Jun 242013

The 2012/13 season was an exceptionally long and demanding experience for the Chelsea squad, and the players are only now preparing to come back for pre-season training and to begin life under Jose Mourinho. There is still huge uncertainty over which players Mourinho is likely to favour, and in what way will he choose to set up the team for the start of the new season. There have been some indications that Mourinho wishes to give younger players a chance to feature and develop during the course of the season, but one thing that won’t be changing is club captain. Mourinho has been firm on that subject – John Terry will remain our captain. The question that springs to my mind when I hear that is – what’s going to happen to Gary Cahill?

During the course of last season, Cesar Azpilicueta forced his way in to the first team at right back. This meant that Ivanovic was moved to central defence, while David Luiz and Gary Cahill were his most common partners when the former wasn’t playing defensive mid. We saw John Terry struggle for fitness, but even when he became available for selection he was frequently overlooked. The fact that he will be club captain next season implies that Mourinho will be inclined to see Terry as a starting player – and that means one of Ivanovic, Azpilicueta and Cahill will be downgraded.

Azpilicueta is a Mourinho player through and through – his fitness and work rate are exactly what Jose has always liked to see in his full backs. With David Luiz almost guaranteed to be a Mourinho favourite, Ivanovic and Cahill could well be fighting over 3rd and 4th choice. Every top club needs a squad of 1st team centre-halves to compete across a season, but if Cahill was relegated to the bench for much of the season we may struggle to keep him happy. As much as Gary wanted his big move to a big club, he didn’t do it simply to collect his salary every week. He’s in it for the football, and he can’t nail down a position in the national side when he’s not playing.

Cahill could very well start the season as first choice, but with John Terry continuing as club captain, it seems unlikely. If that is the case, we must ensure that Cahill gets enough game time for him to feel valued and motivated. Terry is Chelsea through and through, but for how long can he continue at the top? We must not let young talent slip away simply to appease a legend. If Jose wants to build a dynasty at Chelsea, he must avoid short-sighted sentimentality.

Tell us, what would you do with Gary Cahill next season?

Jun 182013

The return of Jose Mourinho has prompted an awful lot of reflection and review amongst many Chelsea fans; yours truly included. Interestingly, I’ve found myself reviewing our seasons starting in 04/05 when we won the league. That was the start of something glorious for this club, and although we won the league double under Mourinho, it is probably fair to say that he got more out of his squads than successive managers have managed to get out of theirs. For example, we managed to accumulate an incredible 95 points in 04/05 with players like Thiago and Smertin getting 33 starts between them. When you compare it to the title winning squad of 09/10, you see a huge difference in supposed quality, and yet which team was more feared?

In Mourinho, we once again can have a manager who can get the absolute best out of his players. That being known, how does this current Chelsea team compare to the one that won the league and FA Cup in 09/10? Assuming that we make no further signings this summer, and making some assumptions about how Mourinho might choose to line out, a comparison might look something like.

Ivanovic – Terry – Carvalho – Cole
Ballack – Lampard
Anelka – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Malouda
Hazard – – – – – Oscar – – – – – Mata
Lampard – Ramires
Cole – Luiz – Ivanovic – Azpilicueta

Obviously there are points of contention and places that can be argued (Cahill, Lukaku, Shurrle & Terry will all be fighting to be first choice) but it’s an entirely plausible starting 11. So how do we compare to the class of 09/10? Let’s break it down in to defence, midfield and attack.

In 09/10, we had the tail end of the Terry Carvalho partnership at its absolute peak, and it was a truly formidable pairing. Terry and Carvalho were the perfect match for each other and we’ve not truly replicated it since. Flanking them we had Ashley Cole just as he was arguably cementing his claim as the greatest left back in the world at the time, and a solid if unspectacular Ivanovic at right back. In goals, Petr Cech won the Golden Glove for the second year running. Compare that to today and we must give the edge to the 09/10 team. I firmly believe that Ivanovic and Luiz can form a truly formidable partnership at centre-half – one that can replicate the success of Terry and Carvalho – but they need time to gel. Ashley Cole is very close to being just as good a player as he was 4 years ago, and Azpilicueta has shown great potential, but on the balance our starting defence was probably a bit stronger back then.

In midfield, we had Ballack, Lampard and Mikel for most of the season. Going in to this season, we will probably be playing with Ramires, Lampard and Oscar. It is extremely difficult to compare this kind of group, as they are completely different types of players. Frank still brings the same style of play to the team, but Ballack and Oscar contribute to our attacking play in completely different ways. Oscar is far more likely to drift in to positions and act as a playmaker, while Ballack often concentrated on spreading the play and getting in to forward positions himself. Similarly, Mikel offers far greater protection to the defence than Ramires does when asked to do that role, but Ramires is far greater on the ball. Let’s call this one a tie for now.

Attacking wise is really interesting. Assuming Torres was to start as our main striker, most people would instantly say our 09/10 attacking potential was far greater. However, Juan Mata has scored 32 goals and assisted 59 goals in two seasons at Chelsea. In one season, Hazard has 14 goals and 20 assists. They absolutely blow Anelka and Malouda clean out of the water – there is no question whatsoever about it. Torres may be misfiring, but Mata and Hazard are good enough to beat anyone.

So what’s the final verdict? As a defensive unit, the 09/10 team were more cohesive and had better structure. They defended well and were extremely difficult to score against – something that our current crop haven’t managed to master just yet. However, from an attacking point of view, this squad has enough firepower to outscore anyone. Never mind a new striker – there’s nothing stopping us from competing now. What gives me hope is Mourinho’s ability to get the best out of his players. I’ve yet to see a Mourinho team that was easy to score against, and if he can bring that defensive prowess to this team, we’ll be incredibly difficult to beat.

What say you Blues fans – without any more signings, do you think this current Chelsea team is good enough to win the league?

Jun 112013

It’s been far too long since we last had the joy of seeing Jose Mourinho chair a Chelsea press conference, but in a matter of seconds you could have forgotten that he ever left. In a mammoth press conference, Mourinho was re-unveiled as the new Blues boss. It’s been 9 years since he first sat in the chair and declared himself ‘The Special One’, but it seems he has returned with a new moniker.

“I am The Happy One. I am very happy”, Mourinho declared with a huge grin. From the worked the cameras and the journalists it could be difficult to know whether his happiness stems from being back at Chelsea or being back in front of the English media. However, the giggles and laughs were quickly put aside as Mourinho answered some more pressing questions.

Repeating his words when speaking to Chelsea TV, Mourinho once again insisted that he was on good terms with Roman Abramovich. He and the club parted ways amicably and mutually in 2007, and it was that which facilitated his return to the Stamford Bridge helm. Through his answer, Mourinho shows us a little glimpse of the fire and confidence that we came to know and love. According His Happiness, his success at Inter and then Real Madrid shows that his leaving was the right decision for him, while our Champions League win shows that the club continued what he started.
One question on the forefront of many journalists minds, and as asked by this website last week, was what did Mourinho plan to do with John Terry? Terry barely featured last season under Rafa Benitez, and this site was one of the few who believed Terry might leave the club this summer. That seems highly unlikely now, as Mourinho confirmed he has plans for Terry. Refusing to judge the decisions of Benitez last season, he said.

“What I can say is about the future – meet John in the first week of July and try to get the best out of him. I know what he can give, let’s try to make him again a very important player which he couldn’t be last season.”

However, Mourinho did make it clear that players he has previously worked with would be shown no favoritism. Lampard, Terry, Cech and co will have to prove their worth; their reputation and existing relationship will not be enough. Mourinho also confirmed that he intends to build on the good work of the club with youth players and give these young players a chance to prove themselves on the big stage.

Overall, the whole press conference didn’t reveal anything too startling. Mourinho looked and felt at home, and he displayed just enough attitude for us to know that he’s not back to rest on his laurels. If anything, this is his biggest managerial test yet, and you couldn’t help but think he’s completely up for it. And if he is, you can call us all ‘Happy ones’.

May 292013

It is perhaps a sign of how good a job Rafa Benitez actually did in the Chelsea dressing room, but there hasn’t been the kind of media outrage at John Terry’s exclusion from the Chelsea first team that we might have expected in recent years. Terry has struggled all season with injuries, and while he is still capable of big performances, he is in no way guaranteed to be first choice come the end of the summer. Terry fell behind David Luiz, Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill this season, and all 3 are far from falling into decline. It seems incredible that Terry can no longer get in to the team, but the question now becomes what will Terry’s role be at the club?

Ideally, Terry will be able to accept his new role as no longer being the top dog. There is still so much he has to offer this club, and not just on the pitch. In recent years, there have been suggestions of certain players having too much power in the dressing room. While this can be disruptive, if harnessed and used correctly, Terry can become a real leader to this team. He might play less regularly, but if Terry can accept this and refocus on helping the team, he could be of immeasurable benefit to the squad.

Having the kind of experience that Terry and Lampard have brings something to the team that players like Oscar, Hazard, Mata and co simply don’t have – they know how to win a Premier League. Unfortunately, it will be extremely difficult for Terry to accept this role. More than anything, Terry loves playing football, and he might not be able to come to terms with sitting on the bench for the majority of the season. Terry has served this club well, and if he did choose to see out his career somewhere warmer he would leave with everyone’s blessing. However, if John is willing, he could see out his contract and give us one more year. Even if he can’t win back his place in the team, the experience and guidance that he can give the squad could make the difference when it really matters. For this reason, I sincerely hope he stays with us.

May 152013

Frank Lampard is set to lead Chelsea out as captain for tonight’s all important Europa League final in Amsterdam. The veteran midfielder, who is believed to be on the brink of signing a new one year contract extension, will be the focal point of Chelsea’s midfield spine against an always dangerous Benfica side. The match will be the 68th of Chelsea’s season – far more than they would have anticipated or indeed liked. However, at this stage of the season, the weary legs and bones will be forgotten about. If you can’t get yourself motivated for a European Cup final, then you’re in the wrong sport!

Chelsea are hot 7/5 favourites in the betting with Unibet but unfortunately, they will be missing some key players. Despite travelling with the squad, Eden Hazard will miss out with a hamstring injury picked up on Saturday. Talisman John Terry will also be absent – although Terry did try and join in training yesterday, the pain was clearly too much and the centre back has no chance of making the team. Demba Ba, who is cup tied from his exploits with Newcastle earlier this season, was included in Rafa Benitez’s 25 man squad that travelled to Amsterdam. Showing a slightly sentimental side, Benitez’s gesture will go some way to endearing himself to the travelling support.

Opinions vary on the expected line up, and much depends on Victor Moses. Moses picked up a slight knock at the weekend, but his great form in this competition to date has ensured that he will be given every opportunity to start the game. Personally, I predict that we will line up as follows:

Mata Oscar Moses
Lampard Ramires
Cole Luiz Ivanovic Azpilicueta

Although Luiz has been used in central midfield recently, his excellent form combined with Lampard’s presence would suggest that he will be favoured to Gary Cahill. Of course, Rafa hates to be predictable so don’t be surprised to see Luiz in midfield with Ramires wide right. Truthfully, we don’t have a huge squad from which to choose, and Benfica will surely be quite confident of our game plan. That’s fine – let them be. The important thing is that we play to our full capability, because if we do, we win. It’s that simple.

Thanks for the memories Rafa – it’s time to sign off in style. My prediction 3-1 to the Mighty Blues!!

May 042013

David Luiz is having a fantastic season for Chelsea. He scored yet another stunning goal against Basel on Thursday and is becoming increasingly influential to the team and the club, being mentioned as the man who will take the captain’s armband from John Terry one day. So we certainly don’t want to sell the 26-year old, but it appears that Barcelona have targeted Luiz as one of the signings they want to make this summer.

The Catalan club are planning big changes at the end of the season after they struggled in the Champions League this season. The defence is really creaking at the Nou Camp, as was highlighted by a 7-0 aggregate thrashing at the hands of the German champions Bayern Munich. That followed struggles against PSG and AC Milan, so they have compiled a wish list of top class players they would like and, according to the Mail, Luiz is near the top because of his versatility and talent.

Luiz will still have four years left on his Chelsea contract when the season ends, so Chelsea are under no pressure to sell. The Mail reports that his price is likely to be around £40 million, but that may not discourage the Catalan club, as they are planning to offload a number of their own stars to shake things up a bit. The one thing that could make things difficult for Chelsea is if Luiz really wants to go, but he is apparently happy at the club and in London, so hopefully he will stay.

Apr 302013

The fantastic and versatile Brazilian international David Luiz is a popular choice to become the next captain od Chelsea, and the change could happen sooner than expected, apparently. The 26-year old has been putting in captains’ performances for the Blues lately and more than once his drive, skill and determination have rescued Chelsea, most recently with a last gasp winner at Basel.

According to the Daily Star, the Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich wants Luiz to replace Terry as club captain this summer, although it is unclear whether this would mean an end to Terry’s career at the club or simply a demotion. This could be speculation on the paper’s part, but Luiz has been receiving lots of plaudits from everyone at the club recently.

Of course, if Jose Mourinho takes the reigns at Stamford Bridge again at the end of the season, he may want to do things his own way and might think it is a bad move to drop Terry from the role after all he has done for the club. Luiz is the sort of no holds barred player that the Special One loves to have in his team and I am sure that Luiz will be captain one day, but have my doubts it will be this summer.

Apr 242013

Chelsea have still got eight games to play this season. That includes the Europa League final at the Amsterdam Arena in Holland on May 15th. To get there, the Blues have got to get past the Swiss side Basel that knocked Tottenham Hotspur out in the last round. They are a good side, but Chelsea are better and have got the added bonus of Gary Cahill and Ashley Cole returning from injury.

With those eight games being squeezed into the next three weeks, Rafa Benitez is having to manage the squad very carefully. The Spaniard is well aware that the fans and the club see finishing in the top four of the Premier League as the most important objective, with the Europa trophy being a nice cherry on top. The manager may feel differently, though, as he knows he will be moving on at the end of the season.

We have a game against Swansea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, so Cahill and Cole will be unlikely to play in both. The centre of defense is not such a problem, with John Terry, Ivanovic and David Luiz doing well. The left back situation is more tricky, although Ryan Bertrand has filled in admirable for Cole. I would prefer to keep Cole for the league games, at least as he is just coming back but expect Cahill to play tomorrow as we try to keep a clean sheet and set up the home leg nicely. That game next Thursday comes just three days before a trip to Manchester United, a game that could have a massive say on the top four, so we do not want to have too hard a game and certainly not extra time.

Apr 182013

Because Chelsea were playing their third big game in six days and the fact that it was a local derby against Fulham, it was expected to be a tough test for Rafa Benitez and the Blues at Craven Cottage last night. It turned out to be anything but, as we eased to a 3-0 win with John Terry marking his 21st start of the season with his first brace of goals in eight years.

Fulham started okay, but had no real cutting edge and Petr Cech was alert to save well from a deflected shot. Chelsea shook off the tiredness quickly to come back into the match, but nobody was expecting David Luiz to score one of the goals of the season out of the blue. The Brazilian was more than 30 yards from goal, but his piledriver with swerve and dip gave Schwarzer no chance. See highlights below.

The captain stepped up with two headers to seal the points, giving the Premier League table a healthy look for Chelsea fans. We are back in third spot, a point above Arsenal and still with a game in hand and three points above Tottenham. We also have better goal difference than both of them, so things are looking good.

Despite the workload, Chelsea keep getting the job done and a win away at Liverpool on Sunday would almost seal us a top 4 spot and probably automatically Champions League spot for next season.

Apr 052013

With a mammoth and congested fixture list stretching out in front of them, Chelsea and Rafa Benitez will be glad of the opportunity to rest a few key players if necessary in the second leg against Rubin Kazan. Chelsea were easily the better side against Rubin Kazan at Stamford Bridge last night as they cruised to a 3-1 victory.

The Russians only got on the scoresheet because of a poor decision by the referee to award a penalty for a handball by John Terry. The Chelsea captain had his hands by his side and did not move towards the ball, in fact he would hardly have been able to given the speed it was struck at him. Apparently, Terry has less than a quarter of a second to react so it was a very harsh call.

One man who will be very happy with the game is the Spanish striker Fernando Torres. He scored two goals and looked dangerous all night, which is a huge boost for him and his team mates. With Demba Ba doing the business in the Premier League, Benitez can rotate his strike force nicely, so that is one less area to worry about.

Ryan Bertrand showed some great skill filling in for Ashley Cole at left back, while Victor Moses scored a fantastic goal and, with Benayoun, gave Oscar and Hazard a well deserved break. With Sunderland visiting the Bridge on Sunday, Chelsea can play a strong side to avoid any new manager shocks from Paolo Di Canio’s first game.

The next big test will be against Manchester City in the FA cup semi-final next weekend, and the option to rest some key players on the Thursday could be vitally important.