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?
MLS All-Stars beat Chelsea 3-2
They’re still in preseason. They’re still in preseason. They’re still in preseason. That’s what I’ve had to keep telling myself about Chelsea since the loss last night to the MLS All-Stars in Philadelphia. Actually, it wasn’t a poor Chelsea performance. And the All-Stars weren’t particularly starry. It was a decent game with a decent number of scoring chances for both teams. Still, I’d rather Chelsea have won.
Michael Essien was on fire last night. He looked like the pre-2011-injury Essien (which is a good thing). Perhaps he is just now fully recovered from the knee injury that wrecked half of last season for him. Or, perhaps he was just a man on a mission to show Di Matteo that he can still take care of business in midfield. Regardless, he looked great and made a tremendous case for himself. His was aggressive and fast on defense. His passes were back to their old accuracy. It was great to see.
For all the talk about Chelsea’s supposed youth revolution this summer, look who scored the Blues’ goals last night – Terry and Lampard. These guys just keep on ticking. I don’t know how many more seasons they’ve got left in them, but as long as they keep contributing like this, it’s hard to think about replacing them.
New Blues Marko Marin and Eden Hazard didn’t quite click with the team last night. Marin held onto the ball a little too long in the box on several occasions when a quicker shot or pass might’ve been the better option. Unfortunately, Hazard simply didn’t get many opportunities to show his stuff when he came on in the second half.
Lukaku’s effort was decent. I’d like to see him pull the trigger on shots more often. He could be a little more selfish with the ball in front of goal. And we still haven’t gotten a good look at his heading ability. But overall he had a better game than he did against PSG.
One of the trickiest aspects of Di Matteo’s job this summer will be figuring out what the best combination of players is, particularly in midfield. That job is even harder with some key guys like Mata and Sturridge currently busy at the Olympics. I thought the first half offensive group (Lampard, Essien, Benayoun, Ramires, Marin, Lukaku) significantly outperformed the second half group (Mikel, Meireles, Hazard, Piazon, Malouda, De Bruyne).
Last night’s loss was disappointing because you want to see your team dominate in preseason. But it’s not that big a deal. There is a still lot of preseason yet to go. The team is already in Miami for their final U.S. Tour stop where they’ll play A.C. Milan on Saturday.
Your thoughts on Chelsea’s performance last night?
Chelsea head to Philadelphia for MLS All-Star Game
Chelsea tied Paris St. Germain 1-1 in last night’s match at Yankee Stadium. It was a ho-hum game for the most part – not bad by any means, just a little stuck in lower gear. PSG was definitely a step up competition-wise from the Sounders game. Some better finishing might’ve garnered Chelsea the victory, but it was still a good battle back to tie the game. Today the team travels by train to Philadelphia for Wednesday’s clash with MLS All-Stars.
I still like the promise displayed by Hazard and Marin in last night’s game. They could make a big impact for Chelsea this season. I was less impressed with Lukaku and De Bruyne last night than against Seattle. Hutchinson also looked a little shaky on defense and too hasty with several passes. I wish McEachran had seen more of the ball when he came on in the second half. I also wish Malouda would regain his former sharpness in the final third. He had one of Chelsea’s best scoring opps of the match but smacked it directly at PSG’s keeper.
But these are small criticisms considering it’s preseason with lots of player rotation. And considering there are so many young players on this tour. Speaking of – how ‘bout 18-year-old Brazilian Lucas Piazon’s second half goal? Ramires (also Brazilian!) slipped Piazon the sweet pass that led to the goal. Earlier in the game I complained aloud about this whippersnapper Piazon who seems to have a penchant for trying to dribble around defenders instead of passing. Equalizing goals have a penchant for shutting me up. Piazon’s probably too young to earn a spot with Chelsea this season, but perhaps we glimpsed a bright future Blue last night.
Today’s Oscar the Brazilian Wonder Kid update swings back in the direction of him actually joining Chelsea. What that means is, nobody really knows for sure.
There are a couple items today about expensive German club players that Chelsea has tried to get – Andre Schurrle of Bayer Leverkusen and Robert Lewandowski of Borussia Dortmund. That’s the downside of being one of the world’s moneybags clubs, everyone tries to fleece you.
There’s also much chat today about Frank Lampard’s potential MLS future. I think it’s a non-story. The guy is committed to Chelsea to the end of his contract. Sounds like he answered reporters honestly after last night’s game because his future beyond this season really is up to Chelsea. They may decide not to renew, but I think that would be the only scenario that would send Lamps to MLS. By the way, if that does happen, FC Dallas wants you Frank!*
*I have no authority to speak on behalf of FC Dallas. But I’m inviting you to join the club anyway!
Your thoughts on the Chelsea/PSG match last night?