Chelsea’s Corner: Thin Squad, Is It?

This summer, a number of first team players have left Stamford Bridge, while two players have been signed to replace them. An exodus of such monumental proportions raised quite a few eyebrows; however, the one that mattered the most has looked oblivious to the pervasive murmurs. It can mean one out of two things – either Carlo Ancelotti has trust in his thin squad’s talent and endurance ability to do justice to not less than three competitions or the notorious Italian eyebrow is deceiving us.

Let’s look at the men at Carlito’s disposal, and evaluate exactly how thin this Chelsea squad is. Here, we assume the manager will deploy a 4-3-3 formation for the majority of games.

Goalkeeper

If not for Cech, there would be one less difference between a Gooner and a Blue – they would be equally anxious each time the ball comes even remotely close to the man standing between the posts. Although, the Czech international has not been the same keeper ever since he was ‘Hunt’ed, he’s still regarded as one of the best in business.

Wembley Stadium Community Shield Manchester United v Chelsea (2-2) 09/08/09 Chelsea win 4-1 after penalty Shoot out Petr Cech (Chelsea) saves Ryan Giggs penalty Photo Roger Parker Fotosports International

Petr Cech – still one of the best in the game..

The Hilario-Turnbull pair does not inspire a lot of confidence; they are not technically “bad” goalkeepers but are consistently inconsistent. An injury to Chelsea number one, during the pre-season, presented a glorious opportunity for the two men, but they failed to grab it.

Chelsea had bid for the Stoke City goalkeeper Begovic, however that option hasn’t materialized.

THT verdict: Chelsea appear weak in this department, as there’s a substantial difference in quality between Cech and his under-studies.

Right-back

Branislav Ivanovic, whose preferred position on the pitch is center of defense, is one player who grabbed the chance presented to him by Jose Bosingwa’s injury and made the right-back position his own, last season. He’s Ancelotti’s preferred man, but things could get interesting once the Portuguese returns. Then, there’s even good old Ferreira to fill-in for them, whenever the need arises. That’s just the case presently, as Bosingwa is still at least a couple of weeks away from action and Ivanovic is suffering from a back injury.

THT verdict: The right-back position is well covered; the manager has two world-class options, in addition to a dedicated team-man, to choose from.

Left-back

Despite having a tumultuous personal life, the bad boy of English football – Ashley Cole – can still walk into any top team in the world. With the distractions behind him, he will again be yearning to prove his worth to his detractors and fans alike. Even if Mourinho had succeeded in luring him to the Bernabeu, Chelsea still had an able option in Yuri Zhirkov to replace him. Yuri is loved by the fans; the love-affair had started during a game against Bolton last season. In that game, not even a bleeding head could deter the Russian from delivering a man-of-the-match performance, to power the Blues to victory.

In whatever limited opportunities that have come his way, Zhirkov has impressed. Then there’s Patrick Van Anholt – a Chelsea academy product – who made his debut last season, to provide a cover for the experienced stars.

THT verdict: No problem whatsoever, as Ancelotti has two quality players, whose skills make them a perfect blend of attack and defense.

Centre-back

After Carvalho left, Chelsea has rightly resisted the temptation of entering the market to buy his replacement. Alex, along with Ivanovic, has waited long enough to earn a right to partner John Terry in the center of defense. The Brazilian is 27 now, and is in the prime of his career – now is his time. He is a clean tackler, is good in the air and has a physique to handle the tough English game.

Apr. 03, 2010 - Manchester, GREATER MANCHESTER, United Kingdom - epa02102846 Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic (L) and Rio Ferdinand (R) head away an attack from Chelsea's Rodrigo da Costa Alex during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford, Manchester,Britain, 03 April 2010.

The Tank in action..

John Terry, with all the distractions behind him, is slowing regaining his form. Although, the first three games were against weaker opposition, still the commitment shown by him cannot be discounted.

Chelsea not signing a center-back also points towards the faith Ancelotti has in young Jeffrey Bruma, who at 18  is  deemed good enough to be the fourth choice behind Terry, Alex and Ivanovic.

Midfield

Ramires and Benayoun, Chelsea”s two major signings this summer, are both midfielders, albeit of different breeds.

Contrary to popular opinion, Ramires is not John Obi Mikel’s replacement as he’s more similar to Michael Essien. Surprised? Hold on to your judgment. The Brazilian’s preferred position on the pitch is right side of midfield and he’s a box-to-box midfielder with an incredible engine. Despite his diminutive frame, he’s a tough player and a good tackler.

Stamford Bridge, Chelsea v Stoke City, Premier League 28/08/2010  Ramires of Chelsea comes on to replace Michael Essien Photo Marc Atkins Fotosports International Photo via Newscom

Two Essiens?

Mikel, on the other hand, arrived as an attacking midfielder, having played in that role for Nigeria as well as his former club Lyn Oslo. Mourinho, however, decided to use his strong built in a defensive midfield role, thereby curbing all his natural instincts. Over the last four years, he taking a lot of flak from fans and pundits alike, as the inevitable comparisons with Makelele could not be avoided. The criticism that came his way was sometimes justifiable, as he made mistakes, was late on a few tackles and looked disillusioned on the pitch. Having said that, he still did an average job in the absence of Essien, in the last two seasons.

Once the Ancelotti era began, the manager saw Pirlo-esque potential in the Nigerian, who was technically good but was slow, and backed him to grow as an deep-lying playmaker. The Mikel of today knows his job, is calm and composed on the ball, can play short passes with almost lethal accuracy, and can pick out forwards with a 40-yard pass from the deep. In the match against Stoke City, he completed 103 passes out of the 106 that he had attempted.



But, he needs an Essien or a Ramires to share his defensive duties and cover for his lack of pace. So, we now have three players to occupy the two positions on the pitch, and they can be used inter-changeably.

The third position belongs to Frank Lampard. Although, Benayoun can step in for Frank, we are yet to find a long term replacement for the Chelsea vice-captain. Lampard, with his 20 goals from midfield, surging runs into the box and link-up play with the forwards, is presently indispensable.

THT verdict: Chelsea don’t have an attacking midfielder of Super Frank’s pedigree. The other two positions are well covered.

The Forwards

Left wing: The players’ player of the year, Florent Malouda, owns the left flank. He is arguably the most improved player in the Premier League and is enjoying the best phase in his career. His team-mates value him, the fans love him and the manager trusts him. One of the reasons why Zhirkov, who is equally capable of playing further up field on the left, has not managed to break into the first team is the form of the likable Frenchman. However, if the need arises, the Russian can be deployed instead of Malouda.

Right wing: We don’t have a natural right winger in first team per se, but Ancelotti uses Anelka and Sturridge in that role. Anelka’s role in this setup is crucial – he’s often a link between the midfield and attack. For someone who’s over 30, he still has some pace to burn; he holds the ball well enough and attracts defenders, freeing up space for the other  attackers. Then there’s Salomon Kalou, who is versatile enough to play anywhere up front.

Centre-forward: There’s just one Didier Drogba. Chelsea would struggle to replace last season’s Golden Boot winner, if and when the need arises.

Stamford Bridge, Chelsea v West Bromwich Albion, Premier League 14/08/2010 Didier Drogba of Chelsea scores his 1st goal from the free kick  Photo Marc Atkins Fotosports International Photo via Newscom

Didier Drogba – The indispensable monster!

Under the present system, the three men up-front keep interchanging positions – Drogba drifts outwards and the wingers try to cut in through the center. It’s the fluidity of this movement that causes the opponents’ downfall, on most occasions.

THT verdict: The performance of Sturridge, Borini and Kakuta, when called upon by Ancelotti, will decide to what extent Chelsea would suffer in the absence of its star forwards.

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The three indispensable pillars remain Cech, Lampard and Drogba. Any short to long-term injury to them has the potential to derail the campaign. Other than that, the remaining eight positions on the field are well covered, with an equally good replacement waiting on the sidelines.

In a hypothetical scenario, if Didier is out injured and Anelka replaces him as a center-forward, it would be an ideal opportunity for someone like Gael Kakuta, who is talented enough to play on either wing and as a second striker, to play on the right wing.

In Bruma, Anholt, Borini and Kakuta, Chelsea has a fine set of youngsters graduating to the first team. If the best talent from the academy is not good enough to serve as a 4th choice center-back, a 3th choice left-back, or a 3rd choice winger, wouldn’t that be such a waste?

The English champions have a strong enough squad to cope with three parallel competitions – it’s a good blend of youth and experience. In an ideal world, Chelsea would have a more reliable second-choice goalkeeper, another dynamic attacking midfielder and a right winger, but we don’t live in an ideal world, do we? It is these uncertainties that add to the aura of the beautiful game.

63 Responses to “Chelsea’s Corner: Thin Squad, Is It?”

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  1. BLueFan says:

    At present JT , Ivanovic, Bosingwa are injured and Bruma is not match fit. Its just the beginning of the season . Ferreira is the only fit right back and Alex is the only fit CB . Our lack of depth in this department is really worrying .

  2. Howard Roark says:

    There’s an international break next weekend, so JT would be fit by them.

    Bosingwa is two weeks out so can’t really take a call on him, however by the time we have to go to City of Manchester stadium, either him or Ivanovic would be fit to play.

  3. Happy Chap!! says:

    I guess the youngsters should be talked about in this manner only when they prove their worth. Performing for the reserves and in U21 internationals and doing well in the league is entirely a different proposition. It might be the case where Kakuta, Bruma and the rest do turn out to be good players for cheslea, but still it might not be. Di Santo was also termed as one of the big things two seasons ago, but today he was sold to wigan for a mere 2 miilion.

    Pirlo’s comparison with Mikel is just a joke!!

  4. Sitaram says:

    Undoubtedly, the present Chelsea squad is the thinnest squad in the Abramovich era. Ever since Roman took over Chelsea, we have always had 2 quality international players competing for every place in the first team. But this season, Carlo seems to be banking on top 15-16 players in the squad to take the team through the entire season. An injury to Cech, Terry, Lamps or Drogba would severely hurt our chances both in the league and the champions league.

    For the past 3 games, Ancelotti has used the same starting eleven of; Cech, Cole, Terry, Alex, Ivanovic, Lampard, Mikel, Essien, Malouda, Anelka, Drogba. If this is the 11 Carlo is going to play for most of the matches this season, then an injury to one or 2 of these players could prove to be a major problem for Chelsea. If Ivanovic is being considered as a central defensive option to Terry and Alex, then I would be worried if he plays regularly at right back, as it would increase the chances of injury to all 3 of Alex, Terry and Ivanovic. Same is the case with Anelka and Drogba. I would prefer Ancelotti using Bosingwa at right back with Ferreira as his back up. Ivanovic has done very well at RB but he should be competing with JT and Alex for a place in central defense. Same is the case with Drogba and Anelka. Last year, in the home leg against Jose’s Inter, we saw how stretched our squad looked. Jose had players like Balotelli and Pandev to call on from the bench while the best we could manage were Kalou and Sturridge. I believe Ancelotti is adopting a wait and watch policy; if we have major injuries from now till Dec, then I am sure he will buy in Jan to compensate for it.

    But this season, I hope to see the likes of Kakuta, Bruma and Sturridge getting more games in the premier league. I hate to say this but if Chelsea are serious about landing young talent like Neymar, they should first provide more first team opportunities to young players like Kakuta/Sturridge and help them develop into regular first team players. It does not make sense to buy young players and then sell them off 2 or 3 years later. For a team with no established right wingers, I still cant understand why Stoch was sold, considering he had just returned from the dutch league as a league winner. Also with Carvalho and Mancienne both gone, we haven’t even managed to come up with a list of 25 to submit to the premier league. Yet, surprisingly, Ancelotti looks very calm and composed. :S

  5. BLueFan says:

    @Sitaram: This is the squad which is available to us now…
    1 Petr Cech, 2 Branislav Ivanovic, 3 Ashley Cole, 5 Michael Essien, 7 Ramires, 8 Frank Lampard
    10 Yossi Benayoun, 11 Didier Drogba, 12 Mikel, 15 Florent Malouda, 17 Jose Bosingwa
    18 Yury Zhirkov, 19 Paulo Ferreira, 21 Salomon Kalou, 22 Ross Turnbull, 23 Daniel Sturridge
    26 John Terry, 33 Alex, 38 Patrick van Aanholt, 39 Nicolas Anelka, 40 Henrique Hilario,
    43 Jeffrey Bruma, 44 Gael Kakuta, 45 Fabio Borini

    so we have only 24 players in our first team….out of which only 7 are ‘home grown'(?)
    The home grown players m counting are: Cole, Lamps, Turnbull, Sturridge, JT, PVA, Bruma (plz confirm)

  6. Nipun says:

    Brilliant analysis, Chelsea’s squad is one of the strongest and most suited for the rigers of the Premeir League, people like Drogba, Essien, Malouda, Ivanovic are all pretty tough campaigners. With malouda scoring so many cutting in from wide areas it shouldnt be a problem even if Lampard has an unusually low scoring season.

    As a neutral, well not quite a neutral ( Man utd supporter), i think the biggest challenge could come if Terry and Ivanovic are both injured together. United had backups to backups last season but stiil had to play carrick and fletcher at the back on 2 occasions. That cost us 5 points!!!

    Also i am not quite sure about any youngster till they make it in the real world i.e. the league games.

  7. kunwar ! says:

    @ nipun : thats the wrst case uve pointed here(certainly ur nt a neutral 😉 )..terry and ivanovic get injured we still have essien who can play RB ..alex and bruma and cole..so we dun have much to wrry..bruma was pivotal in chelsea’s reserve squad last season..so carletto showing faith in him is a good sign of things to come.

    talking about the squad, it is well versed with youngsters, which can be used as backups and can play in some less consequential matches..and gain confidence in this physically demanding league..i think its all rite if we lose few points here and there while making em play…and the big guns….we can have drogba scrin alongside sturridge..lamps and kakuta..terry and bruma…sounds good…!! as long as they dont leave in comin seasons..its a very good subtle investment made by carletto..by givin em sm playin time..which will pay off in the future(like barca are reapin good results rite nw..after sm disastrous seasons earlier)

  8. Sitaram says:

    @BlueFan Currently Chelsea have 15 foreign senior players and 4 senior homegrown players. 4 senior homegrown players are Cole, Lamps, Terry and Turnbull. All players under the age of 21 wont be considered as homegrown as of now, so a team can show as many players below the age of 21 as they want. So Chelsea will only be submitting a list of 19 players to the Premier League. Sturridge, Kakuta, Bruma, Borini and Patrick Van Aanholt are all below 21, so they need not be included in the list. That means Chelsea had an opp to go and purchase atleast 2 more foreign players and 4 homegrown players.

  9. BLueFan says:

    @sitaram: thnks mate… 😀
    gt frm official website our final squad till jan.

  10. BLueFan says:

    Chelsea’s submitted squad is

    1. Petr Cech, 2. Branislav Ivanovic, 3. Ashley Cole, 5. Michael Essien, 7. Ramires, 8. Frank Lampard
    10. Yossi Benayoun, 11. Didier Drogba, 12. John Mikel Obi, 15. Florent Malouda, 17. Jose Bosingwa
    18. Yury Zhirkov, 19. Paulo Ferreira, 21. Salomon Kalou, 22. Ross Turnbull, 26. John Terry, 33. Alex
    39. Nicolas Anelka, 40. Henrique Hilario

    Our Under 21 players who currently have a squad number are:

    23. Daniel Sturridge, 38. Patrick van Aanholt, 43. Jeffrey Bruma, 44. Gael Kakuta, 45. Fabio Borini
    46. Josh McEachran

  11. Howard Roark says:

    By offloading players either in decline or in the evening of their careers (Belletti, Joe Cole, Ballack, Carvalho, Deco), or young players who were not deemed fit enough for the English game by the manager (Stoch, Di Santo and Sinclair) or by sending as many as 10 players on loan, CFC has reduced it’s wage bill by almost 500,000 pounds per week.

    Therefore, this was an extremely fruitful transfer window with respect to the financial target of the club.

    The sooner Chelsea become self-sustainable and reach a stage where they spend only what they generate, the better it is.

  12. Biplab says:

    Joe Cole and Carvalho in the evening of their careers? Well, ideal case of sour grapes I would say. I think Chelsea tried but failed to secure the services of both these players, no? Carvalho still has atleast 3 more years of top football sustainability and he openly expressed his desire to play for Real Madrid, which acc to him “is the best club in the world” and under Jose Mourinho “to have the opportunity to win another Champions League “.

    Joe Cole case has been done and dusted in all football forums. Do I need to say more? Carlo stated that he would have loved Joe Cole to stay at SB and his exit has nothing to do with his on-field performances.

  13. Howard Roark says:

    Carvalho had expressed his desire to leave last season, but Carlo convinced him to stay for another year. This year he had to leave. That was also necessary to move Alex up in the pecking other, otherwise it wouldn’t have been fair to him. So, eventually, the move worked out in the interest of all parties.

    Joe Cole, in the present scenario, didn’t deserve a pay hike. With Chelsea looking to cut wages and with him not performing at his best, he should not have made such demands. With Cole, the problem was money. The fact that he wanted a guaranteed first team place, didn’t help matters either. Anyway, Cole has been well debated everywhere.

    You should have looked at the broader context of my post.

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