Premiership Preview–3. Chelsea

Chelsea has not finished outside the top two in five seasons, a span in which they’re averaging a mind-blowing 88.5 points a season. They’ve won two Premiership titles, two Carling Cups, an FA Cup, and, for what it’s worth, a Community Shield, during this stretch. They have an impressive, slightly overrated in my opinion because of the number of draws, unbeaten streak at home in the league — 82 games and counting.

For all of that success, though, the one trophy most coveted by the West London club and its fans, the Champions League, has painfully eluded their grasp over that time. Counting last year’s run, the Blues have made it at least to the semifinals of Europe’s top club competition in four of those last five years, but they failed to win the whole thing every time.

Chelsea literally was inches away from putting an end to that on that rainy May night in Moscow against Manchester United, but as we all remember, John Terry slipped on his run-up and missed the penalty kick that would’ve won the final in a shootout, and Nicholas Anelka’s effort was saved three rounds later by Edwin van der Sar to give United their third European Cup/Champions League title.

The big story at Stamford Bridge this summer is the hiring of Luiz Felipe Scolari, a former World Cup-winning manager with Brazil and two-time winner of Copa Libertadores in the ’90’s. Scolari doesn’t have any experience with European club soccer, much less at such a high-profile post as Chelsea boss, but this is a man who can deal with big egos and make sure the team comes first. Unlike his predecessor, Avram Grant, Scolari has been around the block a few times and won’t simply be a “yes man” for wealthy owner Roman Abramovich.

The problem with Scolari is his age — almost 60. He’s at a point in his career where most managers are leaving club jobs to either retire or take up less demanding international posts. Scolari is doing the exact opposite, and while there’s no question that he’s a fiery, passionate guy in spurts, which we’ve seen with Brazil and Portugal more recently, I’m not sure that he can bring the energy necessary to the position over the course of such a grueling season. He reminds me of a fire in a way — when first lit and provided with kindling, he can burn quickly and the light and heat is there, but as the fuel runs out, the flame dies down. That’s the scenario I expect to see with Scolari this season, one that may provide a shock to him as far as how difficult the transition from international to club management truly is.

He’s brought a couple of the Portuguese stars he coached during his tenure with the Iberian country with him in Deco, who was a steal for $16 million, and Bosingwa, who will provide much-needed stability to the right back position that had become a revolving door under Grant and José Mourinho before him.

Those two were Chelsea’s only acquisitions so far, but they haven’t lost a whole lot either. Steve Sidwell never should have went to Chelsea in the first place. He was just a spare part at the Bridge and his talent was wasted there, so he moved to Aston Villa and will reap the personal benefits from doing so. Tal Ben Haim was nothing more than cover at center back but the emergence of Branislav Ivanovic, who has spent the past couple seasons at Lokomotiv Moscow, meant Ben Haim was surplus to requirements. Claude Makelele was a great player in his prime and is what all defensive midfielders aspire to be, but as age has caught up with him (he’s lost more than a step) and Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel continue to develop, the Frenchman’s services were no longer needed.

Essien and Obi Mikel are two cogs to a Chelsea midfield that is absolutely stacked. They don’t have much quality on the wings aside from Joe Cole, who isn’t even a prototypical wide player anyway. Florent Malouda and Shaun Wright-Phillips don’t cut it at a club as big as Chelsea, simple as that, though they do have their good moments. Essien, Michael Ballack, Deco, and Frank Lampard are all great center midfielders, and Obi Mikel may be on his way to that status if he could manage to stay on the field and not pick up silly bookings. Scolari has to find a way to get as much of this talent on the field at one time as possible, so you could see a narrow diamond in the middle, similar to what AC Milan and the Italian national team employ, a 4-1-4-1 with Didier Drogba as the lone striker, or the same 4-3-3/4-5-1 that’s been used in recent seasons.

Projected Starting Lineup (4-3-3/4-5-1):
GK: Petr Cech

RB: Bosingwa
CB: John Terry (captain)
CB: Ricardo Carvalho
LB: Ashley Cole

RCMF: Lampard
DMF: Essien
LCMF: Deco

RMF/RWF: Wright-Phillips
ST: Drogba

This midfield and front line will be very fluid based on fitness and form; Nicholas Anelka will get a chance to play up top or wide left, as will Salomon Kalou. Malouda plays there too. Wright-Phillips brings pace to the right flank. Scott Sinclair, like Kalou, is a speedy winger/striker that can make an impact. Obi Mikel can be brought on late to lock a game down in place of a more attack-minded player and clog up the midfield. Chelsea paid a lot of money for Andriy Shevchenko, so he’s going to play up front at some point. Scolari has plenty of options depending on his strategy in a given game.

Chelsea’s Premiership schedule sets up relatively comfortably through November; their road games (Wigan, Manchester City, Stoke City, Middlesbrough, Hull City, Blackburn, and West Brom) are all very winnable, and the other teams, who, granted, will provide stiff opposition for Chelsea, all come to Stamford Bridge and Chelsea just doesn’t lose there. Those teams: Portsmouth, Tottenham, Manchester United, Aston Villa, Liverpool, Sunderland, Newcastle, and Arsenal. By no means am I saying Chelsea will waltz through the first half of their league campaign, but they do have the significant advantage of playing those tough teams at home.

The schedule balances out in the second half, obviously, so Chelsea has to visit all those sides at some point. However, there isn’t one month that stands out above the rest from December on as being much trickier than another. December is Chelsea’s easiest month — they visit Bolton, Everton, and Fulham and host West Ham and West Brom. Their toughest month is probably March, because even though they play Manchester United and Liverpool in January, those are the bookend games of their four total and the middle two are at home against Stoke and Middlesbrough. In March, Chelsea goes to Portsmouth and Tottenham and welcome Manchester City to West London in between.

Bottom Line: I’m not exactly going out on a limb by saying this team is very, very good. There are no obvious weaknesses; they do need some more quality on the wings, but Scolari has the personnel to not even use wingers in the first place if he doesn’t want to. Chelsea’s fortunes depend largely on Scolari and how he adapts to the Premiership, because while the on-field talent is there, there’s no question in my mind that Scolari is the least capable manager out of Arsene Wenger, Rafa Benitez, and Sir Alex Ferguson. If Scolari makes a seamless transition, Chelsea can make a run at their third title in five seasons and their first Champions League. If his act wears thin like I believe it will, Chelsea will find themselves out of the running in both competitions by February or March.

24 thoughts on “Premiership Preview–3. Chelsea”

  1. Where? Not over Lampard or Deco, who’s a favorite of Scolari. Ballack could play on the right, but I think Scolari wants a little more pace on the flank.

  2. Michael, NO WAY Shaun Wright-Phillips is a first choice starter. They’ll have a tough time leaving Ballack out…I know him with Essien, Lampard and Deco (all 4 starting) seems a bit too defensive, but Ballack and Deco are both great 2 way midfielders.

    Just go back to last season, they’d have Kalou in SWP’s spot every time, and it doesn’t matter about left side/right side, because Cole and Kalou aren’t really wingers, but interchangable behind the main striker.

  3. you dont know what your talking about. SWP def. will not start.. and chelsea will surely not finish below 2nd. I sense a little bit of a dislike for chelsea,.

  4. and how the heck can Liverpool finish in the top 2 this season. They buy one quality striker and a decent defender, and they’ll finish in the top 2?!?!

    Honestly, you dont know a thing mate.

  5. Sean, I’m not your mate. Liverpool has clearly upgraded in the back and up front, all while losing nothing of any consequence aside from Crouch.

    Sliperypete, there has been an exodus of sorts, but you’re right, I was a bit off on that one.

  6. Liverpool haven’t added a top quality defender, so really they haven’t clearly upgraded. Instead, they have added some depth, but not the kind of quality depth needed for a top 2 finish. And can you explain again how SWP will start for Chelsea, i missed that one.

  7. You need to add “preview” to the tags. You stopped doing it awhile ago. However, at least the first ten were tagged with “preview.” It’s easier to find the whole table with “preview” tagged. Thank you! =)

  8. Reo, thanks for the catch. “Preview” isn’t one of the tags anymore for some reason so I’d forgotten to use it, but I’ll add it for my last couple and go back and fix the rest at some point.

    Sean, anything instead of Riise is a huge upgrade. Anything over Steve Finnan is an upgrade.

    How will SWP start? There is no doubt that Ballack should start and is a better player, but does he fit the system Scolari will want to play? In a 4-3-3/4-5-1, the answer is no because of Lampard, Deco, and Essien. If you read my post again though, I said the formation won’t be rigid, he’ll change it around, and Ballack will start his share of games. I didn’t say that that was Chelsea’s strict lineup. Scolari has plenty of pieces to move around and he’ll do so.

  9. There is so much wrong with this “article”, if you dare call it that, that I can’t even begin to get started.

    Only a Liverpool supporter who is blinded by the fact they bought another striker, would think they have a better manager (who has a losing record v the top 3) than Chelsea.
    More so, do your Ivanovic homework guy. “On loan the past few seasons.” Are you sure? NO!

    Look at our goalkeeper, defence, midfield and strike force (you highlighted it) and tell me you think Liverpool is better.

    Unbelievable that this guy can be given an opinion for others to see, let alone at the hands of this seemingly impressive website.

  10. But my point micheal, is that sure it might be an upgrade to get defenders that are a bit better than Finnan and Rise, but that doesn’t mean they’ll have as good a defence as Chelsea or Man.U.

    Also, they haven’t made enough changes for a sudden jump to 2nd after finishing 4th last year.

    A good point from Sam about your mistake with Ivanovic. Looks like you really don’t know alot about the blues.

    I also think that your comparison with Scolari to a flame dying out, is quite disgraceful. I really dont think a World Cup Winner and a manager of his caliber would “run out of fuel” in a Premiership season, although it is grueling, but im sure Mr. Scolari could handle.

  11. My apologies on the mistake about Ivanovic.

    Sean, you’re forgetting that Liverpool also gets Daniel Agger back from injury, and Carragher and Agger are just as good as any center back pairing in the Premiership. Also, Pepe Reina is the best goalie of any of the “Big Four” keepers.

  12. “Reina is the best goalie of any of the Big Four keepers.”

    “Carragher and Agger are just as good as any center back pairing in the Premiership.”

    I think you have just summarized how little you know about the Premier League.

  13. Sam, tell me, who’s better than Reina? Not Cech anymore — he’s too scared to claim balls in the air. Not Van der Sar — he’s great at stopping PK’s, but he can be scored on in open play. Certainly not Almunia. Reina has it all: good shot-stopper, good command in the area, good reflexes, good distribution.

    Sam, I don’t think you remember just how dominant Carragher and Agger can be because we didn’t see Agger last season.

  14. Cech is far better. Find me a real expert who thinks Reina is better than he is.
    “He’s too scared.” Simply untrue. I think your short-sightedness remembers the Euros only.
    Since you’re such a Liverpool fan, maybe you should watch the Champions League last year.

    1.) Terry and Carvalho
    2.) Ferdinand and Vidic
    3.) Carragher and Agger

    “I don’t think you remember just how dominant Carragher and Agger were.”

    Since I do remember, that is why I have admitted, as anyone who actually follows the Premier League would, that they are a good defensive pairing but calling them the best is ludicrous, at best.

    See the kind of awards Cech has won compared to Reina.

  15. No, Cech WAS better, he WAS the best in the world, but ever since the head injuries, he’s gone down considerably.

    Reina’s won the last three Barclays Golden Glove awards, Cech won one.

    By no means am I a Liverpool fan, believe me.

    Terry and Carvalho are third in that list, just ahead of Toure and Gallas. Ferdinand and Vidic are second, then Carragher and Agger. Out of those eight, Vidic is the best individually, but Carragher and Agger are the best partnership.

    Look, we can go around and around on this. I won’t agree with you, you won’t agree with me, so give it a rest.

  16. King and Woodgate on one leg each are better than any pairing that Liverpool have.
    Cech is still a better goalkeeper than Reina, sure he had a bad game against Turkey, but pound for pound I’d still take Cech anytime.

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