Stamford Chidge ponders the lackluster start to Chelsea’s Premier League campaign and questions Chelsea’s pre-season preparation and lack of activity in the transfer market…
So Chelsea started their campaign to retain the Premier League title on Saturday with a somewhat fortuitous 2-2 draw with Swansea.
If you were there it was disappointing, but I suspect that much of that was down to the high expectations that supporters naturally have after a two month lay-off without football, and in our case coming back as Champions.
Jose made a valid point that we played quite well in the first half and showed good spirit in the second when going for the win having been reduced to 10 men with the sending off of ‘keeper Courtois. But, I suspect that Jose is honest enough to admit, albeit not within the public domain, that the poor performances of several usually reliable Chelsea players – Ivanovic, Cahill and Fabregas to name but three – masks some cause for concern with our assault on the title, and hopefully other trophies this season.
It was absolutely no surprise that Jose started with his best and most trusted eleven. It was however a surprise that Chelsea’s best lacked their usual cohesion in defence, midfield and attack. The hallmark of a Mourinho team is that they are well drilled, so well drilled that they will get a result when not playing at their best. Against Swansea, Ivanovic was rinsed by Montero, and he and Willian seemed to forget the art of covering and positioning. Fabregas looked like an Arsenal/Barcelona midfielder defensively, but not the creative magician we witnessed last season, and up front Costa huffed and puffed but could not blow Swansea’s house down.
I suspect that over the next few weeks, and hopefully before we play City next week, that the lack of cohesion will be ironed out but it does beg the question as to why Chelsea started the season lacking their usual match fitness and sharpness?
I think Chelsea’s pre-season has been ill-thought out. We all knew that with a late end to the season and an early start that preparation time would be short. Last season Mourinho made a big deal out of the fact that Chelsea’s focus on a more European pre-season and less air miles as a result was a positive advantage over clubs who travelled the Globe.
So why did we travel to Australia, Asia and the USA knowing that time would be short for meaningful preparation? It appears that commercial interests have taken precedence over preparing the squad for what will be a more gruelling season than last. Our aim should be to retain the Premier League title – not an easy feat by any means as has been proved repeatedly over the last few years. But beyond that, a better challenge for the Champions’ League would be a necessity. This season was always going to be much tougher and preparation and squad depth would be crucial.
Why then are we starting it with what seems to be one hand tied behind our back?
Chelsea to date has not strengthened the squad whilst our rivals all have to varying degrees. All great title winning sides know that you strengthen when you are on top. Fergie’s Man Utd and before that Liverpool of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s always did. Keeping ahead of the chasing Premier League pack is a pre-requisite and as far as the Champions’ League pack is concerned, Chelsea are the ones chasing it being some way below Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and arguably PSG and Juventus.
This is why the lack of additions to the squad seems bewildering.
I absolutely take Jose’s point that many players in the current squad can improve and their best is yet to come. It was great to see Oscar putting in a performance against Swansea to remind us of what a good player he can be. Oscar can improve to become one of the best midfielders in the world, and if he does, Chelsea will also improve. Hazard had a superb season but there is no doubt that he can still improve and if he does, yes, he will rival Messi and Ronaldo as the best player in the world. Willian has room for improvement too and perhaps one or two others. But surely one has to allow for others form to dip. How long will John Terry’s legs hold up? Can Gary Cahill improve? Brana Ivanovic is not getting any younger and so on.
But the real issue for me is the squad depth. It appeared last season that Mourinho only trusted about 14 of his 25 man squad. Looking at players such as Salah and Cuadrado it was easy to see why. When you are attempting to retain the Premier League title and mount a serious challenge on the Champions’ league the quality of your back up players will be as important as your best eleven. To a degree we got away with it last year, but this year if there are no additions I would be less certain.
From back to front, quality additions to the squad would seem to be imperative. A back up right/left back; centre back; defensive midfielder; creative midfielder and striker would be on my shopping list.
Costa’s fitness and issue with his hamstring are a major concern. He missed crucial games last year, and judging by his injury scare in pre-season, this remains a worry, especially as Falcao represents something of a gamble after his ‘annus horribilis’ with Man Utd.
If Hazard gets injured – very likely considering the appalling lack of protection from calculated thuggery afforded by hopeless referees – who do we have who can make the difference in the attacking third? If Fabregas is injured then who supplies the bullets? If Matic gets injured or suspended then who, if anyone, can shield the defence so effectively?
Ok, I accept it is the same for most teams if one or more of their key players are unavailable, but it does highlight Chelsea’s potential vulnerability in terms of squad depth if any one of those four players is crocked.
I can see the sense in trying to prise Everton’s John Stones from Roberto Martinez’s paranoid grip, but I would also feel a bit more comfortable if a few more high quality players found their way in to Chelsea’s squad before the transfer window shuts at the end of this month.
After all there is nothing wrong with a bit of ‘home improvement’ in the summer – that’s what it is for!
No doubt we’ll be talking about this and other issues when the Chelsea FanCast returns tonight for our first live podcast of the season. Don’t forget to tune in and join @StamfordChidge; @DrMartinsBoots; @DanSilvs73 and the return of @ChelTelChelTel at 19.00 tonight on mixlr.com/chelsea-fancast/ or download the podcast on Tuesday from ITunes, Soundcloud or chelseafancast.com