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Michael Essien Gets Real

Sad thoughts on my favorite player being loaned to Real Madrid

We’ll miss you too buddy…

So how ‘bout that UEFA Super Cup, huh?  Yeah.  Less said about that one the better.  Let’s just chalk it up to one of those days when the whole squad wakes up and forgets to play soccer in the actual soccer match.  Fortunately for Chelsea, it was a meaningless UEFA money-grubbing match.  I’ve never watched the Super Cup before and only tuned in this time because Chelsea was playing.  Well, sort of.  Atletico Madrid was playing; Chelsea was mostly watching Falcao score goals.

Meanwhile, I was completely distracted by the Friday transfer window deadline rumor that my favorite Chelsea player, Michael Essien, was about to be loaned to Real Madrid for the season.  Unfortunately it wasn’t just a rumor.  Essien is now on his way to play for his former coach Jose Mourinho.  I understand the business realities of big time soccer, but I am bitterly disappointed that Chelsea let Essien go.

Essien has been a favorite of Blues fans since Mourinho brought him to Chelsea from Lyon in 2005.  He was a vital component of Chelsea’s Premier League Championship winning teams of 2005/2006 and 2009/2010.  In pro sports it’s annoying how quickly pundits and club leadership tend to prematurely write off players.  I don’t feel like Essien has been given a fair (and well deserved) chance to earn back his regular starting spot since returning this past January from the second serious knee injury of his career.  I like Roberto Di Matteo, but my only major beef with his decision-making since he became Chelsea manager last spring has been his preference for Mikel over Essien.  I like Mikel, but Essien at full fitness is a better player.  Essien looked fantastic in the MLS All-Star game this summer.  I was really looking forward to seeing his first full season since the 2008/2009 campaign.  Now I feel cheated since he’s been available but rarely used during his last several months in a Chelsea uniform.

I’m not really sure what Chelsea is saying with this loan.  It’s a frustrating tease for Essien fans, because the club is leaving the door open for his possible return, but with so many new youngsters, that seems unlikely.  My prediction is that he’ll become the old Essien under Mourinho and kick some major tail in Madrid.  Come January, Mourinho will probably snap him up on a permanent basis.  Meanwhile Chelsea will still be wasting minutes on Raul Meireles.  It would make more sense for Chelsea to loan out someone like the 19-year-old Oscar, and get another solid 4-5 years out of Essien (he is still just 29 after all).

I’ve had an uneasy feeling for a long time that something like this might happen to Essien.  The only move away from Chelsea I’d ever be excited about is if he showed up on my doorstep as an FC Dallas Designated Player.  But that’s never going to happen.  First Drogba, now Essien.  It seems the Chelsea brass are conspiring to ship out all my favorite Blues.  Who’s next?  Lampard?

Chelsea has a good team this season.  They would have a better one if Michael Essien were in the lineup.

Sad about Michael Essien’s departure?  Feel free to share your cathartic thoughts below…

Decent Win at the DW

Chelsea starts season off right with 2-0 defeat of Wigan

Chelsea blasted out of the gate today, with Ivanovic and Lampard scoring within the first six minutes at Wigan Athletic.  Only problem with such a start was that Chelsea lacked zip for most of the remaining 84 minutes.  In case you missed it, here is the good, bad, and ugly from Chelsea’s first win of the season…

Good:  Eden Hazard!  He showed great bursts of speed and accurate attacking passes.  He was fouled a lot in the first half, which meant he was doing a lot of things right.  Fox Soccer’s Warren Barton said Hazard might be the bargain of the season.  I’m inclined to agree.  Hazard adds zest to Chelsea’s midfield, which too often moved in slow-motion last season.

It was good to see Oscar (the brand new Brazilian signing) get some second half minutes, though I wish he wouldn’t have replaced Hazard.  Oscar didn’t get to do much, but he’s only been with the team a week so we’ll cut him plenty of slack.

It was an interesting (and surprising) idea to let Ryan Bertrand try forward today.  Bertrand didn’t make much impact though.  In fact, he’s been more of an attacking threat in previous matches when he’s carrying the ball up the left flank as a defender.  Anyway, it will be interesting to see where this experiment leads.

Bad:  After Chelsea’s explosive start to the match, they allowed Wigan to have most of the possession.  You can often get away with that against the Wigans of the league, except there aren’t many Wigans in the league anymore.  Chelsea was fortunate that Wigan was asleep for the first five minutes of the match; otherwise we might be talking about a season-opening draw.

Torres was not involved enough (as usual).  In his defense, he wasn’t provided many passes, but the ones he got he generally squandered.  His best scoring chance was cleared off the line in the second half.  He also missed a nifty pass in the box from Ivanovic just before full time that he should’ve been looking out for.  This wasn’t the confidence-boosting outing Torres needed to start the season.

This isn’t necessarily in the “bad” category, but I was disappointed to see Mikel get the starting nod over Essien in the defensive midfield role.  Di Matteo seems to favor Mikel and I’m not sure why.  Mikel hasn’t been bad, but I thought Essien had a better preseason in the U.S. Tour matches.  I hope today’s benching isn’t a hint that Essien’s about to be let go.

Ugly:  Chelsea’s yellow/black third kit.  I’m not very fashion forward (my daughter is happy to confirm this), but the third kit just doesn’t work for me.  I prefer away kits to at least hint at the club’s main colors.  Black & yellow isn’t Chelsea at all.

Overall, this wasn’t the dominating win it should have been.  Chelsea let Wigan hang around and threaten.  But in the round robin format of the Premier League, the three points is all that matters.  It will take a while for Di Matteo to work out the best starting lineup combination, but the pieces are in place to have a very successful season.

What did you think of Chelsea’s season-opening performance?

Shield’s Up!

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?