Another Premier League season is upon us, and we can approach this season being able to boast that we are the Champions of Europe for the first time in club history. However, as Chelsea legends John Terry and Frank Lampard still remain, the man whose name will live in the Chelsea annuls for his last kick for the club winning the trophy with the big ears, Didier Drogba has departed for the Far East.
Before we take a look into this week’s fixture, why not take a bet on Chelsea?
The departure of the talisman for the strength of Chelsea seemingly brings the winds of change, as Roman Abramovich has decided to back his ultimate goal: win with style and flair. In place of the power of Drogba, the signings of Marko Marin for £6.5M, Eden Hazard for £32M, and Oscar for £25M demonstrate the direction that the owner wants us to go.
With these new signings and the signal of intent from the owner, the future of the club is bright. However, under no-longer-interim manager Roberto Di Matteo, it remains to be seen if so many changes will lead to disjointed performances as we saw this preseason, though to be fair he didn’t have his full squad until the last friendly.
This first edition of the column is going to be quite Chelsea-centric for two main reasons. Number one, last week’s Community Shield was left out because it was really our first friendly with the full squad (minus the injured Marin and Oscar at the Olympics), so I wanted to see what exactly Di Matteo would do.
Number two, Wigan are essentially the same squad as last season, but without Hugo Rodallega and Mohamed Diame. Rodellega’s a bit of a miss, but Diame missed more chances than he scored. I believe we’ll see the same basic play from Wigan as we did last season, especially given how much success they found at the end of the season.
So, with that said, this first edition for the season will focus on a few areas that will be key for this club to succeed in the coming season if they are to close that 25-point gap between us and last season’s champions, Manchester City.
1. Fernando Torres has no excuses this season.
This first point is probably the most obvious one. After the Champions League Final, Torres made the comment that he would like his role within the club to be clarified. Given this season’s signings, I think it’s pretty clear. He’s now surrounded by the types of players that will slide balls through the line to him, rather than lump them forward as they did with Drogba as the lead striker. I think the Community Shield showed that if you give Torres two or three chances as he had in that game, he will score you goals. I don’t like to put the season on one player’s shoulders, but he must find form or you start to wonder who scores for us this year.
2. Point one leads to point two: The lack of options behind Torres.
I think that last season, Torres played a lot of the time looking over his shoulder and waiting for Drogba to be waiting to come on. That’s not there this season, but neither is a second viable striking option unless one is purchased before the end of the month. After watching Romelu Lukaku on tour in the US, it was clear that he’s just not ready. He doesn’t appear to have grown into his body, leading to him looking clumsy at times, and his reading of his positional role was terrible to watch at times. Hopefully, this loan spell will help him.
The other option up front is Daniel Sturridge, but Sturridge didn’t really impress at the Olympics. While I do think Sturridge is very talented, I still don’t know how prepared he is for the job as a lone center forward. That being said, I think he’ll still make an impact, but as a second striker when chasing a goal, as I think that’s his best position.
3. We’re overcrowded in the centre midfield, but I don’t know what our best pairing option really is.
Lampard, John Mikel Obi, Michael Essien, Raul Meireles, Oriol Romeu, Josh McEachran. Those are the players in contention for a midfield starting position, but with the switch to a 4-2-3-1, that seems an awful lot of players for two spots. From the looks of the team sheets this preseason, Di Matteo’s preferred pairing is Lampard and Mikel, but it exposes small holes, as Lampard likes to get forward, and Mikel sometimes comes too deep into the holding role.
As shown against City, it creates a gap that can be exploited if you can get a third midfielder in there. With the side being constructed for so long to play 4-3-3 with a Makelele-style holding player, the switch is something that I wonder about how smooth it will be.
Ideally, you’d like to see a deeper distributor partnered with a ball-winner, but we really have never had to play with that setup. It will be interesting to see what pairing he chooses match-to-match, but I’m not sure the players actually fit.
4. Defensively, we could have a few issues in central defence if the midfield problems aren’t solved.
The change from playing with a holding midfielder to playing without one is something that I think has impacted the backline the most. As I’ve noticed throughout the preseason, with Mikel playing higher up the pitch, Terry and David Luiz’ natural inclination to close down the first ball has opened up gaps in the pairing. Last week, Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez exploited that factor to great effect. Every time Aguero collected the ball deep in the space Mikel would normally occupy, Terry or Luiz would attack the ball and the center opened for Tevez. That’s something that will have to be addressed if we continue to play 4-2-3-1 because the top sides now all have players that can play the same way.
We had a problem conceding goals last season, and the defence will have to shape up quickly to match the quantity of attacking talent at Di Matteo’s disposal.
5. Final point: 25 points is a lot.
The massive question will be, has the club done enough to overcome the 25 points that we were adrift of Manchester City last year? Abramovich has now won his coveted trophy, but with the money spent this season, he’s clearly as committed as ever. Di Matteo has been given the keys, but for how long and how much patience will Roman have?
My impression is that we must get off to a good start, beginning with Wigan on Sunday. I also feel it’s going to be difficult given that the our attacking options have not had a full preseason as they were either at the Olympics or granted rest from the Euros. How quickly the squad gels will tell us a lot about what we can expect this season, and a possible 67 matches are on the cards if we expect to compete in all competitions.
Based on the points above, starting with Wigan and Reading in the span of 3 days is not the worst start. We should be expecting maximum points, and I don’t think we can settle for anything less than that. However, it also gives us a little margin for error against teams that are clearly not as good. I predict we win against Wigan, but the question will be by how many. They won’t pose the same threat as City, but they will be a nice match to open the season with, as they do try and play some football.