Forget for a moment, that this is a Chelsea side that won the domestic double. Forget the joyous crowds that greeted the victors on their parade through London. Forget the fact that the pendulum may have swung in favor of Chelsea FC, and that the Blues may have drawn the curtains over the United-Arsenal era.
Parading with ecstasy!
What you’re left with is the gnawing realization that The Blues are a side in a spot of bother. This is a side, that sputtered across the finish line, instead of waltzing past it. This is a side that put in its worst performance in the UEFA Champions League; it’s Holy Grail, as far as the fans are concerned. It took a man who once christened himself ‘The Special One’ before the start of a colorful cameo at Stamford Bridge, to hold a mirror to the West London club. It wasn’t without a touch of irony that Chelsea FC’s frailties were exposed by Jose Mourinho, the architect of its greatest run of success.
For all its undeniable strength and its ability to hammer the living daylights out of opposition, Chelsea FC is on shaky ground. No club can hope to succeed in a league format, where consistency counts for a lot, when its core is a sputtering engine that runs on tired and aged legs. It’s no coincidence then that Chelsea’s performance at the start of seasons has been exemplary, often blowing the field away, while displaying a not-so-surprising tendency to lose their way mid-season as the injury list grows and the muscles begin to betray the unrelenting ravages of age. Chelsea then tends to raise its performance in the end-games, as the pressure piles up and the desperation sets in.
It shouldn’t be like that. It just shouldn’t.
With a squad relatively smaller than most other big teams, Chelsea have come to rely on its starting eleven to a very high degree. As long as the first eleven take the field, Chelsea can be counted on to deliver with ruthless efficiency and in an almost mechanical fashion. But like any complex machine, the absence of one vital cog can throw the entire system into disarray.
Chelsea’s strength has always been its midfield and despite the accomplishments of Drogba and Anelka up front, this is still a club that is incredibly wasteful when it comes to converting chances into goals. Drogba possesses the sheer brutality and physicality needed for a strike-force lynchpin, but does not have the finishing skills of a Torres.
The Ivorian lacks the ability to create monumental goals from half-chances provided by the midfield. Anelka may show a public preference for the role of joint striker, but his ability to finish has been called severely into question, many times. The fact he ended up as last season’s leading goal-scorer, is a testament to the incredible role Chelsea’s midfield played in the club’s tilt at multiple titles.
However, Anelka is far too useful as an auxiliary free-roaming addendum to the strike force, to be flogged off to the highest bidder just yet. If the rumours of his willingness to sign a one-year contract extension are true, it will be a masterstroke on the part of the Chelsea management team.
Madrid’s loss could be Chelsea’s gain
What’s needed as far as bolstering Chelsea’s attack goes, is a young and dynamic striker – one who can improve under the stewardship of, and in partnership with, Didier Drogba. All indications point to Alexandre Pato joining Carlo Ancelotti in London in the near future, though not in time for the next season. With a Pato move on hold, Ancelotti could look at getting Aguero on board. But the salary demands of this little Argentine make him too costly a target.
So, the spotlight falls to the unsettled Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain. Chelsea would do well to make a bid for him in the hope of employing him up there with Drogba and Anelka in a 4-3-3 or as Drogba’ strike partner in a 4-4-2 with Anelka either on the bench or in an advanced midfield role on the right.
The most proven talent within Chelsea’s price range is Liverpool striker Fernando Torres. If his agent is to be believed, El Nino is content to stick with The Reds for at least another season. That would be a shame for Chelsea, for the Spaniard operating in tandem with Drogba would be devastating for the rest of the League.
El Nino – a dream transfer, but is it a realistic one?
The midfield will need its own bout of spring-cleaning. Frank Lampard will obviously stay on, but his presence on the left will no longer be required considering Malouda is in the form of his life, leaving him to concentrate on his primary role in central midfield.
Lampard’s ability does not lie in sheer talent or speed, but in an intelligence not commonly associated with a footballer. His weaknesses, on the other hand, lies in his need for space and his need to retreat and attack from the depths of midfield. With Malouda on the ascendancy, the Chelsea midfield’s best years are still ahead of it.
And in Essien, they have one of the best defensive midfielders in the world, not to mention a ravaging force in offense and a constant thorn to rival teams on the right flank. Carlo Ancelotti has probably figured that using the Ghanaian in the defensive midfield position, causes him to lose a fascinating dimension to Chelsea’s attacking prowess. This begs the question of who would replace Essien in the position Makalele made his own, all those years ago.
Mikel has the talent, but is still rough around the edges, and it would serve him well to experience a gradual transition to first team action. This is where a move for Yaya Toure would be a masterstroke. Guaranteeing him action in a side competing for the Champions League should set the ball rolling as far as inking a deal is concerned. With a throughly experienced professional holding fort, Lampard and Essien could go berserk on opposite ends of the midfield.
Toure could scare teams into submission!
Sadly, Joe Cole may choose to leave, as he does not look likely to receive an improved contract. Deco too will be on his way out, after a disappointing stint in London. With the positions of attacking midfielder and right winger then falling vacant, Chelsea could afford to look for replacements in the form of Yossi Benayoun and Darijo Srna respectively.
It remains to be seen if Liverpool and Shakhtar Donetsk will be willing to part with their assets, but Chelsea would do well to be ready to outbid any potential rivals. Yossi would do great as a support striker in a 4-3-3, and at the peak of the diamond in 4-4-2, while Darijo Srna would do great on the right flank.
Darijo Srna could fit in well
Gael Kakuta on the wing is an exciting prospect for Chelsea, though the jury is still out on whether the lithe youngster can handle the physical nature of the Barclays Premier League just yet.
Michael Ballack needs to be offloaded, even if he shows a willingness to sign a mere one-year extension. The club already has a dynamic player like Essien to take over his position, or can purchase any one else who doesn’t project the impression of someone strolling around a park, with a cigar in his mouth.
The defense, once the injury lay-offs play themselves out, look the sturdiest of Chelsea’s segments. Bosingwa as right-back was a revelation till his unfortunate injury, but Ivanovic has proven to be a more than adept replacement for him. Ivanovic looks destined to take-up a permanent role in the central defense, some time in the future.
Ashley Cole’s presence in the team next year seems guaranteed, with him having put his grouses with the club behind him. Zhirkov will need to scale up rapidly before his defensive skills can match his attacking prowess. Carvalho, despite his years of dedication to the club, has outlived his usefulness to the London outfit. His mere presence mandates a starting position – something that may not necessarily be in Chelsea’s best interest.
Bright future ahead
Chelsea have another reason to smile, with Ancelotti agreeing with Frank Arnesen’s contention that five of the youth team’s regulars are now ready for the big league – Kakuta, Borini, Matic, van Aanholt and Bruma. Chelsea’s chances of lasting the distance in all competitions next season will depend on how quickly these young stars mature and how well the club rotates its players.
Chelsea will need to make some tough decisions this summer, including benching current team stars whose performance curves have hit a trough. The club will also need to come up with a better rotation policy to handle lesser tournaments like the FA Cup and Carling Cup, instead of fielding its thirty-plus superstars day-in and day-out. The board and Roman Abramovich must bring in new blood into the team, regardless of how well Chelsea’s typical late-season renaissance went.
Spurts don’t win you the league, consistency does. And Chelsea cannot afford to do without it..
Following is a list of players Chelsea definitely ought to look at bidding for, and letting go:
Gonzalo Higuain/Fernando Torres, Yaya Toure, Yossi Benayoun, Darijo Srna
Joe Cole, Michael Ballack, Anderson Deco, Juliano Belletti, Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira
Regardless of the formation, Carlo opts to play in, he has a host of options at his disposal presuming his transfer ambitions are successful
LB – A.Cole, Zhirkov, van Aanholt
CB – Terry, Alex, Ivanovic, Bruma
RB – Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Srna, Bruma
LW – Malouda, Kakuta, Zhirkov
AMF – Kalou, Benayoun
LMF – Lampard, Malouda
CMF – Lampard, Matic
RMF – Essien, Matic
DMF – Essien, Toure, Mikel
RW – Srna, Essien
CF – Drogba, Higuain/Torres, Anelka, Kalou/Benayoun, Borini