Chelsea Season Preview: The View From A Blue.

10 08 2010

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

Nicolas Anelka

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.

Yuri Zhirkov

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

Daniel Sturridge

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.

Gael Kakuta

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

Michael Essien

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.

Branislav Ivanovic

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.

Ashley Cole

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.

John Terry

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.

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8 responses

10 08 2010
bov94

Hi, I’m loving your season review here! I think your spot on with the likes of Anelka and Zhirkov needing to step up. Also, I agree that Michael Essien is a key player for Chelsea. I know it was a pretty obvious pick, but I was wondering why Didier Drogba wasn’t in the ‘Players who will win Chelsea the League’ part!

Having enjoyed this post, I was wondering If you’d also be able to do a review for Liverpool (my team). I appreciate you probably won’t know a lot about them, but by your knowledge of Chelsea I’m sure your an avid football fan!

Josh 🙂

10 08 2010
thegreatstupendo

Really interesting review, great stuff.

My wonder is how long Lampard and Drogba will be able to keep up their goal scoring as they age – without their goals Chelsea would be in great difficulty!

One other thing, it’s ‘strings to his bow’ not ‘beau’.

11 08 2010
Yaacov

I agree with most of your preview, however I must take exception to what you write re A Cole. His problems came to a head last season (rumours…and eventual seperation from Cheryl), yet this was the season that was widely recognised as his best yet in a CFC chirt!
To judge him on the basis of some positional errors and lack of pace in game with ten days of pre-season under his belt is utterly absurd…
He will be just fine this season.

11 08 2010
dkdickson

bov94 – Thanks for your comments! The trouble with writing about a team like Chelsea is trying to avoid the obvious, so I decided to leave Drogba out since I thought it a little too obvious that he would be key in winning a title! Not enough time to knock out a Liverpool one before the season start I’m afraid!

Stupendo – Fixed! I thought it didn’t look right!

Yaacov – I just replied to you on Twitter but its easier to get my point across here! Again, with dealing with a club like Chelsea, its not easy to pick out criticisms at times. Of all the players I could choose, I genuinely am a little worried by Ashley Cole this season. He has not always been the greatest at tracking back after his ventures forward, and also always seems to cut inside far too much when faced with a winger with pace. Sunday exemplified this perfectly, and I should maybe have stated that Sunday was simply an example of this as opposed to the sole reason why I feel the way I do. I’m sure he will perform to a decent level, but also feel we could be looking at a few mistakes from Ashley this year.

But hey, the point of previews is to be proven wrong, right?!

11 08 2010
Yaacov

Fair enough. We’ll agree 2 disagree!! I think he’ll have another pheonomanl season..
I’m a little (LITTLE) worried about the other side in the event that Boswinga doesn’t fully recover, and Ferreira takes his place as opposed 2 Ivanovic… Ferreira does not belong @ CFC anymore IMO.. And if Ivanovic does deputise than I’m very (VERY!! 😉 ) for our central defence, since Alex is a backup – not 1st choice…
Clearly, our back line was the only reason we didn’t win the title a lot earlier and more convincingly
W/ JT taking his fair share of the blame.. Our mid and attack did just fine (although I felt we needed s/t different 2 open up opponents 4 the 2nd killer goal at times – hello Yossi Benayoun) so maybe we shud b going 4 David Luiz if he’s as good as they say…

11 08 2010
jamsiep

Agree with most of what you have written, especially the praise for Ivanovic..

Not too sure about the verdict on Anelka though. For the first half of last season, when he were playing a midfield diamond, he was virtually our best player – at least in my opinion. He worked hard and selflessly (surprisingly given his reputation) in and around Drogba and scored a fair few as well. Anelka was probably the one player at Chelsea who play in a diamond suited, along with the full-backs. True he didn’t score well whilst Drogba was away, but the team did and played much better football in the process – no coincidence.

Remains to be seen exactly how we’ll line-up assuming that Ramires does finally sign, but having read this from Zonal Marking about Ramires’ role in the Brazilian side:

‘The role of Ramires is also interesting. He effectively plays the same role he does for Benfica, shuttling from a central midfield position when defending, to a right-wing position when in possession. This requires a tremendous amount of energy, but the fact that he and Maicon (the right-back) possess both stamina and speed, means that those two can effectively cover three positions (right-back, right central midfield and right-wing) by themselves.’

….it seems that whoever plays on the right (be it Kalou, Sturridge, Benayoun or Anelka) will be able to drift inside and support Drogba when in possession, as Ramires will occupy the role on the right. I reckon this could suit Anelka pretty well, certainly a lot more so than being stuck out on the wing, where he was pretty ineffective last season.

11 08 2010
David

You seem to have forgotten Blackburn as title challengers, takeover should happen soon and then we came become… well the new Blackburn, then Messi can see the error of his ways and learn the joys of the long ball.

Interesting with this new rule everyone is talking about how good their youth is should be interesting to see how they all get on. Ours is Phil Jones, Junior Hoilett, Martin Olsson, Grant Hanley (who looks shaky) and England keeper and Blackburn’s number 4 Frank Fielding, this must mean Blackburn is better than England.

Someone mentioned Liverpool just to say Roy Hodgson Blackburn reject! Seriously though he was a good manager but it was a mixture of the old players having too much power, Tim Sherwood in particular, and bad signings Kevin Davies for £7m, Martin Dahlin though the odd gem in Henchoz.

11 08 2010
Glenn

Son!

Moe told me you had a football blog mate so I thought I’d give it a read.

Nice to see someone taking their football seriously!

We’ll have to have a drink when you’re around in London mate. Get Barry and the boy Murley involved.

Glenn.

P.S Leave Anelka alone. Anyone who calls Domenech a son of a whore is a good lad in my book.

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