5 questions facing Chelsea as the new season kicks off with tomorrow’s Community Shield match…
This soccer summer has flown by thanks to the Euros, Chelsea’s U.S. tour, and the Olympics. Chelsea faces Manchester City tomorrow in the mother of all preseason games – the unofficial start of the new Premier League season – the FA Community Shield. As a new season dawns, here are 5 questions facing the Blues:
1) Will Fernando Torres be able to fill the departed Didier Drogba’s shoes?
Unfortunately for Chelsea fans, the answer is no. But very few strikers could replicate the heroics Drogba produced during his Chelsea years. Although we may see some short-term improvement from Torres after his positive output at Euro 2012, he has never quite clicked with Chelsea and I’m not expecting many goals from him in the new season.
Now that 19-year-old Romelu Lukaku has been loaned to West Brom for the season, Chelsea may do some last minute shopping for an additional striker. Lukaku was a hot signing for Chelsea early last season when he was billed as a potential replacement for Drogba. Instead, he languished on the bench, making occasional cameo appearances in lower profile matches. I’m disappointed to see him loaned, but hopefully he’ll get some vital experience at West Brom and return to Chelsea a more polished, confident player.
With Lukaku out of the picture for now, the Blues need Daniel Sturridge to have a breakout season at forward.
2) Who will make up the core of Chelsea’s midfield?
Chelsea is currently stocked up on midfielders: Frank Lampard, Jon Obi Mikel, Ramires, Florent Malouda, Michael Essien, Raul Meireles, Eden Hazard, Oriol Romeu, Josh McEachran, Marko Marin, and now Oscar (the Brazilian youngster Chelsea signed a couple weeks ago).
It’s a good problem to have, sorting through so much talent, but it’s a problem nonetheless. Will we see a regular group of starters, or will there be constant rotation? If rotation is the answer, will the midfield be able to gel? Even if the club offloads a few midfielders, there will still be a lot of talent on the bench every week.
A lot could change in the next few weeks. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Malouda and maybe even Meireles transferred before the season kicks into high gear.
3) Is the defense deep enough to survive another grueling schedule?
Surprisingly, Chelsea’s summer deal making (and attempted deal making) has focused on midfielders and strikers. But it was the back line that ran low on options at the critical point of last season due to injuries and suspensions.
John Terry will likely continue anchoring the Chelsea defense, but how long can he hold up? By his own admission, Terry is starting to feel his age. Who will fill in when Terry needs extra recovery days? Barring any last minute summer signings, we’ll likely see a lot more of Ryan Bertrand who played very well when called on at the end of last season.
Assuming Branislav Ivanovic, Ashley Cole, David Luiz, Gary Cahill, and Terry are the regular rotating starters, there aren’t many additional bench options. Paulo Ferreira may have a little left in the tank, but he’s been at the club since 2004 and has had a very limited role the past two seasons. Sam Hutchinson’s comeback story is inspiring, but he may not be ready for the rigor of weekly Premier League defending.
Chelsea tried to get Marseille defender Cesar Azpilicueta this week, but Marseille rejected the offer. Now Di Matteo may be looking at Juventus defender Stephen Lichtsteiner instead.
4) Which loan players should be retained and who should be loaned this season?
Josh McEachran was being carefully groomed under Carlo Ancelotti two seasons ago, but Andre Villas Boas ignored McEachran at the beginning of last season. The 19-year-old went on loan to Swansea for the remainder of the 2011/2012 season where he didn’t see much more playing time. McEachran has a lot of potential but Chelsea’s midfield is so crowded right now, he’ll likely go on loan for another season.
Yossi Benayoun is a talented player who doesn’t seem to fit in Chelsea’s overall plan. He spent last season on loan at Arsenal where he did quite well. Benayoun was on the bench for Chelsea’s preseason loss to Brighton last Saturday, but he didn’t play and it doesn’t seem likely Chelsea will keep him much longer.
Further room on the Chelsea bench might also be made by loaning Kakuta, van Aanholt, and even Oriol Romeu.
5) Will Roberto Di Matteo make it past Christmas in charge of Chelsea?
When Di Matteo was finally offered a two-year contract earlier this summer after his stint as Chelsea’s interim manager, it seemed only fair. After all, Di Matteo earned the opportunity by leading the club to the FA Cup and Champions League titles. The contract offer showed promising (and rare) open-mindedness about manager selection from owner Roman Abramovich. It will be interesting to see how the new season tests Abramovich’s patience. Will he be willing to weather the season’s storms with Di Matteo at the helm or will he fire him at the first sign of trouble?
As usual, there are a lot more questions than answers. One thing’s pretty certain though: it won’t be a boring season for Chelsea!
What do you think about Chelsea’s prospects this season?
Chelsea makes second stop on U.S. tour
Chelsea arrived in New York City yesterday to prep for their Sunday match against aspiring super club Paris St. Germain. Before making it out of Seattle, the players enjoyed an impromptu runway training session while waiting out a flight delay.
Much of the deal news this week revolved around Chelsea possibly signing Oscar the Brazilian Wonder Kid. It seemed like a done deal, but now Oscar’s back pedaling. He confirmed he had a physical with the Chelsea folk, but says he won’t make a decision about his future until after the Olympics. This kind of intrigue is always amusing and predictable. I’m sure there’s an agent behind the scenes advising Oscar to be cryptic to ensure continued headlines for a couple more weeks. Anyways, you often can’t tell these deals are final until you actually see the player suited up on the sideline.
Another Brazilian in the news this week was Willian. His club Shakhtar Donetsk supposedly rejected a Chelsea bid for the attacking midfielder earlier this week. Now Willian’s making no bones about his desire to bolt Shak Don for Chelsea.
It’s anyone’s guess how the Oscar, Willian, or Victor Moses deals will go down (or won’t go down)! One thing’s for sure – it will be an interesting few weeks leading up to the Chelsea v. Manchester City Community Shield match which unofficially kicks off the new season on August 12th.
I’m looking forward to the Chelsea v. Paris St. Germain friendly at Yankee Stadium tomorrow. Fox Soccer will be carrying the match live. Should be an energetic game and unique atmosphere. The baseball stadium atmosphere is apparently appealing to a lot of U.S. fans this summer – check out what tickets are selling for…
Who would you rather see land at Chelsea – Oscar, Willian, or Moses?
Chelsea wraps up Seattle leg of U.S. tour
Chelsea had one more training session this morning in Seattle before hopping a plane bound for New York City. The club faces their former manager Carlo Ancelotti and his current team Paris St. Germain in another preseason friendly Sunday. It will be the first ever soccer match to be played at the new Yankee Stadium.
While the team trains and tours in the U.S., the deal making for new players continues in London. Here is the latest rumor rundown:
Coach Di Matteo confirmed the club is in talks to get Victor Moses from Wigan. Apparently Wigan wants several more buckets of cash than Chelsea has offered so far. I can take or leave this deal. Chelsea certainly shouldn’t overpay for him. A better striker option would be checking to see if Newcastle’s Demba Ba or Papiss Cisse have any brothers in Senegal.
Thorgan Hazard may become a Chelsea player within a day or two, but nothing official from Chelsea yet. If the deal goes through, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him fairly quickly loaned to another Premier League club given he’s only 19-years-old and Chelsea has a very packed roster right now.
Chelsea may be after Marseille’s 22-year-old Spanish right-back Cesar Azpilicueta. Chelsea could use some back line bolstering, so this deal could be interesting. I bet there’s going to be a whole lotta soccer wheeling and dealing going on with all these under-23 national teams in London for the Olympics!
Check out this New York Times story exploring why some of America’s most famous baseball stadiums are hosting big international soccer club matches this summer. Wondering how a soccer pitch is going to work in Yankee Stadium? Check out the diagram below and these photos of the pitch being prepared.
Apparently starring in a classic soccer comedy like Kicking & Screaming (I’m not being sarcastic – I actually think that movie’s hilarious) affords you lifetime access to Chelsea FC. Check out Blues fan Will Ferrell and comedian Zach Galifianakis chillin’ with Chelsea (and with the European Cup) in Seattle yesterday.
I particularly like the random autographed St. Louis Rams helmet Will and Zach apparently gave Chelsea. I have no idea why it was a Rams helmet, but it’s pretty vintage Will Ferrell. Good times!
Thoughts on the potential Moses, Thorgan Hazard, or Azpilicueta deals?
Chelsea’s win over Wigan and draw with Fulham were discouraging
It feels odd to be disappointed after a win against Wigan (last Saturday) and draw with Fulham (last Monday), yet Chelsea’s play was utterly lifeless in both matches. The Blues’ effort was particularly dispiriting for fans leading up to the two biggest games of the season: this Sunday’s FA Cup Semifinal against Tottenham and Wednesday’s Champions League first leg Semifinal against Barcelona. If the Blues don’t discover an entire new gear they are in for a very rough end to an already turbulent season.
Chelsea didn’t deserve the win over Wigan. A missed offside call facilitated Ivanovic’s goal and Juan Mata added the winner in extra time, but Chelsea’s attack was extremely bland for most of the match. Where’s the spark? Where’s the energy? Chelsea is a shell of the attacking team they were the two previous seasons. Ironically, Carlo Ancelotti was fired and Andre Villas-Boas brought in at the start of this season to craft a more “attractive” attacking style and yet the attack is far less fluid and effective than it’s been in years.
The draw with Fulham was unacceptable as it blew an opportunity to catch up with Tottenham and Newcastle in the league standings. Once again, Chelsea’s attack limped along, with the only goal coming from an iffy PK call that happened to fall Chelsea’s way (Frank Lampard reliably converted the kick). The Blues’ defense held onto the lead for most of the game until Clint Dempsey’s late header made it 1 – 1. Very frustrating.
I think I’ve been delusional about Chelsea all season because I thought they were much better than this. Most fans would probably agree it feels like we’ve been waiting all season for the team to get up to speed and they never quite have. They’ve come close several times, and are still capable of occasionally heroic efforts (like the second Napoli Champions League game!), but overall performances are painfully lackluster. Chelsea is simply very average right now. The air of near-invincibility fans have enjoyed about the club for years has turned into considerable vulnerability. Every Chelsea match seems a toss-up now.The bad Wigan and Fulham matches coaxed me to purge all my negative feelings about Chelsea’s current state. Hopefully doing so will temper my expectations for the big Tottenham and Barcelona matches. This purging stuff is therapeutic, but it takes some time. So tomorrow I’ll continue by addressing a few specific player issues in part two of Dismal Blues.
What do you think? See any positives for Chelsea during the Wigan/Fulham games?
Andre Villas-Boas gets fired after 1 – 0 loss to West Brom
I have mixed feelings about AVB’s canning on Sunday. On one hand, I generally liked the guy. I liked his passion on the sideline. I liked the way he took the job with gusto last summer and the way he sometimes blamed himself in the press when results were less than rosy. But at the same time, something is seriously awry at Chelsea FC this season. It makes one nostalgic for the mere “dip” in form last season that saw Chelsea finish second in the league. Second! Hard to believe that was just last season. Are the Blues’ current problems AVB’s fault? Partially it seems, but impossible to know just how much without being inside the locker room and on the training pitch regularly with AVB and the squad.
Ultimately, I suppose, Chelsea fans have to trust that the CFC higher-ups are correctly aiming their blame, in which case showing AVB the door (even at this awkward point in the season) is a good thing for the club. Problem is, owner Roman Abramovich is completely trigger-happy when it comes to firing managers. Taking that into consideration, it seems quite possible AVB may not be entirely at fault for Chelsea’s current woes.
As I’ve mentioned here before, the managerial Ferris wheel at CFC is a real problem. The club must find a manager they’re willing to stick with for several years! The frustrating thing is I thought AVB was that manager when he was hired last summer. I though Abramovich had turned over a new leaf and was willing to reboot. Instead, think of all the millions that have been blown on managers the past several seasons! Imagine how many players could’ve been brought in with that cash instead! I thought firing Ancelotti last year was a mistake. Now it looks like a huge blunder. It’s hard to fathom why he was sacked after winning the Double and finishing second in the league last season. Makes this season look even bleaker!
I wanted AVB to succeed, not only for stability and growth at the club, but I also wanted to see this young dude (only a year younger than myself by the way) defy the odds and prove that a young, relatively inexperienced manager could make Chelsea champs again. It must be extremely frustrating for AVB personally to have not been able to win with the kind of talent the Blues have. It’s very weird. After the smoke clears, I hope some insights materialize as to how this season went off the rails for Chelsea.
For now, the club has a real mess on its hands. Where do they go from here? Some rumored names are already surfacing as replacement managers, but I’ll have to leave that for another day’s exploration…
Did Chelsea do the right thing by firing AVB?
Chelsea continues dreadful form in 3-1 loss at Napoli
I thought the 2-0 loss at Everton a couple weeks ago was the low point of Chelsea’s season. The team looked absolutely lifeless. Most disturbingly, they showed no fighting spirit. Everton looked exactly the way I wish the Blues would – aggressive, hungry, and energetic. After the Everton match, the rumor mill kicked into high gear about Chelsea locker room turmoil and especially how long it would be until AVB gets shown the door. I was going to explore all that in the wake of the Everton match but it was too depressing. Chelsea looked so bad it was hard to know where to start. Plus, I had my hands full at my day job as my soccer team made it to our state’s final four playoffs (alas, we lost in the championship game). So I decided to wait it out, hoping for a Blues turnaround in the FA Cup against Birmingham City and in their Champions League visit to Napoli. Guess I shouldn’t have waited it out.
For now, I’ll skip over the 1-1 draw with Birmingham in the FA Cup. I mean, it’s bad enough, but at least they get to try again in the replay. The Napoli game this past Tuesday was terrible. Except for the few minutes Chelsea was up 1-0 in the first half, they never looked like they might win. What is it about every team Chelsea faces this year getting one or two players to slip in behind the Blues defense? It happens every game, usually more than once. It’s maddening! Even worst, Chelsea very rarely generates similar opportunities. To be sure, Chelsea still owns the middle of the field, but in the final third, the Blues are completely predictable. Savvy opponents just cram the box and are content to let Chelsea pass around the perimeter until someone gets impatient and lobs a ball into the middle where one or two Blues are surrounded by an army of defenders! Even the slippery Sturridge who was so effective earlier in the season is going through a dry, bland spell.
Some pundits are questioning AVB’s starting lineup choices against Napoli, but that’s not the reason Chelsea tanked. The Blues just didn’t play well. They haven’t played well for about two-thirds of the season. Champions League play was the last hope for Chelsea to take this season’s lemons and make lemonade. Now they’re hanging on by the thinnest of threads in all competitions. Poor AVB is probably on his way out, and like Carlo Ancelotti last season, it’s not all his fault.
With each week of the season my expectations for Chelsea slip further. Now it’s starting to look like the most they have to play for is a Champions League slot for next season. It’s a grim time for Chelsea fans, but tomorrow’s a new day. Maybe a big win over Bolton will bring some much-needed hope!
Referee assists Chelsea in squandering three-goal lead
It was basically sickening on Sunday. As soon as Rooney predictably rammed home his second PK of the afternoon I knew the match would end in a draw. Even though Chelsea still led 3-2 at that point, I’ve been around the soccer block too many times to think that the Blues would actually be able to hold off Manchester United for the rest of the match. I was right. Javier Hernandez, that little Man U rascal who is incomprehensibly allowed to wear his cutesy nickname on the back of his jersey rather than his real name, tied the game with a wickedly timed run and header. I hate that I’ve turned into a Chelsea version of a Chicago Cubs fan this season, but Chelsea has choked a few too many times this campaign to retain much optimism in big games (or little ones actually).
What makes last Sunday’s 3-3 draw all the more painful is that for the first hour or so things were falling into place so beautifully! Sturridge showing some speedy signs of life and scoring the opening goal (so what if it was officially a Red Devil own goal?). Then Juan Mata’s hair-raising volley smash on the end of Torres’ cross to kick off the second half! Then David Luiz’s well-timed header goal just moments later! It was all too good to be true.
About those PKs against Chelsea… the first one was probably deserved. Sturridge got a little over-zealous. But the second one against Ivanovic a few minutes later was a ridiculous call! It wasn’t a penalty. Normally I think Howard Webb is one of the world’s better refs. And I don’t envy anyone who has to attempt to officiate matches as big as this one. But Webb had a very off day. Besides the penalty decisions he was wildly inconsistent all afternoon, toward both sides. Top-flight soccer simply must have instant replay for calls inside the penalty box.
I saw the Man U game as a last opportunity to rescue Chelsea’s dismal season – that maybe a victory would spark some life into the sputtering squad and help ensure they at least retain a Champions League spot for next season. Now, the forecast is still very uncertain. They will have to scrap for every remaining point.
Adding to the on-field woes is the recent chatter about locker room disharmony and players having issues with AVB. Piled on top of that are the rather ridiculous rumors (or are they?) of Jose Mourinho wanting to return to Chelsea. What a mess! It would be a mistake to dismiss AVB this early. He’s made some iffy calls along the way, but it’s not his fault the season has gone so poorly (just like Carlo Ancelotti shouldn’t have been blamed for last season’s shortcomings). I don’t know that Mourinho would be able to turn things around any more effectively. Chelsea needs stability right now. They should give AVB two more seasons before reassessing.
What do you think about Andre Villas-Boas’ management this season? Should he be given more time? Feel free to weigh in below…
Grading the new Chelsea manager’s first month on the job
Okay, so it’s not really fair to grade a coach after barely a month at a new job. Especially since there haven’t even been any regular season games yet. But I’ve got to blog about something while I wait out the remaining twelve hours or so before Chelsea kicks off against Malaysia XI, so it might as well be evaluating AVB!
I liked Carlo Ancelotti. I thought the club treated him poorly and sacked him prematurely. So whoever succeeded him would have to win me over as a fan. So far, AVB has done just that. He has brought new energy to the club, seems to have a good plan in place, and has hit the ground running to implement it (not that he had much choice, with little prep time before the players returned). As a detail-oriented guy, I can appreciate his apparent detail-orientedness. For example, check out this snooping from the Daily Mail, which shows some of AVB’s clipboard diagrams from a recent training session.
I also appreciate the way AVB has tempered the hoopla surrounding his Porto success and megabucks transfer to Chelsea with appropriate humility. He fully realizes that his Porto trophies got him to Chelsea, but staying past one season in London will require fast results. Fair or not, that is the scenario. But AVB seems up to the challenge.
AVB has also made smart personnel decisions, like promoting Steve Holland and Michael Emenalo (to assistant first team coach and technical director respectively), and choosing recent West Brom manager Roberto Di Matteo as his assistant coach. Di Matteo was a pleasant surprise of a choice. My impression of him last year prior to his West Brom canning was that he is an intelligent, mature guy with a lot of managerial potential. Player-wise, AVB has taken a careful approach, not getting sucked into the transfer market madness, or trying to flex too much managerial muscle with sweeping changes.
Ancelotti was a good manager, but perhaps his laidback style lulled the largely veteran team to sleep for much of last season. There is a renewed energy about the team since Villas-Boas’ arrival. Sometimes, even when the previous coach is well liked, teams need a leadership change to recharge the batteries. So far, the team is reacting well to AVB’s training. The players are fired up for the new season. They don’t seem put off by AVB’s youthfulness either. In fact, John Terry’s apparently been inspired by AVB to become a Chelsea manager himself someday.
Here’s hoping Chelsea’s perceived reinvigoration translates into some dynamic soccer in Malaysia tomorrow!
What do you think – how is Andre Villas-Boas doing so far?