The January transfer window is open and Chelsea changes are afoot
Chelsea’s post-Club World Cup recovery was going great with a League Cup victory against Leeds, followed by three successive EPL wins over Aston Villa, Norwich, and Everton. Plenty for fans to be enthused about over the Christmas holiday. All that came to a frustratingly screeching halt Wednesday with the 1-0 home loss to QPR – who just happen to be the worst team in the league. Simply unbelievable. The slim hope of catching up to Manchester United by season’s end has all but vanished now. It will be a dogfight just to qualify for the Champions League.
The QPR loss confirms that Chelsea is not an elite team right now. There are currently only two elite teams in the EPL and they’re both located in Manchester. The Manchesters repeatedly demonstrate their knack for winning games they should win, as well as clawing their way back into games when they’re not performing at their best. They always seem to find additional goals, even when they’re letting goals in themselves. Chelsea has not shown the same ability this season.
A team’s fortunes don’t rest entirely on one player of course, but Man U does have the remarkably reliable Robin Van Persie at striker, and Man City has the similarly prolific Edin Dzeko. Chelsea has Fernando Torres. Yeah. I know Torres has scored much more this season, but would anyone really put him in the same league as Van Persie and Dzeko right now? Well, Chelsea may be about to get a lift in that department…
Today Chelsea made it official that Demba Ba is joining the club from Newcastle. Now that the remote possibility of Didier Drogba joining the team on loan from China seems to have vanished, the arrival of Senegalese striker Ba is great news for Chelsea fans. If his Newcastle stint is any indication, he will be a physical handful in the box for opponents – something Chelsea has desperately missed since Drogba’s departure. For all the deft, speedy skill of Hazard, Mata, and Oscar, they are small guys who frequently get muscled off the ball, so having Ba’s strength and nose for goal will be a welcome addition to the offensive mix.
The only things tempering my enthusiasm over Ba are his past knee-injury struggles and the fact that he’s 27-years-old. I’m not saying 27 is old, I just wish Chelsea would find an elite under-the-radar striker at the beginning of his career rather than splashing mid-season cash for perhaps final-third-of-their-career guys. I thought they had done that with young Lukaku last season, but they let him languish on the bench before loaning him to West Brom for this season. Still, getting Ba was much more economical than the rumored move for Atletico Madrid’s Falcao. Overall, I’m quite glad Ba is a Blue. Having lived in Senegal for five years as a youngster, I always root for Senegalese players. Hopefully Ba will accelerate his scoring prowess for Chelsea over the next few seasons.
On the flip side of the January transfer window fun, new arrivals usually mean departures as well. Daniel Sturridge moved to Liverpool this week. I like Sturridge and think he has a lot of potential that was never fully explored at Chelsea. He deserved a lot more playing time this season in place of the bland Torres. I wish him the best at LFC.
The other big name in Blues news this week is one of my favorite Chelsea players (isn’t he everyone’s?): Frank Lampard. It seems unthinkable that Chelsea would even consider letting this legend go and yet that seems to be what’s happening. Lampard’s contract is up at the end of this season and Chelsea doesn’t seem eager to re-sign him. I don’t understand this. Lampard is beloved by fans, a leader on the field, and still produces goals at the highest level. Just look at Scholes and Giggs at Man U – guys older than Lampard who still contribute. Lamps has a few more seasons in him and Chelsea should allow him to end his career as a Blue. He has certainly earned it.
What do you think of Chelsea’s transfer window action so far?
A Special Invitation from Chelsea* to Drogba…
How’s life in China? How’s the food? The weather? How’s your Chinese coming along? Hope all is well.
Here’s the deal, Didier, we miss you at Stamford Bridge. We really need you to come back. Like this week. I know we parted ways on great terms, with you having just won the Champions League for us and all. If you were going to leave the club, it was the perfect time to do so. We were all very understanding, but let’s face it, our Champions League-winning high clouded our judgment. Now that we’ve had time to ponder… we think we made a big mistake.
Did you see our draw today against a very beatable Liverpool? Their striker Suarez saved the day for them again – a lot like you used to for Chelsea. We need a big time lethal striker again. That’s where you come in. We’ve got some great new guys this season we think you’ll really dig – guys like Hazard and Oscar. They’ve been creating great ball movement with Mata, but the problem is they need a real strongman in the box to feed the ball to. No one wreaks havoc in the box like you do. We really miss your ability to hold the ball and invent crazy-angled shots out of nothing. In case you’re wondering about Torres, well, we’re not exactly sure what to do about that yet. But it probably involves selling him for as much cash as possible come January. Look, Fernando’s a great guy and we wish him well, but he’s no Drogba.
Now we know you left Chelsea primarily because Shanghai-whatchamacallit offered you a bazillion dollars. Very understandable. We didn’t think we could match their bazillions. But this week we found out we actually made a profit for the first time in something like a decade (thanks to the Champions League riches you helped us get), so, since we’re not used to operating in the black anyway, we thought we’d just give you all that excess profit if you come back.
By the way, in case it’s not all about money, you saw where Chelsea fans recently voted you one of the greatest Blues players in club history, right? That’s pretty sweet. The fans would welcome you back in a heartbeat. Just sayin’. We know you have a soft spot for Chelsea in that lion heart of yours, so we want to remind you that John Terry got knocked out of the Liverpool match today with a potentially season-ending injury, Lampard is still out with a calf thing, and we loaned Michael Essien to Real Madrid for reasons we’re still not entirely sure about (okay, we brought that last one on ourselves, but we’re just pointing out the dearth of Blues vets currently on hand).
Just in case you feel a little weird about the idea of coming back to Chelsea so soon after leaving, it’s not unprecedented. Paul Scholes returned to Man U after retiring for a while last season. Thierry Henry even went back to Arsenal on loan earlier this year. It’s obviously not our first choice, but we’d settle for you returning to Chelsea on loan whenever the Chinese league’s over (sorry, we’re not sure when their season ends – until you went there we didn’t even know China had a pro league). Whatever it takes, Didier, that’s what we’re saying.
Admit it, you miss the Premier League. The high-pressure matches. The packed, historic stadiums. Cup finals. Champions League nights around Europe. Eccentric gazillionaire Russian owners. Causing Sir Alex heartburn. Democracy.
We don’t want to pressure you too much, but we have slipped from first to third in the table within a couple weeks, so we kind of need an answer ASAP. Only you can help prevent one of the Manchesters winning the league again. Chelsea’s fate is in your hands. Okay, that may be overstating it a bit, but come on man you’re playing in China for goodness sakes! No one watches Chinese soccer!
Come home, Didier, come home. You know you want to. We can have a jet there in a matter of hours.
Chelsea Football Club
P.S. Say hello to Anelka for us.
*Unfortunately this letter does not represent an actual invitation from Chelsea Football Club to Didier Drogba.
Chelsea defeats Napoli 4-1, advancing to Champions League quarterfinals
Wednesday’s second leg round of 16 clash with Napoli at Stamford Bridge was hands down Chelsea’s biggest win of the season. It was a crackling night of classic and dramatic Champions League action that saw Chelsea overcome a 3-1 aggregate deficit by netting four goals. The game was thrillingly suspenseful for 120 minutes, having been forced into extra time since the aggregate score was 4-4 at the end of regulation. In the 104th minute, Ivanovic scored the winning goal for Chelsea in the kind of triumphant moment reminiscent of the Blues’ better days from the past several years. It was the kind of moment that makes soccer fans swoon, the kind that have been unfortunately few and far between for Chelsea supporters this season.
Particularly gratifying in this match were the unified heart and fighting spirit the team demonstrated throughout. It was the kind of will to win that has been oddly absent for much of this campaign. The fact that three of Chelsea’s four goals were scored by Chelsea’s “old guard” (Drogba, Terry, and Lampard respectively) was also quite gratifying. Their goals and leadership were emphatic parries to critics’ jabs this season that Chelsea would be better off without these “geezers”. What is remarkable about this rampant critical ageism is the double standard demonstrated by the rave reviews heaped on Manchester United’s own geezers Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. Wednesday night’s performance proved that Drogba, Terry, and Lampard are not done yet!
The victory over Napoli keeps hope alive that perhaps something magical can be salvaged from this otherwise dreary season for the Blues. Today’s Champions League draw determined that Chelsea will now travel to Benfica for the first quarterfinal leg on March 27th. Here’s hoping that Chelsea’s recent recovery blossoms into a resurgence that will propel them all the way to the final in Munich!
How will Chelsea fare against Benfica in the quarterfinals?
Villas-Boas defends Blues veterans
I saw a few stories this morning about Sir Alex Ferguson’s jabs at Chelsea, basically saying the Blues haven’t done much to alleviate their ageing problem this summer. Andre Villas-Boas responded by pointing to the squad’s past success and reiterating his belief that they are still strong contenders.
First of all, Fergie is a master of the mind game sound bite (covert trash-talking). Man U’s currently rolling across America, full of confidence, toppling MLS teams left and right. So with the EPL season just a few weeks away, Fergie figures it’s time to launch a strategic barb, aimed at the club he must know will be Man U’s primary title competition next season. With all the talk of Chelsea’s “struggles” last season, it’s easy to forget that they finished a not-too-distant second (and that was with all their supposed geezers in the lineup).
Secondly, Fergie is hardly one to talk about ageing players. Ryan Giggs is still a regular starter for goodness sake. And what about the recently retired Neville and Scholes? I guess they weren’t playing as regularly as Chelsea’s core group of vets, but still. Sir Alex seems to believe in keeping vintage players around and the past few seasons I’ve thought him wise to do so.
Andre Villas-Boas is taking the right approach with the Chelsea roster. People are too quick to write off players over 30. Any other EPL team in their right mind would start Terry, Lampard, or Drogba as often as possible. And those who say Chelsea is just relying on the same old squad haven’t been paying much attention. What about Luiz, Ramires, Mikel, Kalou? And this preseason has shown significant youth promise for the club with McEachran, Bertrand, Van Aanholt, Sturridge, and Chalobah.
Don’t be fooled by Fergie’s mind tricks, Chelsea fans – AVB’s got a strong mix of veterans and youngsters brewing. In the end, I think it will make an exciting, winning combination.
Do you think Chelsea needs more youth in the starting eleven?