First and foremost, it hasn’t escaped my attentions that we already have a couple of new faces in the ranks. Dan Sturridge, Ross Turnbull and Yuri Zhirkov are new signings of course. But in Ancelotti’s first press conference as Chelsea boss, he freely admitted: “I don’t know very well Sturridge or Turnbull.”
The club had been linked with Sturridge for a number of months or even years depending on which reports you read. The same goes for Turnbull although the rumours over the ex-Middlesbrough ‘keeper began around January time. Zhirkov too had been expected to join the club a short while before Ancelotti put pen to paper on a deal with Chelsea, and with the winger now expected to shift his game into the centre to accommodate the new formation at the club, it seems strange that a conscious decision was made by the manager to buy a wide player. These arrivals reek of higher involvement, either from Frank Arnesen, Roman Abramovich, Bruce Buck or John Terry depending on who holds the cards at the club nowadays!
But with stories – and that’s all they are at the moment – circulating about a Chelsea bid for Andrea Pirlo rejected by AC Milan, along with the tempting quote: “At this price Pirlo is not for sale,” it seems as if Ancelotti is preparing to usher in his first ‘true’ signing, albeit at the expense of a couple more million, and with it the consolidation of a new wave at the club.
The deep-lying playmaker would be a comfort signing for Ancelotti, a fellow Italian and a student of the ‘Mister’ at Milan. Not a bad player either to have on our books. Ancelotti appears to remain steadfast in his plans for a narrow diamond midfield, even if it doesn’t quite seem to fit the existing midfielders’ strengths at the moment. Pirlo at the base of the diamond would provide some culture and a delicate touch to a midfield which is often overrun by power and drive. John Obi Mikel – always solid but occasionally reckless – may feel hard done by but Michael Essien would find himself free to surge forward along with Frank Lampard.
But Pirlo’s prospective move will almost certainly mean that the diamond is here to stay. Common complaints about Luis Felipe Scolari was that his system didn’t fit with the players and was stoppable by teams sitting back and inviting the Blues’ pressure, restricting shots on goal by squeezing the game and packing the midfield. Along with this, Scolari was said to be without a ‘plan B’, doggedly sticking to his guns while his career prospects crumbled around him.
The team finished strongly last season and it seemed that if we were to continue our fine run of form into this campaign, a couple of quality additions were all that was needed with no sweeping changes necessary. While the squad has remained similar, the system has changed and it could take some getting used to. Florent Malouda had an excellent end to the season as a left winger after picking up plenty of criticism early on – mainly from me – but now he has to adjust his game to play more centrally, just like Zhirkov. Is it productive to the team or is it a case of round pegs in square holes?
During the draw with Reading, our first friendly against another English club this pre-season, some fans on the Live Match Forum where already questioning Ancelotti after a meagre first 45 minutes where we went 2-0 down. Perhaps – and most likely – these were tongue in cheek comments or rather just the ramblings of madmen, but it seemed a small scale repeat of the last days of Scolari!
With time, and maybe the arrival of Pirlo, the system could work. Time is what is needed, not kneejerk reactions, and Ancelotti is still ushering in the new era at Chelsea. Pirlo would be the wingman the boss needs, just like Mourinho brought in Carvalho, or Scolari was insistent upon securing the services of Deco.
One thing is for certain if Pirlo arrives. He must take over free-kicks from Frank Lampard. The dead-ball specialist is a much better choice than a man who hits the wall more times than a crash test dummy.