Five games, five wins. Top of the league with clear blue water between us and the other members of the ‘Big Four’. It’s been an excellent beginning to the season for the Blues and for new manager Carlo Ancelotti. The opening matches, meanwhile, have also thrown up any number of talking points, from the much-debated midfield diamond to the pairing of Anelka and Drogba as a central strike partnership.
With the first Champions League fixture approaching it felt like a good time to take stock, so after the last-gasp victory over Stoke on Saturday CFCnet shoved a mic in front of two Chelsea-supporting journalists, Dan Levene of the Kensington and Chelsea News and Shin Yamanaka (World Soccer Magazine, Japan), and asked them to assess the Blues’ start to the new campaign:
What are your overall impressions of the ‘new’ Chelsea under Carlo Ancelotti?
DL: They are looking like a more organised side than they were at times last season, and they are looking quite adventurous in the way they are playing the ball around the pitch. They’ve certainly got the ability to score lots of goals and beat some good teams.
SY: I don’t see a great deal of change from the Mourinho era, really, because it’s pretty much still his team. But the team is functioning well and Ancelotti had done well to keep the momentum going from Hiddink’s short spell in charge.
There has been a lot of discussion about the different formations Ancelotti has been using in the early games this season. How effective do you think the new diamond midfield has been?
DL: Well, it’s been called a diamond but it doesn’t always look a diamond but we’ve got some very flexible midfielders so, perhaps, we’re not always hemmed into performing like one. I think if we try to play in a basic diamond I think we’ll come unstuck against the better teams. You need to have more flexibility than that, and we do.
SY: To me the biggest question is who can play behind the strikers at the top of the diamond. We have plenty of players who can fill the bottom and the centres but at the top there is a question mark. Deco is not very convincing so I’m very interested to see how Joe Cole will perform there once he is back.
DL: Yes, I’d definitely like to see Joe Cole there as well. The wings are looking a bit congested at the moment so if he could find a place at the top of the diamond that would be great.
Another aspect of the new formation is that Drogba and Anelka have been playing up front together, which we haven’t seen them do that often before. How do you think that partnership is shaping up?
SY: Drogba has said he prefers to play with a partner but, when you see him on the pitch, he seems more like a lone striker. Anelka is often wide or a little deeper, so it’s quite tricky for Drogba to link up with him. I still think it is a partnership that needs to be proved over the course of the season.
DL: It’s a bit like having two big cats prowling around the same range – you’re not entirely sure that they’re going to get on terribly well. But in the last two games they started together there have been signs that they will: the goal Drogba set up for Anelka against Burnley and the two goals at Fulham. If they can communicate and park their egos it will be a great double act.
Looking to the wide areas, a lot of the width is being provided by the two full backs, which is a bit of a throwback to the Scolari era…
SY: The formation needs them to come through from full back but, unlike the Scolari era, they are quite disciplined and they don’t really go up at the same time. If one goes up, the other one stays behind so I think it’s nicely balanced. However, if Ashley Cole gets injured we’ll need to see how Yuri Zhirkov performs at left back.
DL: They are good quality full backs and Ashley scored a goal against Burnley, but I do think fans like to see wide players a bit further up the pitch. I think they like to see attacking midfielders on the wings, and it would be nice to see some more width particularly against bigger teams like Manchester United and Liverpool who are quite vulnerable if you attack them down the wings.
There was a lot of talk about a top wide player like Franck Ribery joining Chelsea in the summer, but it hasn’t happened. Are you a bit disappointed by the lack of a ‘marquee signing’?
SY: Yes, because in the summer I definitely thought we would buy a decent striker and a younger midfielder. It’s quite disappointing.
Still, it’s been a very promising start to the season. Are you confident that we can stay at the top of the table?
SY: Yes, and we are the favourites for the title, but I think that’s mainly because the other three clubs, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, all lost big players in the summer. But so far so good. However, I would say that we need to have Anelka in good scoring form because in January we will lose Drogba and Kalou to the African Nations Cup, along with Essien and Mikel.
DL: As a longstanding Chelsea fan I’m never that optimistic at the start of the season. Although we haven’t played anybody that big yet we’re getting the results, and if we can keep on doing that…we’ll be champions!
Finally, you’ve seen Ancelotti in quite a few press conferences. What are your impressions of him and how he is getting on in the job?
SY: Well, he’s shown an eagerness to learn English and he seems like a decent guy, but it’s hard to say how he’s getting on behind the scenes at the training ground. But we can’t complain about the start he’s made.
DL: Judging from the little bit of interplay you see when the players go on and come off, it seems that they all get on and that’s half his job. His media presence is never going to be quite as amazing as Mourinho’s but, all the same, he’s been fairly impressive in his dealings with the press.
Thanks to Dan and Shin for taking the time to talk to CFCnet. Dan’s paper, the Kensington and Chelsea News, is out on Thursdays.