Chelsea have had perhaps been the most enigmatic club over the past decade, they have had 8 different managers since 2004, and their owner Roman Abramovich sometimes asserts, and reasserts, his influence and muscle far more than he should (Andriy Shevchenko’s purchase being the most obvious example).
That said, their most successful stint of football occurred from 2004 to 2007 – during Mourinho’s first era as manager. Then, his team had many young players that were dying to prove themselves worthy of global recognition/ acclaim (Terry, Gallas, Lampard, Joe Cole) – especially after their success the previous season (2003) finishing second in the premier league. The other players that transferred over that year (Čech, Robben, Drogba, Carvalho, Ferreira) not only wanted global recognition, but wanted to prove themselves worthy of their hefty (hefty at the time) transfer fees.
Fast forward to the present – Chelsea did not win anything this past year, why is that, do you ask? It’s a question that both must be asked and addressed, and there’s quite a simple two-part answer to it. But first, let’s talk about the positives of this past year…
Eden Hazard has been the silver lining in Chelsea’s sub par season this year. He is without a shadow of doubt the best young player in the premiership. He is young, technical, aggressive, and eager to prove that he should be talked about among the world’s elite footballers. He is also very smart, in fact, earlier this month he made a statement that partly answered why Chelsea lacked success this year, “Chelsea is not made to play football. We’re good on the counter, a little bit like Real against Bayern.” He’s totally right… and Mourinho needs to react better to constructive criticism, as his response to this comment was rather stubborn and defensive, ”He’s (Hazard) not the kind of player ready to sacrifice himself 100 percent for the team and his mates.” (I know Hazard sometimes tries to do too much and probably should pass a bit more, but he did lead his team with nine assists this campaign – and that says something about his desire to sacrifice for his teammates).
Anyway, Mourinho needs to be a bit more discerning (something that would have been helpful during his time at Real) and take more blame for Chelsea’s failures this year – constantly blaming his strikers ALL YEAR is not only using them as a scapegoat, but it’s bad for the atmosphere in the dressing room. It’s also an excuse for his failures – If his strikers fail to perform ALL YEAR, then it’s on him to make the necessary changes to help them perform at a higher level.
Back to Hazard’s point – Chelsea does play pretty well on the counter (not as well as Real, as they don’t have the talent), but they do lack the ability to establish a flowing offense from within their opponents half. This is where they need to improve, and it starts with Mourinho, and his ability to psychologically evaluate his players – something that had been lauded for during his first stint with Chelsea… In fact, it was said that he was a master at getting the best out of his players then, and during his time at Inter (despite the players being experienced on that squad), and now he needs to rediscover his talents for it, because he really missed the boat on Mata… Here’s why:
As Hazard said, Chelsea need to be better at attacking from within their opponents half (not on the counter), and I think that one of their biggest mistakes this year was the decision to sell their only possession specialist, Juan Mata. Man City has an engine whose attack and swiftness runs through/on David Silva (well, and sometimes Toure), and Chelsea missed Mata’s ability to do the same for them… There was a reason why Mata was voted Chelsea’s player of the year two years running (before of course Mourinho’s arrival and decision to sell him). As an aside, one could argue that Oscar’s lack of success this year was due to the fact that the offense didn’t run through a player like Mata, a player that always was willing to sacrifice himself 100 percent for the team and his mates – The players at Chelsea adored Mata, and with good reason, he’s a consummate professional and he handled his sale to United better than most, and he never developed an ego despite being voted Chelsea’s best player for the last two years – The offense could not, and did not, run well through Oscar, he’s less polished and experienced than Mata and better/should play on the wing, where he played during his first year at the club when he took everyone by storm.
SO… in conclusion, the first thing that Chelsea need to do to improve is to learn how to rely less on the counter – they need to do this by developing some semblance of a possessional offense from within their opponent’s half.
Over the past decade, the transfers (specifically attackers) that failed to live up to the hype at Chelsea already had proven track records… Crespo, Veron, Shevchenko, Deco, Malouda, even Shaun Write-Phillips, Torres… (I know there are some exceptions… Makelele, Ballack) In other words, During Mourinho’s first era, Čech, Robben, Drogba, Carvalho and Ferreira all transferred to Chelsea with a desire to make a name for themselves… The players that have failed on Chelsea had already made a name for themselves… and Mourinho needs to purchase players that want to do the same…
Chelsea don’t need Diego Costa, they need to let Romelu Lukaku develop – he’s the answer to their woes at striker. He is young, technical, aggressive, and eager to prove his worth… in other words, he’s at a similar stage of development as Hazard, and they MUST grow together. Otherwise, Lukaku will be another gem that leaves to perform extremely well on another team given the chance… (Cough, Cough Sturridge).
Lukaku, like Hazard, is from Belgium, and so he can grow with Hazard on both a club and international stage if given the chance… In addition, unlike many of the failed transfers mentioned above, Lakuku is already acclimated with football in the premier league through his time with West Brom two years ago, and with Everton last year… His contribution to both of those teams is best shown through these facts: Two years ago, West Brom finished in 8th place, and he scored 17 goals that year for them… this year, they finished in 17th place. During his time with Everton this past year, Everton rose from 6th place to 5th, and he scored 15 goals along with 6 assists (one less than Hazard, Chelsea’s leader in assists. If he were to be surrounded by players of higher quality, like those on Chelsea, I would imagine that his stats would only get better. When Chelsea learn how to play more of a possession offense, and Mourinho allows players like Lukaku to start, they will surely win medals.
If it were up to me, I’d start Hazard, Lukaku and Oscar or Schürrle upfront on the right wing. If I were to use Oscar on the right wing, then I’d use André Schürrle as a midfielder with either Matic or Obi Mikel (who I think is extremely consistent and solid) and purchase a midfielder that knows how to keep possession (like Arturo Vidal, Fabregas, or even Xavi who I think at this point could be sold by Barca)… It would also be interesting to try out Willian at a center mid role similar to how Real employed Di Maria.
All that said, I hope Chelsea do not sell David Luiz, but if they do, they must replace him, and Mehdi Benatia would be a nice replacement – As the quality of Italian football has dropped, I’m sure he would be eager and motivated to prove himself in the premier league and in Champions league competitions.