After a strange year of turbulent highs and lows, Chelsea will prepare for the future with a squad full of new, exciting additions.
Chelsea was a massive disappointment in England as they finished sixth after the the Andre Villas-Boas experiment failed spectacularly. It was only after Roberto di Matteo brought back the familiar conservative style did Chelsea’s fortunes begin to dramatically improve in the second half of the season. Their triumphs in the Champions League and FA Cup showed that the Blues were still able to win in tournaments by playing simplified but effective football.
As a team, Chelsea collectively scored 65 goals last season in the Premier League which was far less than the likes of Manchester United and Manchester City. Fernando Torres struggled for most of the season to score and in 46 Premier League appearances with Chelsea, he has scored a paltry seven goals. Daniel Sturridge, a promising gifted forward who scored nine goals by January under Villas-Boas, lost his place in the starting eleven under di Matteo in the final months of the season to Torres and Didier Drogba.
Chelsea’s scoring abilities will take a severe hit by the loss of Drogba, who for years performed well up front alone in Chelsea’s 4-2-3-1 formation. While age certainly caught up to him and impacted his production (only five goals in the Premier League last season), Chelsea wouldn’t have won anything last season if it wasn’t for his clutch scoring abilities.
Yet, Chelsea fans have plenty to be excited about as their club has been the busiest this summer with the signings of talented youngsters like Eden Hazard, Oscar, and Marko Marin. It will be fascinating to see how di Matteo will perhaps allow the team to transform into a fluid machine capable of controlling matches and creating numerous goal-scoring opportunities.
Unlike last year’s Chelsea team in the second half of the season who defended tirelessly and thrived off the counter, this year’s squad looks capable of moving the ball better and possessing it much more often. Under a 4-2-3-1 formation, Chelsea could put out a lineup that features Ramires and Michael Essien or John Obi Mikel as defensive midfielders, Oscar or Frank Lampard ahead in the middle, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard on the left and right wing respectively, and Torres up front. Chelsea will strike fear into their opponents with a young, attacking core of energetic playmakers that have a bright long-term future. While a title challenge looks unlikely with the Manchester clubs, Chelsea is more than capable of battling with Arsenal or Tottenham for the third spot.
However, what’s difficult to predict about Chelsea right now is how good they’ll be at finishing their chances. While the ball service will be more creative and arguably much better than in previous years, there has to be concerns over who will step up to put the ball in the back of the net on a consistent basis.
Whether Chelsea’s three forwards (Torres, Sturridge, and Romelu Lukaku) have enough quality for Chelsea to be a title contender is under doubt considering that Torres has looked like a shadow of his former self and Sturridge/Lukaku are no proven commodities. Plus Lukaku has now moved to West Bromwich Albion on a season-long loan.
Due to Chelsea’s formation, Fernando Torres will have to become a prolific goal scorer again in order for the Blues to have any realistic shot of contending for the title. That seems like a ton to ask for considering Torres’ finishing has been poor and his lack of confidence grows with each personal disappointment. Chelsea’s system worked when Drogba was there as his pace, strength and potent finishing skills made him he was one of the best forwards in the world. However, Chelsea now needs Torres to get out of his shell and truly replace Drogba by scoring 15 or more goals in the Premier League this season.
In regards to Chelsea’s other two forwards, Sturridge at the age of 22 has shown enough technical skill, and shooting ability that is worth getting excited about. Yet, his biggest detriment has always been that he’s too reckless and selfish with the ball at his feet. Sturridge needs to utilize his teammates more often and become more clinical with his opportunities in order to be successful under di Matteo.
Romelu Lukaku, the 19 year old Belgian who easily draws comparisons with Drogba, failed to play often in his first season with Chelsea and now will be sent out on loan to West Bromwich Albion. With Lukaku gone, that exposes the lack of depth Chelsea has in terms of strikers.
Of course, Chelsea won’t solely depend on their forwards for goals as they brought in plenty of fire power with players like Hazard who amassed 20 goals and 15 assists for Lille last season. Even though he’s being compared with the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, it seems unreasonable to expect a 21 year-old to score on a similarly prolific basis.
Hazard likely won’t score as often as he did last season because while Ligue 1 is a formidable European football league, the Premier League is known to be one of the most physically demanding leagues in the world. He’ll need time to adjust to the tenacity and quality of the Premier League.
While Hazard may play behind Torres depending on the form of Marin, the
French Belgian prodigy looks set to roam on the right wing where he’ll cause plenty of havoc. Yet, he won’t be the go-to-guy like he was at Lille as Torres is expected to rack up the most goals. Hazard’s goal tally may be 7-14 as he could become more accustomed to assisting others rather than going for personal glory. If Lampard is still Chelsea’s automatic penalty kick-taker, it could impact Hazard’s goal production.
In terms of the rest of the team, Lampard may still be able to score 10 or more goals this season even though he’s now 34. Juan Mata had a fantastic debut season for Chelsea on the left wing and may be able to increase his personal number of goals. Marin hasn’t proven to be much of a goal-scorer and Oscar is extremely talented but will likely need time to adapt to playing in England.
Overall, Chelsea is building on a future dynasty with explosive young star players. While they should be expected to equal last year’s total of 65 goals in the Premier League, whether they get much more than that depends on how quickly Chelsea can move on from Drogba. With Lukaku on loan, Chelsea is putting a ton of pressure and expectations on Torres and Sturridge to provide most of the goals. Therefore, it wouldn’t be shocking if Chelsea is currently looking at acquiring another striker like Borussia Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski or Atletico Bilbao’s Fernando Llorente.