Chelsea FC, the reigning UEFA Champions League winners, seem to be finding it hard to shake off a hangover. And like the aftermath of the alcohol-fueled variant, spirits have so much to do with it. With Roman Abramovich’s blessings, Ron Gourlay and co. embarked on an ambitious and aggressive spending spree. Gourlay took to the press conference to calmly drive home the point to Chelsea’ rivals, that the Blues were hardly done with their transfer window machinations. In a sport where clubs hold their cards close to their chests, you’ll hardly get a stronger testament to a board’s confidence than that.
Chelsea are defending UEFA champions.
Chelsea have had troubles in pre-season.
Yet, that feeling of renewal and rejuvenation in the Chelsea boardroom and belief among the fans seems to have steered clear of the squad though. It’s not that the squad hasn’t tried. There hardly seems to be any evidence of a lack of effort on their part though. It can’t have anything to do with a weaker squad either. With Marin, Hazard and the loaned-out de Bruyne joining an impressive midfield featuring Lampard, Ramires, Mikel, Essien and Meireles, Chelsea have added flair and magic to a department Chelsea have traditionally been strong in. There are no obvious cracks in defense, and while Drogba has left a gaping void up front, there are few stars who have the mettle to replace him, like Torres can.
Chelsea have uncharacteristically stumbled to their third consecutive defeat, in their pre-season friendlies. The latest of which came to lowly Brighton who thumped the champions 3-1, despite the latter featuring a full-strength defense. This wasn’t the odd blip by an over-confident side; it was but a natural progression in the journey of a side who have failed to come alive. Losses to AC Milan and the MLS All Stars, and letting in 10 goals over 5 games are hardly the response di Matteo would have expected from a side that will take on Manchester City next week in the Community Shield game.
Chelsea haven’t had the ideal pre-season run, it should be noted. Some stars like Torres needed extended breaks, presumably to clear their heads and give those sore legs a rest. Some have been away at the Olympics. Others like Lampard and Cole have had to fight the ravages of time, knowing they are likely to be central to their team’s fortunes for at least another season. The newer stars Hazard and Marin have seen their honeymoons cut short, as the hit the grind with just the occassional burst of flair in a side that still needs to come to terms with their arrival. If Oscar needs anything like a Ramires-esque time to settle in, di Matteo could find his problems compounded.
Chelsea’s transfer activity has been puzzling so far. A bit of ‘shock and awe’. It’s almost like the board decided their best bet for this season was to blow the opposition out of the water, in the transfer dealings even if it meant strengthening what is already their strongest area. Perhaps that fact has not been lost on the board after all – Chelsea are rumored to be making a big money – £25m no less – move for Andre Schurrle. What this does for Torres’ confidence and Lukaku’s faith in the club remains to be seen, but another player who can double up as a striker might just give Chelsea an added impetus going up front.
Chelsea seem to have fallen down a familiar path.
Chelsea have seen some stars like Malouda, Kalou and Bosingwa leave.
Schurrle is fantastic at having fullbacks for dinner so he’ll bring something the more centrally-located Torres won’t. Or Victor Moses, whose sheer physicality might offer an assurance to a team still looking for its next Drogba. Another rightback could also do no harm. Cesar Azpilicueta is big on the Blues’ shopping list, as they look to avoid using Ivanovic in a permanent role at rightback. They’ve also acknowledged the squad has gotten a bit too big, and are looking to loan out even more players before the season starts.
The biggest issue di Matteo faces, however, is with inspiring a squad that seemingly has nothing left to fight for. A general rustiness, understandable in pre-season, combined with a lack of innate desire is a recipe for disaster. Roberto Mancini’s men – Chelsea’s next opponents in a serious encounter, mind you – have shaken off their cobwebs and looked menacing in their last game beating Wolfsburg 2-0.
He need look no further than City’s biggest detractor Sir Alex Ferguson, for ideas on how to start afresh after a successful season. Having earned their trust, di Matteo needs to do the uncomfortable job of holding up an honest mirror to the team. Chelsea’s incredible triumphs shouldn’t gloss over their worst league performance in a decade. Reminding his stars the journey has just begun, will be a good place to start after a disappointing pre-season. Big things have small beginnings, after all.