If there was any doubt about the raised expectations at Stamford Bridge then you only need to peer at the league table. Liverpool are witnessing a ‘renaissance’ under Brendan Rodgers and playing ‘spectacular’ football whilst Man Citeh are the form team of Europe. Yet oddly, neither team has amassed more points than us. Even stranger, talk to any fan down the Anglesea Arms after a match and the consensus is that this has been a very average Chelsea season.
One fan even remarked that if this Chelsea team was managed by anyone else, the skies above Cobham would be dark – not because of the weather but more the whirring of Abramovich’s chopper. That’s a bit harsh. As Jose himself has pointed out, this current team is a side in transition, a young team that needs to be moulded further.
That Jose’s transition team is sitting only two points behind the leaders in mid-December speaks volumes of his ability as a manager. Tasked with fashioning a Chelsea Mark 2 with more attacking flair and greater aesthetic poise, Jose’s gone about his job purposefully. OK, the team has stuttered and spluttered its way through this season but against the big teams we’ve either won or drawn. Only Bayern beat us, and that was more by luck than design – we played them off the park if you cast your mind back.
The other thing to remember is that Jose has been instructed, not asked but instructed, to create an identity for Chelsea. The team identity demanded by Roman and his inner coterie is one of greater attacking flair (aka more goals conceded), more intricate passing and overall team aesthetics (aka easy on the eye). The days of Jose taking a winger off at half time and parking the bus to see out a 1-0 win are no longer permitted by Chelsea’s fifth floor executives.
So, even with a Frankenstein team made up of players bought by seven different managers, Michael Emenalo and a rich Russian owner, Jose has developed a team ethos and philosophy that is two points off the summit. That’s quite a feat and despite a few odd team selections (e.g. United away) and a few unseemly defeats or draws, Chelsea Mark 2 has delivered some standout performances – Shalke, Bayern and Arsenal are three that spring instantly to mind.
The other point to note is that these performances have given us a glimpse of the future. That consists of a dynamic, passionate team with youth, flair, poise and athleticism. In two or three years’ time, this team will be the kings of Europe. Bayern will have aged, Arsenal will still be flattering to deceive, Liverpool will have imploded, Man Utd will be enduring a steady slump and Barca will be going backwards. By 2016, Real Madrid could be our biggest challenge.
So what does Jose need to bring us up to the lofty heights of Chelsea Mark One? In this author’s opinion (and the entire Anglesea Arms pub), Chelsea need a new striking line up. Suarez’s brace at White Hart Lane (that delivered Villas Boas his P45) meant the Uruguayan has scored more than double our entire strike force. Ship ‘em all out and replace them with some top talent, not least Dzeko as a temporary stop gap in the transfer window and Cavanni or Falcao in the summer. We also need a new holding midfielder and a steady defensive line up that is much meaner than at present.
All this writer hopes is that Jose is given time. After our defeat at Sunderland, Jose came clean with Chelsea’s perennial problem – creating a new team but with all the pressure on results. You can’t have both. As Jose himself said, counter-attacking is easy, and if we are to develop a new team identity, he needs time. A lot of it.
The bottom line is that Jose is still the master. Even with a team in transition.
Contribution by Ross Walters.