Chelsea season preview
After finishing last season on an unexpected high, can Chelsea reclaim their position as a dominate force in the Premier League? They have spent lavishly this summer and manager Roberto Di Matteo will have no excuses if he fails. Will he be able to break the club’s short-term manager curse?
It’s hard to believe it has only been three months since Chelsea’s historic Champions League victory. Since then Chelsea have witnessed the departure of Drogba, John Terry’s trial, summer spending reminiscent of Roman Abramovich’s early years as owner, as well as many Chelsea players competing in the two major footballing tournaments this summer (Euros and Olympics). What has been less reported on, and perhaps cause for concern for Blues fans, is the fact that Chelsea have won only one game since that night in Munich.
Roberto Di Matteo has now gone five games without a victory, including Chelsea’s 3-2 loss to defending Premier League champions Manchester City in the Community Shield at the weekend. It was a result that was swayed by the first half sending off of Branslav Ivanovic, but that doesn’t mask the fact that preseason results haven’t gone Chelsea's way. After starting their preseason American tour positively with a 4-2 win over Seattle Sounders, which saw Eden Hazard scoring on his debut, Chelsea then drew 1-1 with Paris St Germain. They then went on to lose four games on the bounce; 3-2 to the MLS All Stars, 1-0 to AC Milan, 3-1 to Championship side Brighton and then Manchester City. Di Matteo was particularly critical after the loss to Brighton when he sad; “I was expecting more from my team in terms of urgency and movement. I was looking for a better performance than the one we gave today. We were too stretched, never aggressive enough and didn't get the ball back quickly enough when we lost it.” It was a sentiment that could have applied to the majority of the team's preseason games.
To be fair to Di Matteo, preseason friendlies aren’t often accurate portrayal of how a Premier League campaign will play out. Chelsea have several new players that need time to adjust to the team including Brazilian superstar Oscar who is yet to start for the club as he has been busy helping his country to the final of the Olympics.
However Abramovich isn’t famous for his patience, especially after splashing the cash. He also seems unsatisfied with Di Matteo’s defensive managerial style - a reversion back to how Mourinho used to play - and is hoping that Chelsea can get results while playing a more attractive, Spanish style football. After all, you can only build a brand if the product is pretty. The response has been to buy players who have the ability to change the team’s defensive “parked bus” mentality into that of a deftly manoeuvring sports car.
Marko Marin was signed back in April from Werder Bremen for £6.5 million. The German is a fast midfielder, typical of the dynamic youngsters that Germany has been producing for the past few years, and can play on either wing or as an attacking midfielder.
Chelsea’s biggest purchase of the summer came in June when they announced they were signing Belgium superstar Eden Hazard (although Hazard had let slip a month earlier that he was joining Chelsea on his Twitter account). The former Lille midfielder came with a reported price tag of £32 million, which would make him Chelsea’s second most expensive player of all time, behind £50 million Fernando Torres. Like Marin, Hazard can also play on the wing and as an attacking midfielder. He will most likely be used to try and get the best out of the misfiring Torres. Thorgan Hazard, Eden’s brother, was also signed for £1 million from Lens, but the 19 year old is unlikely to find himself a place in Chelsea’s first team this year.
Chelsea’s most recent signing is Oscar. The former Internacional midfielder was signed for a reported £25 million and has been impressing crowds on international duty at the Olympics. The 20 year old was instrumental in helping his country get to the tournament’s final, scoring one goal and setting up many more for teammates Damioa and Neymar. Oscar is yet another attacking midfielder who is also capable of playing as a striker.
However, even with £60 million already spent, it is unlikely Chelsea have finished buying players in this transfer period. They urgently need to sign a world class right-back after the departure of costless agent Jose Bosingwa. Ivanovic can play the position but would much prefer to start in his natural centre-half role. The right-back role is a position that Chelsea have struggled with in recent years with a string of forgettable signings (remember Khalid Boulahrouz? Or Tal Ben Haim?). Marseille’s Cesar Azpilicueta is Chelsea’s first choice but talks have stalled after the French club turned down Chelsea’s initial bid of £5million. Juventus’ 28 year old Stephan Lichtsteiner is a potential back up, available for £5million, but Di Matteo is reported to want to up the bid for Azpilicueta. There are also persistant rumours that Chelsea are trying to sign Wigan defender Victor Moses and the Latics want a reported £10 million for him.
Rumours also persist that Chelsea are chasing after Porto’s Hulk and Napoli’s Edinson Cavani. However both clubs have put extraordinarily high price tags on their star players so, with Chelsea having already spent so much already this summer, it is unlikely either will come to West London.
So how will these new signings fit into Chelsea's game plan? Having played a 4-3-3 formation last season (with Drogba the target man), they may end up adopting a Barcelona style 4-2-3-1. Torres (or Sturridge) would take point while Mata, Oscar, Hazard and Marin would play behind, forming an interchangeable passing carousel. The ever faithful Lampard would take up the holding midfield role along Essien or Mikel.
However, if this approach is adopted, will it be enough to challenge the attacking might of Manchester City or the depth and reliability of Ferguson’s United? Only time will tell and we will have to see how Di Matteo copes with trying to match stylistic flair and positive results (remember that Andre Villas Boas had tried to do the same thing last season and was dismissed as a result). Asked by a report if his team was stronger than last season, the Di Matteo was evasive. ““I’m happy with the squad. If there are opportunities we’ll look at the market and see what happens.” If the Italian manager gets his tactics right, and brings home more silverware for the Chelsea trophy cabinet, he'll be more than just happy. And he may just be able to buck the trend of Chelsea’s revolving door managerial system.
Sun 19th August - 13.30
Wigan (H) v Chelsea (A)
Wed 22nd August - 19.45
Chelsea (H) v Reading (A)
Sat 25th August - 17.30
Chelsea (H) v Newcastle (A)