Chelsea have spent the most amount of money over the transfer window this summer. Of the £450m that was spent by Premier League clubs over the summer, the South-west London club managed to spend an eye watering £83m and signed five players for the first team in process. The Champions League win on the 19th of May contrasted by a poor sixth place finish in the Premier League seems to have rekindled owner Roman Abramovich’s desire to see his team challenge again. And he certainly seems to have done his bit to reinvigorate an ageing side with fresh young blood.
Didier Drogba – The Ivorian departed the club in a blaze of glory after putting away the penalty kick that got Chelsea their holy grail. It was a perfect send off for a player who was considered a club legend even before he led Chelsea to lifting the trophy with the big ears and Chelsea were happy to let Drogba leave on a free transfer to Chinese club Shanghai Shenua.
Salomon Kalou – Another one of Chelsea’s team on that fateful night in Munich, he was considered erratic and inconsistent for the best part of his career at Chelsea. And considering all of the restructuring that was expected to take place at the club, the hierarchy at Chelsea decided not to renew his contract.
Jose Bosingwa – Was impressive for Chelsea before an unfortunate knee ligament injury ruled him out for close to a year. Post his return, he was unable to get his form back to previous heights. Though he was a weak link at the back, he did end up getting the ‘scapegoat’ treatment from the supporters too often. He didn’t help himself by barging in to grab the Champions League trophy out of John Terry’s and Frank Lampard’s hands before they had even got a feel of it. Yet another player, released from the club on a free transfer.
Michael Essien – A minority of the fans did expect the midfield destroyer to leave Chelsea this summer, but even they did not expect Essien to leave Chelsea for Real Madrid and certainly not on a loan. It looks as if the Stamford Bridge club decided to trim the wage bill a bit towards the end of the transfer window. Must have left a few fans wondering as to why Chelsea didn’t look at Nuri Sahin in a potential swap deal?
Raul Meireles – Now, a few did expect one out of Essien and Meireles to leave the club, but certainly not both. Such a situation was expected to materialize only if Chelsea signed an experienced midfield player such as Modric or Witsel. It is a lot more baffling when one considers the fact that Meireles was perhaps most suited to play the pivot role alongside John Obi Mikel in a 4–2–3–1 formation.
Yossi Benayoun – Sustained a torn hamstring injury early in his Chelsea career and did not feature again during his first season at the club. New manager Andre Villas Boas deemed him surplus to requirements and was he loaned out to Arsenal in his second season. Roberto Di Matteo seems to second AVB’s opinion and has taken the same option; Benayoun has now been loaned out to West Ham. He is likely to leave Chelsea on a free transfer next summer as his contract expires.
It must be noted that five out of the six major departures at Stamford Bridge were for free. Chelsea only managed to secure a £8m fee for midfielder Raul Meireles but nevertheless managed to considerably trim the existing wage bill and the average squad age of the club. Also worth noting that French attacker Florent Malouda is yet to leave the European Champions.
Much has already been written upon the signings that Chelsea have made over the summer and there was no less than five senior team players arriving at Stamford Bridge. Eden Hazard, Oscar, Marko Marin, Cesar Azpilicueta and Victor Moses have all arrived to infuse imagination and guile into the team. Youngster Kevin De Bruyne, a January signing, arrived at the club during the summer post a six month loan spell at Belgian club Genk and has been loaned out to Werder Bremen for the year.
Three out of Chelsea’s five signings in Eden Hazard, Oscar and Marko Marin seem to have been first choice priority signings. There can be a bit of uncertainty over whether Cesar Azpilicueta and Victor Moses were first choice targets or not, as Chelsea were continually linked to Hulk, Schurrle and Maicon over the summer. However, the club has done well to sign them both at a fairly young age and could reap the rewards in a couple of years. That said, both players will definitely play a part also in the long season that is to come.
As far as refurbishing their attack is concerned, Chelsea and Roberto Di Matteo could be very satisfied at their business this summer.
Attack – Despite the flurry of arrivals at Stamford Bridge, the lack of depth in the No.9 position sticks out like a sore thumb. Fernando Torres and Daniel Sturridge are the only two players who are naturally cut out to play in the position. Victor Moses could fill in should there be a crisis, but it is a stop gap arrangement at best. Fernando Torres will be under considerable pressure to score at a consistent rate as Chelsea have made a few tweaks in order to banish the ‘white elephant’ tag hanging over the Spaniard. Even the 4–2–3–1 preferred by Di Matteo, is reminiscent of the shape manager Rafa Benitez used at Liverpool to bring the best out of Torres. Daniel Sturridge will finally get the chance to show his ability through the middle and it will be up to him to make the most of it.
Midfield – Before the surprising departures of both Michael Essien and Raul Meireles, Chelsea looked to have considerable depth in midfield. However the Londoners are left with just five out and out central midfield players at least until the January window opens – Lampard, Mikel, Oscar, Romeu and Ramires. Florent Malouda can be expected to play a part in midfield should Chelsea utilise the 4–3–3 when necessary. It does look as if Di Matteo is set to continue with the 4–2–3–1 for majority of the time, and is possibly going to use Hazard/Mata consistently in the attacking midfield position.
Compare this midfield to the one that had Michael Essien, Ballack and Lampard starting for Chelsea and the difference in style and approach is stark. Di Matteo will be on shaky ground if Lampard or Mikel are out for a long period. The problem isn’t with the fact that Chelsea have only five midfielders, the problem seems to lie more in the composition of the midfield.
Should Mikel get injured, Chelsea will have to rely upon Ramires who is extremely unsuited to playing as part of a pivot or they will be resigned to playing the relatively inexperienced Oriol Romeu who is just 20 years old. Di Matteo finds himself in a similar predicament should Lampard get injured as well, as the direct replacement is likely to be the 20 year old Oscar.
It might be prudent for Di Matteo to return to the tried and tested 4–3–3 should such a situation occur as the season progresses. It is a formation which gives Chelsea an extra body in midfield in Florent Malouda possibly, and is also a formation which has seen Ramires flourish last season.
Defence – This is one area where Chelsea look to be well covered with two players in each position. It is yet to be seen how well Azpilicueta and Ryan Bertrand acquaint themselves to the pressure and expectations that come with playing a regular season at Chelsea, but the supporters would hope that the induction into regular Premier League football will be a slow and steady process for the youngsters.
All things said and done, Chelsea do look like they are willing to live with lesser depth in the strikers position and the lesser experience in midfield positions. It is a big gamble that the club has taken, but it also shows that the Stamford Bridge natives have fully put their faith in young blood for once. Needless to say that the situation will be re-evaluated come January and there will be no hesitation to add to the squad should Chelsea find themselves short of expectations.
The coming weeks should give us hints over whether Di Matteo is happy – in particular – with the exits of ‘both’ Essien and Meireles or whether he feels short changed at the moment. Also it would be interesting to see how the manager copes with Torres. The striker has started the season very well, but it is too early to be saying that the real Fernando Torres is back.
Seat belts fastened for the Chelsea support then.