Tuesday, August 10, 2010

EPL Preview 2010/11: Chelsea's Pensioners Not Too Old for Another Title

Carlo Ancellotti's may side have won the title on the last day of the season with an 8-0 demolition of Wigan but the real truth is that Blues were by far and away the best team in the league last year and will be the team to beat once again.

Out With The Old...

Ancellotti won the double in his first real year as Chelsea manager. Playing the type of football that Roman Abramovich has been pining for for years. The pure attack-mindness of the Blues saw them hammer a number of teams over the course of the season 4-0 (Bolton twice and Wolves), 5-0 (Pompey and Blackburn), 7-0 (Stoke), 7-1 (Aston Villa) and 7-2 (Sunderland) but it was the manner of their nonchalant disposal of Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester United both home and away that underlined their overall superiority in the EPL.

In a move at shaking things up at Stamford Bridge Carlo Ancellotti has taken the unprecedented step of allowing players to leave without replacing them.

Some of the players that have left the club are seasoned internationals with highly impressive cv's, players like Joe Cole (28), Michael Ballack (33), Juliano Belletti (34), Miroslav Stoch (20), Scott Sinclair (21), and, soon to join Real Madrid, Ricardo Carvalho (32).

What this message has sent to the rest of the squad is twofold; 1) players will not be allowed to rest on their laurels and past victories count for nothing and 2) Ancellotti and Chelsea are sending out an unspoken message that the club are in a period of looking for younger, fresher and most importantly lower-paid stars.

It means that if Chelsea's current crop of Pensioner's want to stay at the club they have to justify it with outstanding performances.

Even with getting rid of these four established first team squad players Chelsea still have the best squad in the league and will be incredibly tough for any side to beat.

Players with a high work ethos are being added, thus far only Yossi Benayoun and Brazilian powerhouse Ramires (medical permitting) have come to the team. However, with Carvalho's imminent move to Real Madrid on the cards a dip into the transfer market for a centre half is not beyond the realms of possibility.

Jeffrey Bruma is seen as the future of the club and is the first player to break through from the Academy to become a first team squad player in what seems like decades. The young Dutchman has huge potential and could be pushed straight into first team action with the weight of expectancy heavy on his shoulders.

Ramires's potential signing also means the end for Deco, who hasn't even been given a squad number for this season. the Portuguese's movement away from first team affairs means that Chelsea will have the requisite 17 foreign players on their books in time for the new look 25-man EPL squads.

Carvalho's transfer, Alex's and Bosingwa's injuries, Bruma's inexperience, and a lack of cover at right full should Branislav Ivanovic move to the centre mean that, for the moment, Chelsea are tight on resources in defence.

However, their first five fixtures of the season could not have come out better, arguably against five of the teams who will contest the relegation battle, and by the time their first real challenge arrives, Manchester City on September 25, the Blues should be back to full strength.

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Capello?

Three of Chelsea's most important players are English, and enjoyed torrid times in South Africa this summer. John Terry's collapse has been a long time coming while Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole had outstanding seasons for their club so their poor showing in the World Cup came as something as a shock to the system.

Cole was the one English player who came home with his playing credentials intact only for the left back to mull over Jose Mourinho's tributes through the media and consider leaving London for Madrid.

His life off the pitch has been played out through every glossy magazine and red top newspaper during the summer. Cole is in dire need of a manager putting his arm around his shoulder and protecting him for a while.

Pre-season form and his blanking of Fabio Capello during the Community Shield would suggest that the Englishman is far from happy on the international stage and that his club manager has plenty of work to do if he is to get the best from him.

Lampard, too, also suffered at the hands of Capello during the World Cup by not only being played out of position but also being asked to take the responsibility for the roaming Steven Gerrard. As any player will tell you; it is one thing taking responsibility for your own game in an unfamiliar position it is another prospect entirely taking responsibility for two, or even three in England's World Cup case.

Michael Essien's return will mean a world of difference to Lampard with the English international returning to his more comfortable role on the tip of the diamond in a 4-4-2 or as the most progressive midfielder in a 4-5-1.

John Terry...

Where do you start?

The centre half has just enjoyed one of the worst periods of his career as his form shuddered from shoddy to unacceptable from January until the Blues most recent match against Manchester United in the Community Shield. The omens are not looking good for this coming season.

Ancellotti has to sit down with the 29-year-old and coax him back into the form everyone knows he is capable of. Terry may have lost a yard of pace but he still remains a formidable figure and if his manager can get him back on track then it will be almost like signing a new player.

Again, the first three fixtures will have much to say on Terry's future. The matches against West Brom (Aug. 14), Wigan (Aug. 21), and Stoke (Aug. 28) should be simple enough affairs for him to overcome. If he finds these three games difficult then Ancellotti may be forced to splash out on a new centre half before the summer transfer window closes on September 1. Looking at Chelsea's playing squad which will more or less be finalised by this period then an English U21 like Blackburn's Phil Jones could be a potential signing.

Midfield is as Strong as Ever

Ancellotti may have shipped out Michael Ballack and Joe Cole but with Ramires' and Yossi Benayoun's signings their midfield looks formidable to say the least.

Michale Essien, Jon Obi-Mikel, Frank Lampard, and Ramires all battling it out for starting places in central midfield while the up and coming Gael Kakuta, Saloman Kalou, Florent Malouda, and Yossi Benayoun will all be looking to establish themselves out wide.

With those eight players the Pensioners are well established to dominate any midfield in the country or abroad.

The priority for Chelsea, as dictated by their owner, will be Champions League first and Premier League second.

This was an area that the club's title almost floundered upon last year.

Chelsea lost six matches last season with five of those coming before either the Champions League or the FA Cup so it is clear that Chelsea and Ancellotti are changing something in their set up for the cup competitions.

One of Chelsea's biggest failings last year was against opponents who used a simple 4-4-2 with wingers, in these games their opponents stretched midfield and attacked down the flanks giving the Blues width, Cole and Ivanovic, something more to think about. By bringing in Benayoun that problem has been pretty much countered on the right-hand side of the pitch meaning that Chelsea's back four will have more maneuverability to slide across and protect Cole should he bomb forward as expected.

No Drogba: No Goals

Didier Drogba should return from his injury layoff in time for the start of the season but his absence will set the alarm bells ringing. It is fair to say that Nicolas Anelka, for all his good play outside the box, does not come with the same goal threat as the Ivorian.

Behind Drogba and Anelka, Chelsea's striking options remain limited at best.

Scott Sinclair has been allowed to leave for pastures new with Swansea, Fabio Borini is an unknown quantity and Gael Kakuta is more likely to be utilised out wide.

Franco Di Santo ha also just returned to the club after a less than prolific season on loan to Blackburn Rovers, one goal in 22 games, and will only really be seen as cover for Anelka or a plan B should Chelsea go behind.

What all this adds up to is that Chelsea needs to bring in cover for Drogba and Anelka. Should either or both get injured then the Blues title chances will go up in flames.

Signing another foreign player is not an option so bringing in an English U19 or U21 like Aston Villa's Nathan Delfounso could prove to be a master stroke. The big centre forward is rated as one of England's best underage players and has all the qualities needed to act as cover for Drogba or Anelka. At 19 he has plenty of time to learn and with Drogba (32) and Anelka (31) nearing the end of their careers at the top flight a signing of this type could insulate Chelsea for years to come.

Pensioners Not Too Old Just Yet

There is no doubting Chelsea's strength in depth. They are already formidable and one or two well chosen signings will put them even further ahead of the chasing pack.

On analyzing their fixtures they do not have a really tough run until around Christmas when they face Tottenham Hotspur (Dec. 11), Manchester United (Dec. 18), and Arsenal (Dec. 26). By this stage of the season the first round of matches of the Champions League will be over and the league will be their main priority.

From then on it is a relatively straight run in and it is worth noting that Chelsea only play top six opposition consecutively three times in the whole season. First, in September with Man City and Arsenal, then their main trial in December and then finally at the start of May when they face Spurs and Man Utd.

This fixture list should give Ancellotti enough space to rotate his fine squad and barring an injury crisis of biblical proportions they will finish in the top two positions again, and will more than likely be named as Champions for the fourth time in the last seven years.

Most Important Player: Didier Drogba

The goal threat provided by the Ivorian, when he is on form, is frightening to say the least. 37 goals in 44 games speaks volumes but the sheer amount of weapons Drogba has at his disposal is the key to his effectiveness.

With him up front Chelsea and Ancellotti can play the game a variety of ways. Through the channels, long, wide, or through intricate passing, Drogba has the ability to adapt his game for any situation.

Powerfully built and phenomenally skillful to equal degrees the Chelsea No. 11 is easily one of the best players in his position today.

The key for Ancellotti will be getting his player to focus on the goal at the end of the season and to avoid injury.

Chelsea's last game against Wigan in 2010 sums him up perfectly. A strop after Frank Lampard refused to let him take a penalty which led to him sulking and not wanting to be involved before a talk from his manager set him straight. The end result was a last day hat-trick.

Player to Watch: Jeffrey Bruma

Insiders at Chelsea expect this to be the breakthrough year for the Dutch centre half. At 18, he has been ever present in the Reserve team and has captained Chelsea's youth and Dutch underage teams.

Such is his high rating in the game that Holland manager Bert van Maarwijk has named him in the Dutch squad to face Ukraine on August 11. This after only three appearances in the Chelsea first team and nine appearances for the Dutch U21's.

A big strong centre half with high technical skills it is felt in Stamford Bridge that Bruma will be the player to lead the club after John Terry has departed.

Prediction: EPL 2010/11: Champions and no lower than 2nd.

A strong squad, a good manager, a very good fixture list, and the resources to repair faults should they happen, Chelsea has all the ingredients to take the title home in 2011.

Follow Premier League Report on Twitter: twitter / PremLgeReport