Chelsea’s stuttering start to the Premier League this year has led many critics to assert that the title race will be competed by the two Manchester clubs with Chelsea likely to finish third. The same old problems seem to be surfacing, slow possession play and the usual lack of creativity in the final third.
Chelsea’s Changing Transfer Policy
Over the years Abramovich has demanded nothing short of success, albeit the competition in the Premier League has intensified so much that finishing in the top four every year can be considered an achievement in itself. It could however be argued that Abramovich has somewhat changed his ethos. The appointment of a young and ambitious coach would on the face of it seem like there is a long term project in mind. This is certainly a positive sign for a club that have had seven different managers in seven years since Abramoivch bought the club. Coupled with the signings of several talented young players such as Lukaku, Romeu, Ulises Davilla, young goalkeeper Courtois and Mata there are signs that Chelsea could finally be building for the future it what seems a stark change in transfer policy.
With this potential change in ethos considered it could be argued that this is very much a transitional season for Chelsea. Despite buying young players still have a team and formation remarkably similar to that of when Mourinho was at Chelsea four years ago. In fact of the side that faced Stoke on the opening day of the season eight of those players were in the match day squad that faced Manchester United in the 2008 Champions League defeat.
After an initial huge investment from Abramovich between 03-06 the owner drew back his spending somewhat as Chelsea began bringing in players like Steve Sidwell on frees as well as through the odd purchase of first team players like Bosingwa in 07/08 or Ramires in 10/11. Generally the team very much stagnated and also aged, bringing in young players will not solve the problem over night but it will ensure for gradual progress at Chelsea, and hopefully long term squad stability.
Currently Chelsea’s players are either slightly older or very young. Of the players that regularly started games last season eight players were aged 29 or above. The middle aged players such as Kalou and Mikel often flatter to deceive and have not stepped up as well as one would have liked. Whilst Mikel has his plus points he certainly does slow down Chelsea’s game and offers little in an offensive capacity. As for Kalou one never knows what to expect, a player who chips in with a reasonable amount of goals, or a player with poor decision making and average technical ability. The significance of this is that the young players such as Lukaku and Romeu are arguably not yet ready to make a real impact for Chelsea. Lukaku was not even selected for the Champions League squad.
Chelsea’s Form So Far
The start of the season has been slow for Chelsea with rocky performances at Stoke and at home to West Brom. Chelsea have also conceded in three of their four league games thus far. One cause of this was that unlike Manchester United, Chelsea failed to bring in players before the start of the season, adding Mata, Lukaku and Romeu to the squad later on in August, as well as Meireles on deadline day. As well as this Chelsea’s brightest player during pre-season due to a suspension he picked up at the end of last season.Chelsea looked brighter against Sunderland. Chelsea have been crying out for a player like Mata, a tricky winger, ever since Robben and Duff departed the club several years ago. Both players look sharp and look to make things happen, Sturridge’s cheeky back-heel is testament to the players growing confidence.
Chances Of Success?
As stated Chelsea’s chances of success have been widely being written off before they had even kicked a ball many pundits will feel vindicated by their recent form and the flying starts made by both City and United. United in particular look the most likely to win the league so far having scored a record 18 goals in four games and with their new signings seeming to have settled in immediately, however this time last year Chelsea were also flying and people thought they would run away with the title only for them to fade away in November. A similar collapse at United however seems unthinkable and so far they have beaten strong opposition in Spurs and Arsenal compared to Chelsea merely thumping the likes of Wigan and Blackpool in the opening weeks of last season. City have also drastically improved playing free flowing attacking football albeit they are yet to be seriously tested in the Premier League and their attacking style and naivety cost them against Napoli mid-week.
With the attention focused on Manchester it could benefit Chelsea as they’ll slowly look to improve. Villa-Boas will be attempting to impose his style of play on the team turning Chelsea from a slow possession side (as Torres kindly pointed out) into a more dynamic attacking team who move the ball quickly. Much of Chelsea’s chance s of success rely on Torres’ form especially in the context that the club will lose Didier Drogba for the African Cup of Nations in January.
If Chelsea are to achieve long term and sustainable success, something that has so far alluded Abramovich, they will need to stick by Villa-Boas and allow him to build something at Stamford Bridge. The signals coming from the club are good, Villa-Boas has reportedly had assurances that his job will be safe regardless if Chelsea fail to win anything. Abramovich has apparently acknowledged how this could be a transitional season for the club.
The increased competition and increased investment in the Premier League means that success is no longer a certainty for Chelsea and that is something the Chelsea fans and board should keep in mind come May with it being a real possibility that the club end up trophy-less. There is still a great deal of quality in the squad and whilst the balance may not be right just yet Chelsea will still be able to push for success in all competitions this season, especially in the cup competitions where luck is obviously a key factor (something that has alluded Chelsea in Europe so far). As well as this, despite the clubs poor performances it should be remembered that Chelsea have picked up 10 points from a possible 12, albeit the weekends trip against Manchester United may have come to soon for a Chelsea side that is trying to adapt.