Chelsea begin the 2010/11 season with few additions to their double-winning squad of last season. Out of Stamford Bridge go Ricardo Carvalho, Joe Cole, Belletti, Michael Ballack and Deco amongst a never-ending list of youngsters, with only Yossi Benayoun coming into the side amidst work-permit issues with midfield target Ramires. Despite this, most bookmakers would have Chelsea as favourites for the title, even in the face of their recent Community Shield defeat to major rivals Manchester United.
As a Chelsea obsessive myself, I sometimes find it hard to be objective in writing about the team that I support. In this brief preview of the season, I’ll aim to avoid being too protective over some and too damning to others, and provide a well-balanced outlook of the season ahead, and what and who all fellow Blues should look out for.
Players Who Must Improve
Whilst not having a ‘poor’ outing last term, Nicolas Anelka spent the latter part of the season relatively anonymous to most. Scoring ten less goals than his previous top-scoring campaign (despite the fact Didier Drogba spent two months at the African Cup of Nations), Anelka struggled to fit in to the single-striker system employed by Carlo Ancelotti. When playing the role himself, Anelka went for up to two months without scoring, yet also looked unhappy supporting Drogba in a wide role upon his return. With a single-year extension to his current deal in place, this will probably be Anelka’s final year at the club. He will feel aided by the lack of purchases in the striker department by Ancelotti, but after a difficult summer, Anelka will need to start the season with a more positive outlook to help Chelsea to a second consecutive title.
After becoming the most expensive Russian footballer of all time in joining Chelsea last summer, Yuri Zhirkov endured a difficult first season. Frequently injured for much of the pre-Christmas period, Zhirkov struggled to make an impact in the first-team, finding himself caught between a left-back position dominated by Ashley Cole, and a left-wing position that Florent Malouda had excelled in. Despite a memorable (and blood-stained) performance against Bolton in April that helped Chelsea win their fourth title, fans from West London will expect more this season for their £18 million expenditure this season, and Zhirkov will see usurping a shaky Cole from his left-back role as his best route back into the first eleven.
Players To Be Excited About
Now 20, this season could be the start of something special for Daniel Sturridge in SW1. He has continued to improve on a steady curve until now, excelling at youth level for Manchester City before impressing in cup football for Chelsea last season, before netting his first league goal last April. With Nicolas Anelka seemingly reaching the end of his career at the Bridge, Sturridge will see 2010/11 as a chance to grasp a regular first-team opportunity for Chelsea. With the older guard from previous seasons moving on, Carlo Ancelotti’s faith in younger members of the squad will aid Sturridge’s development in this transitional year, and he will see more playing time because of it. After seasons of relative inactivity in Manchester, Sturridge will hopefully have the hunger to perform this season, when given the chance.
After his controversial entry to the club, Gael Kakuta found himself propelled further into the spotlight than the average 18-year-old should at the beginning of last season. Whilst only being on the pitch for a matter of minutes for his club during the course of the campaign, Kakuta went on win the Golden Player award this summer after his series of electrifying performances for France in the Under-19 European Championships. Now 19, Kakuta falls within the age limit for the Premier League’s new squad rulings, leaving him free to play a part in Chelsea’s upcoming season at Carlo Ancelotti’s calling. Whilst fans should not expect big things early on, Kakuta remains one of the league’s brightest young talents, with a natural flair and incredible pace, and the Frenchman will certainly build a buzz around Stamford Bridge whenever he is chosen to appear in the coming months.
Players Who Will Win Chelsea The League
How Chelsea won a title without Michael Essien for the majority of last season baffles me to this day. Essien is a personal favourite in the side for myself, with so many strings to his bow that he might require a replacement bow sometime soon. His ability to come forward and strike a ball, combined with his exceptional vision in threading passes to Malouda and Kalou/Anelka aid Chelsea in breaking down sides, whilst his vicious (yet fair) tackling ability and awareness to intercept key passes stop oppositions defensively. All this whilst entering the peak of his career, whilst fresh from a summer without a World Cup, will leave Essien in exceptional condition to lead Chelsea in the coming months.
Ivanovic’s contribution at right-back for a large part of last season goes largely under-appreciated, but in reality his services did wonders for Chelsea’s title bid. Overlapping wide players, he provided an excellent service to Didier Drogba and others with six assists all in all for a player not famed for his attacking play. At the back, he covered for a seemingly irreplaceable Jose Bosingwa with aplomb. In the coming season, on Bosingwa’s return and with Carvalho’s departure, Ivanovic may find himself partnering John Terry in the centre of defence, due to Alex’s fitness being a consistent worry. This partnership could make or break Chelsea’s season, but after last season’s successes, I would never write off Branislav Ivanovic making a significant contribution to Chelsea’s title aspirations again.
Players Who Could Lose Chelsea The League.
Whilst, on the right day, Ashley Cole remains one of the world’s better left-backs, he currently carries with him an entire wardrobe of reasons why this season could prove disastrous for both himself and, in turn, his club. Firstly, he appears unsettled, with rumours of an escape to Real Madrid fuelling the usually silent Ancelotti to vehemently deny any such move will take place. Secondly, Cole’s tumultuous personal life needs no introduction, and in recent times Cole’s extra-curricular shenanigans have continued, more than ever, to fuel the front pages of the red-tops. Finally, Cole endured a busy yet disappointing summer with the much-maligned England side, and his torturous performance in the Community Shield showed Cole lacking in awareness and pace, two of his best assets. With Yuri Zhirkov looking to impress, and Patrick Van Aanholt coming on in leaps and bounds, Ashley Cole will need to look over his shoulder if his performances begin to slip in the coming season.
It is difficult to write about John Terry without stating the obvious. Not since David Beckham in the late-90s has every action of an English footballer, both on and off the field, been so under the spotlight. Firstly, some facts can’t be ignored. Chelsea kept eighteen clean sheets last season, all of which with John Terry at the helm. His performances post-you-know-what dipped, yes, but his qualities still shone at Old Trafford and Anfield late in the season. My concern, this season, is the age of Terry, coupled with just how much abuse he can take in the face of his private life and the afore-mentioned England campaign. If anyone is suited to battle on through, it is Terry, but with the departure of Ricardo Carvalho, he will need to learn to partner one of Alex, Jeffrey Bruma and Branislav Ivanovic in a solid partnership to avoid the mishaps of the latter part of last season, to lead Chelsea to a fourth title as captain. Without him, his defensive partners may not have the experience to win trophies alone.
Overall, I believe Chelsea’s success this season depends on their rivals more than themselves. Chelsea have the right squad to continue where last season left off, and will, in all likelihood, perform to a similar standard. My worry, as a Chelsea supporter, lies in Manchester United improving beyond such a standard, Arsenal’s squad improvements moving them back into the picture, and even Manchester City putting together a squad that will take another six points off Chelsea in the coming months. If their rivals do not improve on last year’s displays, however, I believe the title will be coming to Stamford Bridge once again in May.