Do we have a squad to challenge for both the Premiership and Champions League this year?
The collective departure of Joe Cole, Michael Ballack, Juliano Belletti, Deco and Ricardo Carvalho in the close season have, by my reckoning, saved the club something like half a million quid a week in wages. But it his also meant the loss of five experienced international players who between them can count on 326 international caps. It’s all very well saying that this is the year in which the youngsters are going to be given a chance but a look at the substitutes’ bench in recent weeks does not exactly send shivers down the spine of the opposing team. In the Birmingham game the six outfield players who sat on the bench had made a total of 48 Premiership starts between them, 45 of which by Jose’ Bosingwa. I’ll do the maths for you. The five remaining players – Sturridge, Kakuta, McEachran, Van Aanholt and Bruma have started three Premiership games between them. For the statistically inclined that’s 0.6 appearances each. It’s one thing blooding the youngsters when the team is 3 – 0 up at home and another when you are 1 – 0 away to Birmingham on a freezing November afternoon. The step up from the youth team to the first team is a big one in any sport at any level. But nowhere is it bigger than in the Premier League or the Champions league for that matter.
The short answer to the question I pose above is NO, not with that sort of bench.
Are we the same team without Frank Lampard?
Is the Pope catholic? Which team in the world can afford to lose a midfield player who regularly gets twenty goals a season while doing more than his fair share of tracking back? Over the past few years most of the team’s top players have been out for and extended period of time – Drogba, JT, Joe Cole, Ballack, Essien, Carvalho but this is the first time we have had to make do without Lamps and the truth of the matter is that there is not one player in the squad who is remotely capable of putting in the kind of shift that Lamp’s is able to week in week out. Since his absence the three midfield starters have come from Mikel, Essien, Malouda, Zhirkov and Ramires. We’ll be lucky if at the end of the season all five score twenty goals between them, let alone come anywhere near Lamps in the goalscoring stakes.
Together with Petr Cech, Lamps is absolutely irreplaceable in any Chelsea line up.
Does Ancelotti have the faith in his youngsters that he says he does?
In the one game Ancelotti decided to start with three of the youth team products together, in the League Cup against Newcastle, the side went 3 – 1 down early on in the second half. Kakuta was taken off at half time and replaced by Kalou who got injured a few minutes later with Josh McEachran coming on instead. Since then not one of the four youngsters has made a start in either the Premiership or the Champions League. Starting with Ferreira in central defence against Sunderland wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence for Jeffrey Bruma. Which would lead one to believe that deep down the coach doesn’t really believe that any of them is ready to start in high pressure games, which are basically all the games we have left between now and the end of the season bar the two remaining Champions League group games.
Has Ray Wilkins departure had any effect on the team?
The Ray Wilkins departure is destined to remain a mystery until someone directly involved in the issue decides to sit down and write his memoirs. It is always difficult to gauge the importance of a number two at a football club and it is certainly too early to decide on the impact the assistant coach’s sacking has had on the team. But two defeats in two games against teams in the lower half of the table gives one food for thought. Paul Walsh, who was co-commentator for the Birmingham game, made a good point for once in his life. He remarked that the two assistants, Emelano and Clements have no Premiership experience and that Ancelotti has no experienced hand on call to bounce ideas off. Not that Carlo is that way inclined anyway. The one failing I would accuse our manager of is that even when things are going wrong he sticks to his formation. Not for him the game changing substitutions a’ la Jose’, who in moments of crisis often played with four up front and three at the back. We will never know if Ray Wilkins ever suggested any radical tactical changes to his boss. I certainly don’t see Emelano or Clements doing it.
Can we still win something this season?
Three defeats in four games does kind of dampens one’s optimism but it is far from the end of the world. First of all no team in the Premiership looks remotely capable of stringing six or seven consecutive wins together, the sort of run that puts daylight between you and potential championship rivals. The return of Michael Essien will make a difference but we need the medical department to pull up their collective socks and get a few of the injured players sorted out asap. Why did JT have to go to Italy to have his injury properly diagnosed when it now transpires that he has been playing through the pain barrier for months on end? Then we need Roman to take his wallet out in the January transfer window and get us a flair player, one who can open up a defence on his own when all else is failing. Our system is too dependant on fast accurate passing. When a few of the players are not on song we look laboured and predictable. Rarely do we ever see one of our players beating his man or taking on the opposition defence single handedly. My dream of a return of Arjen Robben will live on until the day the Dutchman hangs up his boots. Failing that I will whisper a name very slowly – Craig Bellamy. I know it might sound crazy but just think of what the crazy guy would be capable of in a six month loan.