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Dismal Blues Part 2

Why Chelsea’s oldest players aren’t the club’s main problem

The popular jab at Chelsea all season has been the collective age of their players – that they’re too old to hack it anymore and that wholesale changes are needed.  Critics may be right about the wholesale changes part, but Chelsea’s aged players aren’t the primary problem.

As I mentioned yesterday, the Wigan and Fulham matches were a real beat-down for this fan even though Chelsea beat Wigan and tied Fulham.  I guess having two matches so close together just magnified the aspects of Chelsea’s play – and the players – that have annoyed most of the season.  I didn’t have a week between games to forget the team’s problems and become an optimist again.

I hate to pick on Fernando Torres first (because he has been drubbed by critics throughout his year and a half at Chelsea) but my fan patience has expired with him.  I like the guy, have rooted for him to succeed, and wish he would be a Chelsea superstar.  But if it hasn’t happened by now, it’s probably not going to happen.  His is a particularly frustrating case because you can see potential there, but it’s never realized beyond occasionally sharp passes and crosses.  He works hard, but the effort rarely pays off with shots on goal (or goals period).  Torres takes overly long strides with the ball, predictably barreling straight at defenders, in a halting style that yields constant turnovers.  Didier Drogba on the other hand, while not having his best season, is much more threatening with the ball (he’s also Chelsea’s second highest scorer this season).  He still causes problems for defenders – Torres does not.  Drogba has been woefully underused this season, presumably in an effort to get Torres out of his slump and fully integrated with the team.  It’s not working.  Drogba needs to start every remaining game.  I don’t know what he’s being saved for at this point, as every game is critical.  Torres seems like a decent guy, but for the club’s sake he should be sold.

While I’m thinking about forwards, it’s also time for Salomon Kalou to go.  Kalou has never quite clicked over to the consistency Chelsea needs.  I appreciate that he has earned some extra late season game time by virtue of his Champions League goal at Benfica, but he’s done nothing since to merit this much pitch time.  Kalou makes too many ill-timed passes and often holds onto the ball too long.

Daniel Sturridge should start every game at forward with Drogba.  Sturridge has been the victim of too much lineup tinkering the past few months, which stifled the hunger and goal-scoring savvy he demonstrated early in the season.

At midfield, critics have been cranky toward Frank Lampard because of his age (33) but Lampard is the team’s top scorer this season!  That despite playing less than he ever has at Chelsea.  Lampard has occasional giveaways and unwise fouls, but he isn’t the weakest link in the Blues’ midfield.  Raul Meireles is.  I’ve never been thrilled by Chelsea’s acquisition of Meireles.  His passing is average, he fouls too much, and his shooting is atrocious (no, I’m not forgetting his end-of-match blast against Benfica).  He’s just not reliable enough.  I’d much rather see Michael Essien (who’s still only 29) back as the consistent midfield commander.

Ramires has also annoyed lately.  He’s in danger of falling into the Kalou category of not quite good enough.  I love his tireless hustle, but it doesn’t make up for his awful amount of turnovers!  I’m not ready to throw in the towel on him yet, but he needs some goals or assists to boost his stock.

It’s time for Chelsea to revamp, but getting rid of Terry, Lampard, and Drogba isn’t the answer.  Those three are no longer in their prime, but Chelsea is still better when they’re on the pitch (or at least no worse).  Why would a team get rid of those assets (their top two scorers this season in Lampard and Drogba) as long as they’re still healthy?

When this season began, it seemed Chelsea was in the process of integrating young players with the “old”.  What happened to Romelu Lukaku and Oriol Romeu?  We saw Romeu quite a bit before Christmas, but I don’t understand why the heavily touted Lukaku hasn’t been granted more run-outs.

This off-season, Chelsea needs to take the long-haul approach to rebuilding, which means no more mid-career, Torres-type acquisitions.  Instead, they need to milk the remaining seasons from their veterans while weaving in dynamic youngsters.  Youth is the ticket!  That strategy may not yield immediate trophies, but the delayed gratification would be worth it.

What players do you think Chelsea should relinquish this summer?

Chelsea’s Semi-Merry Christmas

Blues have to make do with 1 – 1 draw at Tottenham

Well, it could have been worse.  As the match commentators reminded us approximately one hundred times before kickoff, a loss would have certainly killed off the season for Chelsea.  So the Blues’ title hopes are still alive – via life support to be certain – but alive nonetheless.  If only those pesky Manchesters would help us out with some internal meltdowns or something, maybe we could make some headway in the league.

The Spurs game started ugly for Chelsea.  Spurs were frighteningly dominant for the first ten minutes, making Chelsea look like a college team.  Spurs were aggressive, fast, really going for the jugular, while Chelsea looked utterly lethargic.  I actually began to wonder if Chelsea critics have been right all season – that maybe Chelsea is holding on to the past in its player selection, that perhaps they need a complete makeover.  But then, midway through the first half, Ashley Cole slices a perfect cross through the box, which Sturridge calmly volleyed in to tie the game.  That’s the second game in a row Cole’s pinpoint service has resulted in a goal.  Just a few minutes later, Drogba smashed a half-volley into the post from a tough angle.  I flailed and groaned from my living room perch.  Somehow, Chelsea clawed their way back into the game and looked like the more threatening team.

Ivanovic had to leave the game with a tweaked hammy just after the half hour mark.  I thought Chelsea was toast at that point.  Bosingwa slid over to share center back duties with Terry, and who was that entering the game… Paulo Ferreira?  Sorry Paulo, I almost forgot you were over there!  It was his first Premier League game of the season.  I fretted that Paulo’s lack of game time would spell rustiness and leaky defense.  I was wrong.  Paulo had a heck of a game, shutting down his wing corridor quite nicely.

To start the second half, Chelsea looked like a different team, suddenly dominating possession, and shooting at will.  Only problem with the at-will shooting was that it was absolutely horrible and completely wasteful!  Ferreira, Ramires, Meireles, and Sturridge all scattered useless blasts into the seats within a few minutes of each other.

Unfortunately, those early second half chances did not facilitate additional chances.  The high-octane match slowed to a simmer after about seventy minutes.  Torres replaced Drogba for the last fifteen minutes and was typically invisible.  Man I wish he would snap out of it!  I’m tired of the same old media commentary about Torres.  He needs some starts and he needs to play ninety minutes.  And he needs to be locked in a room daily with a top sports psychologist.  This is looking increasingly like a rebuilding year for Chelsea, so AVB needs to get Torres in there and start assessing whether or not he’s going to be part of the Blues master plan moving forward.  Speaking of the master plan, where was Lampard today?  I disagree with him not starting.  I’m growing skeptical of AVB’s choices lately.  I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for a few more games, but he definitely looks iffy at the moment.

So Chelsea just got a point for Christmas.  Certainly better than the lump of coal a loss would have been, but not as merry and bright a holiday as Blues fans had hoped for.  At least we won’t have to wait long for the next points opportunity – the day after Christmas it’s on against Fulham.  I’ll be traveling for the holidays to visit family, and will be watching the game (on TV) with my brother who happens to be a Fulham fan.  Good times.  Family, food, and soccer – sounds like a pretty good holiday!

What do you think about Villas-Boas’ lineup choices recently?