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Happy Blue Year

The January transfer window is open and Chelsea changes are afoot

Rah, rah, sis boom Ba!

Rah, rah, sis boom Ba!

Chelsea’s post-Club World Cup recovery was going great with a League Cup victory against Leeds, followed by three successive EPL wins over Aston Villa, Norwich, and Everton.  Plenty for fans to be enthused about over the Christmas holiday.  All that came to a frustratingly screeching halt Wednesday with the 1-0 home loss to QPR – who just happen to be the worst team in the league.  Simply unbelievable.  The slim hope of catching up to Manchester United by season’s end has all but vanished now.  It will be a dogfight just to qualify for the Champions League.

The QPR loss confirms that Chelsea is not an elite team right now.  There are currently only two elite teams in the EPL and they’re both located in Manchester.  The Manchesters repeatedly demonstrate their knack for winning games they should win, as well as clawing their way back into games when they’re not performing at their best.  They always seem to find additional goals, even when they’re letting goals in themselves.  Chelsea has not shown the same ability this season.

A team’s fortunes don’t rest entirely on one player of course, but Man U does have the remarkably reliable Robin Van Persie at striker, and Man City has the similarly prolific Edin Dzeko.  Chelsea has Fernando Torres.  Yeah.  I know Torres has scored much more this season, but would anyone really put him in the same league as Van Persie and Dzeko right now?  Well, Chelsea may be about to get a lift in that department…

Today Chelsea made it official that Demba Ba is joining the club from Newcastle.  Now that the remote possibility of Didier Drogba joining the team on loan from China seems to have vanished, the arrival of Senegalese striker Ba is great news for Chelsea fans.  If his Newcastle stint is any indication, he will be a physical handful in the box for opponents – something Chelsea has desperately missed since Drogba’s departure.  For all the deft, speedy skill of Hazard, Mata, and Oscar, they are small guys who frequently get muscled off the ball, so having Ba’s strength and nose for goal will be a welcome addition to the offensive mix.

The only things tempering my enthusiasm over Ba are his past knee-injury struggles and the fact that he’s 27-years-old.  I’m not saying 27 is old, I just wish Chelsea would find an elite under-the-radar striker at the beginning of his career rather than splashing mid-season cash for perhaps final-third-of-their-career guys.  I thought they had done that with young Lukaku last season, but they let him languish on the bench before loaning him to West Brom for this season.  Still, getting Ba was much more economical than the rumored move for Atletico Madrid’s Falcao.  Overall, I’m quite glad Ba is a Blue.  Having lived in Senegal for five years as a youngster, I always root for Senegalese players.  Hopefully Ba will accelerate his scoring prowess for Chelsea over the next few seasons.

On the flip side of the January transfer window fun, new arrivals usually mean departures as well.  Daniel Sturridge moved to Liverpool this week.  I like Sturridge and think he has a lot of potential that was never fully explored at Chelsea.  He deserved a lot more playing time this season in place of the bland Torres.  I wish him the best at LFC.

Seriously, who would let this guy go?

Seriously, who would let this guy go?

The other big name in Blues news this week is one of my favorite Chelsea players (isn’t he everyone’s?):  Frank Lampard.  It seems unthinkable that Chelsea would even consider letting this legend go and yet that seems to be what’s happening.  Lampard’s contract is up at the end of this season and Chelsea doesn’t seem eager to re-sign him.  I don’t understand this.  Lampard is beloved by fans, a leader on the field, and still produces goals at the highest level.  Just look at Scholes and Giggs at Man U – guys older than Lampard who still contribute.  Lamps has a few more seasons in him and Chelsea should allow him to end his career as a Blue.  He has certainly earned it.

What do you think of Chelsea’s transfer window action so far?

Modric Money

Why Chelsea should forget about signing Modric

Chelsea will be in the race to win the Premier League this season whether they sign Luka Modric or not.  I like Modric.  He would strengthen any team he’s a part of, including Chelsea.  But Chelsea is good enough right now without him.  “Good enough?” some might say, don’t you want to be better than good enough?  Not when acquiring him might cost some £30 million or more.  It’s just not worth it.  Save the money and reassess in January.  There might be a more pressing personnel need at the season’s mid-point.

Chelsea currently has multiple midfield options.  I understand the risk involved in whether or not Michael Essien will be able to get back to his former playing self at all, let alone be back before this season’s over.  But Chelsea has more than enough to get by at midfield this season.  In fact, they’ll have at least a couple of very talented midfielders on the bench every week.  They don’t need to further complicate the rotation with Modric (at least not at the price Tottenham wants).

Teams need time to develop chemistry.  Chelsea just returned from a long Asian chemistry-building trip.  If the Aston Villa game is any indication, Chelsea is really starting to solidify.  Trying to suddenly incorporate a new star in an already crowded lineup just a few days before the season begins isn’t ideal.  Not impossible, just not ideal.  Just ask Fernando Torres.

What do you think – should Chelsea continue pursuing Modric?

Chelsea v. Aston Villa

Blues win Barclay’s Asia Trophy with 2 – 0 victory over Aston Villa

1st Half Highlights/Commentary

-1st min:  Amazing start for Chelsea… Bosingwa made a great leading pass to Anelka who raced into the box and shot, but was blocked by Villa GK Shea Given.  Ball deflected to Malouda who shot, but Given saved it again.  This time McEachran slammed the rebound into the net!

-Aside from the obvious early goal, Chelsea began the game very strong, perhaps even stronger than the Kitchee game.  The passing was precise and had a quicker tempo than we saw in the first two Asian games.

-Competition for starting forward spots seems to have inspired everyone to step up their game this preseason (except Torres – yet).  Anelka and Sturridge had a sharp first half against Aston Villa, both carrying the ball confidently into space.

-Commentator Martin Tyler again talked about the “ageing” Chelsea stars.  The problem in bringing this up so often during this preseason is that age doesn’t appear to be a factor for Chelsea yet.  Next year, or two seasons down the road, it will probably be something to talk about.  But right now you can’t say Terry, Lampard, Malouda, Anelka, or Drogba are struggling because of their age.

-Good to see Chelsea dominate a Premier League side, looking very comfortable in the first half.  Minor quibble with the fact that Chelsea’s scoring threats dried up in the last 20 minutes of the half.

2nd Half Highlights/Commentary

-Great to see Alex on for the first time this preseason!  He replaced Ivanovic to start the second half.

-55th min:  Fantastic dribble run at the top of the box by Sturridge, who slid it to Malouda on the left.  Malouda made an excellent cross to Lampard who headed it on goal.  Given made a diving save, deflecting it out to Sturridge who blasted it over the goal.  Great sequence, though Lampard and Sturridge should’ve scored.

-57th min:  Van Aanholt on for Zhirkov, Torres on for Sturridge, and Drogba on for McEachran.

-58th min:  Shocker – Torres’ first touch of the game is a goal!  Malouda took an overly ambitious long-range shot, which Torres calmly glanced on the run and into the goal.  2 – 0 for Chelsea.

-72nd min:  Benayoun replaced Anelka.  Anelka had the best game I’ve seen him play in quite some time.

-Chelsea wasn’t able to get Drogba involved at all in the second half.  Perhaps it was just too crowded up top with Anelka, Drogba, and Torres in at the same time.  Great to have a hungry offense – they’ve just got to figure out how to share the creative space.

-84th min:  Kalou came on for Lampard.  Chalobah entered for Terry in the 89th minute.

-Overall, Chelsea worked hard, demonstrating very positive progress from the earlier games of their Asia tour.  Chelsea looks confident and fans have adequate reason for optimism about the season’s start in two weeks!

What positives/negatives did you notice from Chelsea against Villa?

Blues Clues

Piecing together the latest bits of Chelsea personnel chatter

Chelsea FC is in Malaysia, training up a storm in oppressive heat, getting ready for their third preseason match this Thursday against Malaysia XI.  By the way, that match will air live in the U.S. on Fox Soccer.  Since arriving in Malaysia, new manager Andre Villas-Boas has talked about “evolution” for Chelsea rather than “revolution”, meaning he is taking a cautious approach to major team alterations rather than having a fire sale and dominating the transfer market.  AVB’s approach is a wise one.  When you’re the new guy, you don’t want to be a smarty-pants who’s going to fix everything with your genius.  Fact is, Chelsea has a roster still loaded with top-tier talent.  The team needs tweaks, not an overhaul.  Having said that, the club is still keeping their name in the transfer hat and here are some recent notes of interest:

Back in June, it seemed Chelsea was ready to sign 18-year-old Bel-gian/Anderlecht forward Romelu Lukaku.  That deal cooled off for some reason, but over the weekend, the buzz was back.  Some reports say Chelsea has the highest bid at the moment, but Arsenal has entered the pursuit as well.  Since we don’t see much Jupiler Pro League stateside (actually we never see it), I haven’t had the opportunity to evaluate Lukaku.  But anyone who is seriously compared to Drogba definitely piques my interest.  Could be an interesting acquisition.

 

Apparently Scott Parker is back on the radar, with Chelsea now attempting to buy him outright from West Ham, rather than attempting a loan deal.  Aston Villa is still the top competition for Parker, but Chelsea’s change in strategy will make things interesting this week.  I’m a Parker fan and would really like to see him at Chelsea.  He could be a solid part of a deep midfield rotation that could come in handy over the long haul of this season’s competitions.

 

AVB says he will take the Malaysian trip to decide what to do with Daniel Sturridge.  AVB insists Sturridge is part of his long-term vision for Chelsea, but is considering loaning him out for another season.  That’s a hard call.  Sturridge is still very young and Chelsea is loaded at forward (it would be all the more crowded with Lukaku), but they should start incorporating him now.  There were many times last spring I wished Sturridge was playing instead of Torres!

 

One final rumor from today involves Chelsea interest in Chilean/Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Arturo Vidal.  Alas, I know nothing of Vidal, so I don’t know what to think about this rumor.

What do you think about Vidal?  Lukaku?  Are these worthwhile pursuits for Chelsea?

Blues Buzz

This week’s transfer rumors and signing realities

I’ve followed the daily transfer rumors more closely this summer than I have in past years and it has been quite amusing.  The latest example being Sir Alex Ferguson’s denial that Manchester United are deal-making to acquire Wesley Sneijder from Inter Milan.  It was a pretty firm denial in the face of supposedly serious reports all week that a deal is imminent.  The moral of the story is you don’t really know what’s going on with a player during transfer season until they show up in a new uniform.

I’ve kept tabs on the transfer rumors just to keep up with which Chelsea players are coming and going.  Of course, all the attention has been on Chelsea’s attempt to get Modric from Tottenham.  That deal is apparently deader than it’s been all summer after Tottenham nixed two Chelsea offers and denied Modric’s transfer request.  This mini-circus will likely continue until the season starts and I wouldn’t be surprised if Modric ends up in a Chelsea uniform during the January transfer window.

I think Chelsea should abandon the Modric pursuit in favor of another of this week’s rumors:  trying to get Scott Parker on loan from West Ham.  The times I’ve seen Parker play the past couple seasons, he has displayed the kind of relentless hustle and passion that was missing from much of the Chelsea squad last year.  Because of his age, he may not be a long-term addition, but if one of the primary personnel needs at the moment is a replacement for Essien at midfield, Parker could be just the shot in the arm the team needs.  Currently Aston Villa seems to be the frontrunner to acquire Parker’s services.

The other prominent transfer rumor of the week was Chelsea’s pursuit of Bolton defender Gary Cahill.  Interesting, though Chelsea’s defense seems to be in pretty good shape right now.  If this deal happened, I can’t see Cahill starting over any of the current group very often.

Other quieter rumors this week include Nicolas Anelka possibly returning to Paris St. Germain and Alex maybe heading to Bayern Munich or Real Madrid.  I like both players a lot, but of the two, transferring Anelka might be the shrewder move because of his age (32) and the fact that things are a little crowded at the Chelsea forward position.  It’s time for Daniel Sturridge to see more minutes at forward and transferring Anelka would help facilitate that.

I would hate to see Alex go.  When all the Chelsea defenders are healthy, they have a deep, quality bench, which is vital to the long EPL season.  If Alex left, adding someone like a Gary Cahill would be essential to maintaining that bench depth.  Anelka played in the second half of Chelsea’s first preseason game against Wycombe Wanderers Tuesday, but Alex did not.

 

Finally, two young Blues received welcome contract extensions today.  Twenty-two-year-old left-back Ryan Bertrand signed a four-year deal.  Eighteen-year-old midfielder Josh McEachran signed a five-year-deal.  Both signings seem very promising, though I only saw Bertrand for a few minutes in one game last season, so I don’t know much about him yet.  The McEachran signing is great for Chelsea.  Ancelotti worked him into several games last season and despite his beanpole build, McEachran was extremely impressive with his poise, patience, placement, and passing prowess (I got on a roll with the p’s and had to keep it going).  If McEachran can avoid burnout and develop some upper body bulk, he could very well be Chelsea’s Lampard of the future.

Which of these Chelsea transfer rumors is most exciting?  Most disappointing?