This was a season of disappointment for Chelsea. Since the dawn of the Abramovich era it isn’t common for words like “dismal” and “depressing” to become synonymous with the teams exploits. However this year, bar an end of the season resurgence, was a fairly painful one for fans of the West London club. Despite starting the season in blistering form the team quickly faded into mediocrity and from there dropped in to a spell of stagnant ineptitude for months.
Carlo “The Don” Ancelotti, our once highly praised manager, had basically resigned himself to defeat by season’s end. Was this slide in form the Italian’s fault? In part, yes. Ancelotti’s team selection was spotty at times, his ability to motivate the team was questionable, and he had no backup plan. However, personally I believe Carlo’s firing was part of a bigger plan being calculated by Abramovich. As I groggily logged on to my Twitter account several weeks back my newsfeed exploded with news of his dismissal. It wasn’t too surprising. He’d been on the outs for some time now, but the more I thought about it the more his dismissal and our incessant transfer rumors smacked of change. Not minor changes, but a smaller scale Blue Revolution. It was a sign that Abramovich was ready to give the club a facelift.
Essentially, the squad is still Mourinho’s Chelsea; maybe not in terms of style but in terms of personnel. With a few small additions the spine of the team remains the same as it was the day “The Special One” walked out of SW6 for the last time: Terry, Lampard, Mikel, Essien, Drogba etc. If at least half of these transfer rumors are to be believed, Chelsea is attempting to change the face of its squad and bring in some new players to evolve out of the “Mourinho’s ghost” phase the squad has been in the past few years. Despite experiments with Scolari’s wing back driven offence and Carlo’s 4-3-3, our squad has never really developed a new post-Mourinho identity. Our game plan has largely remained the same: get the ball to Drogba. This stratagem worked wonders when the large Ivorian was in form. The goal hauls of his previous seasons and our trophy cabinet are testament to that. However, what do we do when Drogba, as he did this season, hits a rough patch? What is our game plan then? That was Carlo’s greatest failure this season. He didn’t have one.
It was embarrassingly apparent how lost Chelsea’s strike force looked when it got around the box. There were no incisive passing or runs and more importantly no player who could dribble at the defense. That is what made Malouda, and subsequently, our attack so dangerous last season. He had magically learned how to dribble outside from the wing. It made things happen and it kept the defense guessing. We’d finally gained a sense of unpredictability. Sadly that skill seemed to have vanished with his samurai hair cut. This is why we need a player like Neymar. Chelsea have lacked a pacey dribbler since Robben left years ago. It’s reached the point where the only game plan was to slay the ball up to Drogba and hope he could create something out of nothing. That tactic is one of the several reasons Torres wasn’t effective. He’s not the sort of player you boom the ball to in hopes he’ll turn and beat his marker with pace. Torres needs to have service that gets the ball on his foot facing the goal. With Drogba aging and with Torres seeming to be the new star of our line-up, it is time for some changes. Were I in the new manager’s shoes, most likely those of Guus Hiddink, I’d make it a priority to bring in the aforementioned Neymar and a creative midfielder ala Wesley Sneijder.
Young Sturridge has more than proved himself with his spell at Bolton that he can score in a withdrawn role and Neymar’s goal tally also shows that he is more than capable of carrying some of the goal load. More importantly however both Neymar and Sturridge have demonstrated excellent touch and skill on the ball. They posses a sense of creative flair Chelsea has lacked for quite some time and that flair could finally endow us with the air of unpredictability the squad so badly needs. It simply makes sense bringing in a more withdrawn, width focused player. Torres has demonstrated time and time again he functions best as a lone striker who can get the ball at his feet and find gaps to run through. He was average during the World Cup whenever he was called on to partner Villa and he’s been average with us whenever he has partnered a like minded target man like Drogba. It simply makes sense to bring in Neymar or at least a player like him. Those three up top could be a feared strike force for years to come.
Equally as important as the players playing off of Torres is the man slotted behind him. Players like Fernando need service. Good service. It’s no secret that Benayoun played a big part in his success at Liverpool and certainly had at least a small role in bringing him to Chelsea. If Chelsea are going to build an offense around Torres it needs a player in Benayoun’s mold; clever on the ball, quick to find an incisive pass, and creative with his decision making. Unfortunately Benayoun himself struggled with injury all of last season and is getting older. Similarly Lampard is no spring chicken and usually lurks a little further back in the midfield unless he is poaching goals from the top of the box. Essentially what this means is we need to sign a player to sit in the pocket behind our front line. We’ve been linked to Sneijder for around €35 million and reports are going back and forth about the likelihood of Modric leaving White Hart Lane. While both signings may be a bit of a stretch I take it as a positive that we are at least linked to players in a mold we desperately need.
Summer has only just begun but something tells me it will be an eventful one for fans of Chelsea Football Club. On top of links to Sneijder and Neymar each day seems to bring us closer to signing Belgian wonder-kid Lukaku from Anderlecht. Clearly it would be a signing for the future though. Most likely he’d be given some time to grow under the tutelage of his idol; Didier Drogba while Torres leads the current line. Here’s to hoping it’s the type of eventful that will see us finally give our beloved Blues a much needed new identity.