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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?

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Yellow and Black Attack

Chelsea unveils 3rd kit

Chelsea trained in Miami for the first time yesterday evening in preparation for their final U.S. preseason game against A.C. Milan Saturday night.  The Blues will undoubtedly be antsy for a win after tying Paris St. Germain in New York and losing to the MLS All-Stars in Philadelphia.  Should be a fun one against A.C. Milan.

Yesterday Chelsea unveiled the all-important (not really) “third” kit – an interesting yellow and black number inspired either by Tron or 80s big-hair metal band Stryper.  I’m not sure which…

I’m not a big fan of this 3rd kit, though there are far worse jerseys to be featured in the Premier League this season (for proof check out this and especially this).  Chelsea has also had worse 3rd kits in the past, although I liked last season’s 3rd (which has sentimental value as the kit worn in that historic win at Barcelona to reach the Champions League final).  Generally, I prefer jerseys that aren’t too busy, and this new kit has a little too much going on for my taste (particularly those ab-highlighting lines).  But the 3rd is usually just a cameo jersey, so we probably won’t see it very often.

As a side note, Chelsea wore their new away kit for the first time against the MLS All-Stars the other night and I thought it worked well.  The previously bashed sash on the jersey didn’t bother me that much.

Some Blues-related news I’ve seen today includes Benayoun possibly being loaned to Fulham, and Marseille possibly selling defender Cesar Azpilicueta to Chelsea.  I like Benayoun, but at 32-years-old, I don’t expect Chelsea will keep him this season.  Fulham would probably be a good gig for Benayoun.  As for Azpilicueta, I don’t remember much about him from watching Marseille in the Champions League last season, but I welcome the signing of another defender.

What do you think of Chelsea’s new 3rd kit?

CFC to NYC

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 Transfer Rumors

Are Drogba and Essien on their way out?

Two of my favorite blues are Didier Drogba and Michael Essien.  They first caught my attention at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, playing for Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana respectively.  The fact that they both played for Chelsea FC was a primary reason I became such an avid Chelsea fan in the first place.  So the rumors that either or both of them could be sent to another club are disappointing to say the least.

I get it, soccer is obviously a business and difficult personnel decisions have to be made from time to time.  Unfortunately, players have a finite shelf life and clubs have to be strategic about when to transfer them.  Clubs can’t afford to be as sentimental toward players as fans are.

I know this is tainted with sentiment, but I really don’t think it’s time to let go of Drogba or Essien.  Both underperformed last season, but Drogba in particular surged in the last month or so (maybe it was the competition for his spot with Torres).  They’ve both got plenty of good soccer left in them, even if Drogba’s is more of a substitute role next season.  According to a report today, Essien’s agent says Essien is not leaving Chelsea.  Hope that’s true!  As for Drogba, his former club Marseille seem pretty interested

Which Chelsea squad members would you transfer, if any?