Chelsea Strengthen in Positions They Don’t Need to and Ignore Positions They Do
There were relatively few positions Chelsea needed to address in the summer transfer window. Two or three signings would have given them nearly a complete squad and, with the addition of José Mourinho, locked them in as favorites for the title. But, in a series of strange moves, the club brought in players in positions that were already bursting with talent, and all but ignored their real needs. Here’s a look at the spots that were overlooked that could have used strengthening.
First up is left back. Ashley Cole has been Chelsea’s stalwart for years. The 32-year-old has lost very little pace for his age and is still capable of chasing down speedy attackers. The problem is that Cole was given a year extension on his contract and may not be at Stamford Bridge next season. Ryan Bertrand has been filling in for him in a lesser role and even played in the victorious Champions League final a couple of years ago. But Bertrand has ultimately failed to impress any of the managers he’s been under recently, and at 24 years of age it’s difficult to see him replacing a world talent such as Cole in a club competing for multiple trophies every season. His playing time is limited, and it’s hard to see him immediately stepping up upon Cole’s departure.
It would have made sense to bring in another well-known left back, even if he split his time with Cole. The player would have a year to adjust to Chelsea’s style before taking the number one spot next season. It also wouldn’t hurt to pad out that position as Mourinho will look to go deep into multiple tournaments. If cup runs are balanced successfully, there’s a potential the Blues could see more matches this season than they did last.
Next is defensive midfield. Mourinho will lean heavily on a 4-2-3-1 this season, meaning Frank Lampard, John Obi Mikel, Marco van Ginkel, and Ramires will trade off in this role. On paper this looks fine. Four great players that can interchange in two spots is alright, but Mikel is really the only defensive mid in the bunch. As he’s demonstrated more than 200 times, Lampard likes to go forward…a lot. Lampard’s most dangerous area is right around the 25 to 18 yard line where he’s looking to receive a ball and have a shot. Ramires is more of a box to box midfielder. This guy can run. Ramires will track back, but he’s another player that moves forward a lot. Because of his pace, he’s been in countless situations where he’s beaten the back line and gone one-one-one with the keeper. Van Ginkel is an interesting addition to the squad this summer and could play a more defensive role, but in the preseason he was constantly moving forward and overlapping with Eden Hazard on the left. None of these traits are necessarily staples of a defensive midfielder. These players compliment the attack rather than buffer the back line.
But then there’s Mikel. Two hundred and seventy eight matches for Chelsea and two goals to his name, both coming in January of 2007. His lack of goalscoring has become a bit of a joke amongst supporters, but in truth, it’s proof of his defensive mindedness. Mikel will occasionally go forward when the momentum allows, but he prefers to sit back and breaks up play. Rumors have floated around that the Nigerian would go to Galatasaray this summer. Mikel is still at the club, but the prospect has brought about rumors that his time as a Chelsea player may be close to ending. If Mikel does go, Mourinho will have three players, none of whom are really defensive, to help the back line. What makes this more problematic is the fact that Chelsea play somewhat of a full-court press, frequently bringing the right and left back up to act as wingers. Their defense simply can’t survive without the extra help of a defensive midfielder.
Last but not least is the position up front at striker. Again, this is another spot that seems to be covered on paper. Romelu Lukaku came back after a wildly successful season on loan to West Brom and padded the front alongside of Fernando Torres and Demba Ba. But even with three strikers there seemed to be something lacking. Lukaku has more than shown his potential, but the 20-year-old is awfully young to be leading a club that’s looking to take on the world. Even if this was true though, Lukaku has been loaned out to Everton for the remainder of the season. Torres netted 23 goals in his last Chelsea outing, leading the Blues in scoring in all competitions. Many can agree, however, that more could be done up front. An overwhelming majority of Chelsea’s goals last season came from the midfield, and the trajectory doesn’t seem to be changing. While Torres broke his Chelsea single-season scoring record, Ba saw just 22 matches and scored a humble six goals.
Samuel Eto’o was brought in from Anzhi Makhachkala but just like van Ginkel, he’s a signing that may not address Chelsea’s problems. There’s no doubt that Eto’o has been impressive for every club he’s played for. His goal tallies are ridiculous. But he is 32-years-old and he’s never played in the Premier League. It’s difficult to see him being favored over Torres. What Chelsea needed was a player like Luis Suarez or Wayne Rooney, someone who could come in and take over the number one spot and compliment the world-class talent behind him in the midfield.
Instead of addressing these deficiencies, Chelsea went and bought players in the exact positions where they didn’t need more talent. Namely, attacking midfielders. Willian and Andre Schürrle were both purchased while Kevin de Bruyne and Michael Essien returned from loan. Victor Moses was loaned out to Liverpool to make room for Schürrle, which would make sense if Mourinho played Juan Mata and occasionally put Oscar out on the right. But Oscar has been the number one in the center since José arrived, with Mata not even coming on late. As it is, de Bruyne will probably substitute for Schürrle, which seems a bit odd when Moses could have done it. Moses gave Chelsea width and while de Bruyne has had a good preseason for the Blues, Moses had a fantastic season for them all last year. Willian was a good pickup to back up Hazard but again, Essien has been effective there for Chelsea in the past. It’s just a strength being strengthened.
These new signings have created an over-packed midfield. The Blues will be capable of heavy rotation as they attempt to nab trophies this year, but the question remains: Will José be able to keep all his midfielders happy with regular playing time? Maybe, maybe not. But the real issue is that Chelsea have ignored some gaps in their squad while adding in places they didn’t really need to add. It will be interesting to see how these changes affect their title run and their January transfer movement.