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?
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 defeats Benfica 1-0 in first leg of Champions League quarterfinal
Where has this defensive discipline been all season for Chelsea? For most of the match at Benfica yesterday they looked like the stubborn Chelsea defense of old. Even Cech looked much better than he’s been for much of this season with several fine saves. Sure Benfica threatened here and there, but the back four of Luiz, Terry, Cole, and a very surprising Ferreira remained focused, unified, and got the job done.
When I initially heard Di Matteo was starting Kalou and Mikel, I was a bit concerned. They’ve both had rough seasons, particularly Kalou who has barely earned a start this year. But, they were both spry, didn’t seem a bit rusty, kept mistakes at bay, and had an all-around excellent game. Kalou even punched in the goal via a smart pass from Torres. Speaking of, Fernando had a solid outing as well. Like many other Chelsea fans, I wish he’d go on a scoring rampage, but the important thing is to keep winning and he definitely helped Chelsea do that yesterday.
Surprisingly, Mata had an off night. He seemed tired (rightly so after all the big games he’s played in such a short span) and I was surprised he wasn’t subbed in the second half.
Ramires drove me nuts with his poor final passes, until the qualities I admire about his game actually initiated Chelsea’s goal. It was his acceleration and tenacity that got the ball to Torres up the right wing, which was followed by Torres’ pass in to Kalou who scored.
It was pleasing to see Chelsea take care of business so matter-of-factly, with no major defensives gaffes and no goals allowed. It was also great to see them get the result using several players who haven’t been in the lineup much recently (wish Malouda had also participated) – that must be a morale booster for both starters and bench-warmers, as well as good for locker room harmony.
So now, with things looking grim in the Premier League for Chelsea, the club finds itself one game away from a Champions League semifinal spot. Who would’ve thought that was a remote possibility back in December? Benfica visits Stamford Bridge next Wednesday, April 4 for the return leg where Chelsea will have to resist the urge to relax with their 1-0 lead, and remain vigilant to finish off sure-to-be-feisty Benfica.
Will Chelsea advance to the Champions League semifinals?
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?
Blues look a little better in 4 – 0 win
1st Half Highlights/Commentary
-First 10 minutes were once again sluggish for Chelsea. They were firmly in control of possession, but the build-up was slow, with no real speed in the final third.
-17th min: Some good action from the forwards for a change. First Sturridge sent a floating cross from the left, Torres settled it, tried to move into the box, but cut it back to Anelka who got a shot off at the top of the box, but it was snuffed out.
-Anelka found a lot of space in the first 20 minutes, but his shots and passes weren’t sharp enough.
-32nd min: Best shot of the game so far was by one of the Thai all-stars. Cech had to make a good save.
-34th min: Three Chelsea players (Anelka, Torres, Van Aanholt) touched the ball in the box but couldn’t get a shot on goal!
-37th min: Van Aanholt made a great pass into the box to Torres who made a very poor left-footed shot across the goal that missed wide right.
-37th min: Fortunately for Chelsea, Lampard took one of his classic worm-burner shots from the top of the box to score (Anelka set up Lampard with a short pass).
-First half negatives: Corner kick finishing was dreadful. Chelsea did not seem interested in connecting via headers or otherwise. The corners were simply wasted.
Torres and Sturridge found some decent openings, but their finishing shots were sorely lacking. Don’t mean to pick on Torres too much, but when is he going to get it in gear? He is not a threat to opposing defenses at all. He is slow, sloppy, seems to give up easily on the ball, and his shots are either too soft or not even on frame.
-First half positives: McEachran had excellent ball control and impeccable passing. The Chelsea defense handled the few Thai challenges with poise. Anelka was more involved with the action than he was against Malaysia XI. Van Aanholt continuously made contributing runs down the left flank, working several connecting passes into the box.
2nd Half Highlights/Commentary
-The only change for Chelsea to start the second half was Hilario taking over for Cech in goal.
-49th min: Bosingwa sent in a cross that looked disappointing because it was too close to goal, but the Thai GK appeared to misjudge the ball’s flight and knocked it into the goal… 2 – 0 for Chelsea.
-51st min: Great sequence from Ivanovic starting the ball forward from the back, played a give-and-go to McEachran, then Ivanovic found himself one v. one with the GK and slid it in to make it 3 – 0 for Chelsea.
-61st min: Drogba, Malouda, Benayoun, Ferreira, Zhirkov, Cole, Kalou, and Rajkovic entered the game.
-72nd min: Malouda ran onto an excellent through-ball from Cole and Malouda scored to make it 4-0.
-76th min: Jamal Blackman took over for Hilario in goal. Chalobah replaced Ivanovic.
-Second half negatives: Chelsea’s possession was more sporadic than in the first half. The defense was a little leaky, allowing several dangerous Thai shots.
-Second half positives: Though the Chelsea attack wasn’t particularly cohesive, they were much better at finding openings and finishing in the final third. Villas-Boas talked about wanting to see more “vertical” passing after the Malaysia game and Chelsea finally achieved more successful vertical balls today.
Also, Hilario was fantastic in goal. I have not been impressed in the past by Hilario’s play (in the very few appearances he’s made), but he looked world class today.
Summary: It was great to see so many goals, however, the score doesn’t actually reflect much Chelsea improvement over the Malaysia game. There was still a painful lack of urgency from the Blues in the first half and a very casual pace in the second. However, Chelsea was much better at creating space and scoring opportunities than in their last outing. Hopefully, the team will continue looking sharper as they move camp to Hong Kong.
Do you think Chelsea played better today than against Malaysia XI?