This summer should be a restructuring time for Chelsea, when new faces are brought in everywhere.
Manager: If Guus Hiddink stays, this would be a great boon for Chelsea as so far, he seems to have instilled belief, or at least provided results, Tottenham game aside. If he does leave, and the wily Dutchman has stated repeatedly that he will, Chelsea should look for a coach with a proven winning mentality and success in Europe – Frank Rijkaard or Carlo Ancelotti, or possibly Dick Advocaat or Ottmar Hitzfeld.
Defense: This area really is not Chelsea’s problem, despite the disaster it was under Scolari. Losses like 3-0 against Manchester United, 3-1 against Roma, and poor home form in general never happened under Mourinho, and coached correctly, shouldn’t under a world-class manager, given the talent on hand. Cole and Bosingwa are excellent attacking backs, and Alex has started to partner well with Terry. The only question is whether to keep the injury-prone Carvalho around, or to sell him (probably to Inter) and let Ivanovic be the first-choice substitute.
Midfield: The center is the strength and the problem, and how this problem is resolved will dictate the sort of game Chelsea will play.
• Essien must stay, and must play in every game in the center of the pitch, not being used merely as a Makelele-style holding midfielder, but by pushing Chelsea forward and scoring goals.
The rest of the midfield – Ballack, Deco, Lampard, Mikel, Malouda, Quaresma – must be examined closely.
• Mikel needs time to develop, and if the coach decides to abandon the Makelele position as staple of Chelsea’s midfield, a loan to another EPL side might be the best choice next year.
• Malouda should be sold, as should Deco. The Frenchman has been poor for two seasons, the Portuguese for a little more than a half. If Deco were in his early 20s I would say keep him, but by the start of next season he’ll be 32 and will only play a more and more withdrawn game.
• Quaresma hasn’t been awe-inspiring but I would like to see him play a little more, particularly with a healthy Joe Cole to see if they can be a Premiership-winning wing duo.
• Ballack and Lampard have the quality to start in every game, and as much as I’d like to say they are growing old, I’m not convinced there are readily available replacements. This is where Chelsea should try to bring in a youth player and set him up in the mold of these two greats, ultimately phasing them out over the next few years.
Chelsea need width. Once EPL teams figured out that locking down Cole and Bosingwa did wonders to stop Chelsea, the 4-3-3 has looked very narrow. Signing a true winger, especially if Quaresma does not prove his worth, should be a priority for the Blues.
Forwards: Here is the big problem area for Chelsea. Anelka scored 14 goals by the end of November; it is now the end of August and, admittedly played out of position, has scored a total of 15. Drogba has started to look deadly again, but the lack of goals from what should be a scary partnership is scarily frustrating. Franco di Santo and Miroslav Stoch don’t look like finishers, but the truth is they need to develop quite a bit before anything else is said.
Chelsea need to sign a true number 10 – a forward who can create for the greedy finisher up top and bag a few himself. Kalou impresses in flashes and then looks like a youth player making his debut. Tevez might be up for sale in June, and has proven he can play this role at the highest level in the Premiership, so why not snap him up? If the 32 million pounds requested seems a high price, offload Malouda, Deco, and one of the strikers – Drogba or Anelka – to cushion transfer fee.
Finally, a long-term 20 goal a season striker must be found, especially as the prolific goal scoring midfielders age. Huntelaar was my favorite before Real Madrid snapped him up, and so now I would opt for Karim Benzema of Lyon or Mario Gomez of Stuttgart.