For this price you would imagine that this would make him easily the best in the world at his position but we all know that Sagna holds that title. They also have Ferrera and some other bloke should Boswinga end up a less than best in the world right back. The signing of a right back is bad news for us as it allows their best player to move into his best position.
Essien is a monster of a player and if I could take one player from any team to Arsenal it would be this guy. You can take you Hargraves, your Mascherano and your Flamini’s of this world and stick them. Essien is the real deal and would eat them all for breakfast. Him and Cesc would dominate world football as a paring. The only issue for Chelsea is exactly where to play him. Grant never seemed to have the balls to drop either Lampard or Ballack so Essien was always stuck out on the right wing where he was below average or right back where he was simply poor. Essien belongs in the middle of the park, running games. He is good enough to do this as a defensive midfielder or as an attacking midfielder (the role he plays for his country). Problem is if you play Essien where do you play Ballack, or Lampard, or John Obi (what ever his name is) or Deco or Joe Cole or SWP or Malouda?
Assuming that Chelsea will stick with a flat back four then you would guess that it will be a deep lying central midfielder (John Obi or Essien), two central midfielders (two from Ballack, Lampard or Essien) and two forward players (Deco, Cole, Malouda) supporting a lone striker which would be Drogba or maybe Anelka. Problem with this is that I have just listed 9 players who all expect to play in only 6 positions and that’s without even looking at Kalou or SWP or Jesus knows who else they’ve bought. I can’t see them playing a straight 4-4-2 as then you have even more of a selection problem. Truth is I am not at all sure how the Chelsea side will line up and how Scolari plans to keep them all happy. There are a lot of big egos at the club and in Ballack and Deco they now have two players with reputations for being difficult. On top of this both Drogba and Anelka are not backward in coming forward with any issues they may have.
Despite being past his best I do think tha t Deco is a good signing. He has a few years left at the top level and provided his prove himself up to the task of adjusting to a new league at that age (Andry Shevchenko anyone?) then he should prove to be a good buy. He gives them the option of a bit of subtly when the battering ram approach of throwing high balls into Drogba doesn’t work.
Up front you can expect that Drogba will score more than a few as will Anelkea if he is used correctly. On top of that that has bags of goals from the midfield with Lampard, Ballack and Deco all well capable of hitting double figures in the league (if only our own midfielders were as prolific). But they still seem limited should opposition pack the middle of the park from midfield to defence. Too many of their good players occupy the central midfield position as a favourite and playing more than two in the centre of the park and things can get crowded particular if the opposition adopt the same approach.
I honestly think that Big Phil will have a very difficult opening season with the Blues, the team is unbalanced being overly strong in some positions and not quite as good in others and there is no doubt that some of their star players have already peaked playing wise. On top of this I think that motivating the squad may prove to be a bit of a challenge. These guys have all won stuff in the careers and already get paid a shed load of money, Drogba and Lampard looked like leaving during the summer for what would effectively be a new challenge and I would have issues over their hunger. When Drogba is motivated for a game he can be awesome but when he is not he spends more time on the ground or giving out to the ref than actually playing. I didn’t think he had a good season last year and I don’t think he will be up for it this time either. He will score, make no mistake about that and he will no doubt keep his best performances for us or poor old Liverpool but I don’t think he will get back to the monster he was 3 seasons back. Anelkea is an even stranger one to predict, he can score goals and is a lethal finisher but he needs a lot of man-management and ego massaging something that I am not sure Big Phil is a fan of.
Ballack showed in the second half of the season how good a player he can be but unfortunately he showed in the first half of the season his negative attributes as well (injury prone and inconsistent). Malouda was simply dreadful last year and SWP should be held up as an example of players moving for money rather than football reasons along with (Sidwell, Anelka, Parker and countless others of course). Joe Cole if he can stay injury free and is given a run in the team is a real match winner but injuries have impacted on his effectiveness over the last two seasons. Scolari has shown that his likes to play with a Joker in his pack and I wonder if that Joker is Deco then where does that leave Cole?
Despite running United incredibly close last year I cannot see Chelsea taking the title from United. I am not sure what formation will get the best out of Deco, Essien, Lampard and Ballack. Signing Kaka, while a great one for the Premier league itself will raise more questions than answers..
I am actually looking forward to seeing Chelsea play this season more than for the past 2-3 years and I think if Scolari can get the best from the squad he has they will be bloody awesome but sometimes a team is greater than the sum of its parts and sometimes it isn’t. In Chelsea’s case I think that this team is not quite as good on the pitch as it is on paper. Allowing Essien to move into the middle of the park, signing Deco as well as possibly solving their on-going right back problem are three major positives but there are still too many negatives at the club for them to de-throne United. With Terry leading them they will not give up but I think it will be another case of close but no cigar.
Last Season Prediction: 3rd
Actual Finish: 2nd
This Season Prediction: 2nd.