Not sure why Petr Cech was this week’s Guardian photoshop theme, he hasn’t been particularly newsworthy recently. Certainly not compared to some of his other Chelsea team-mates…
(A few) more here.
Last Season: 1st + FA Cup Winners
New Signings: Ramires, Benayoun, Kalas, Delac
Key Player: Didier Drogba
One To Watch: Gael Kakuta
Needs A Big Year: Nicolas Anelka
Would Quite Like: Champions League glory. Preferably over the Special One in the final.
Thoughts: Chelsea are one of the most difficult teams to preview this season in my opinion. Clearly the strongest team last season, the double winners have by their standards undertaken quite an overhaul. Out go Joe Cole, Michael Ballack, Deco, Ricky Carvalho and youngster Miroslav Stoch to be replaced so far by just Ramires and Yossi Benayoun in terms of players who will contribute immediately.
There is obviously a determination to reduce the age of the squad and introduce some fresh blood to a team who has won everything but the Champions League in the last five years. Benayoun is a less injured and more consistent version of Cole while Ramires gives them a valid option on the right hand side of midfield. Ballack and Deco won’t be missed but the sale of Carvalho is an interesting one.
He certainly wanted to leave, stating he would even swim to Madrid to join Jose but I’m intrigued as to whether Chelsea will replace him or promote Bruma to 4th choice and play Alex alongside Terry. Carvalho was the best pure defender at Chelsea in my opinion, knowing all the tricks of the trade. However I guess Chelsea considered £6m+ for an often injured 32-year-old who played 30+ league games just once in his six year stay as good business.
The main reason I’m a bit down on Chelsea this season is I just can’t see Lampard, Drogba and Malouda all having as good a year as last season, where they scored 63 goals put together. Terry looks ever more lumbering at the back while at full back you have Ashley Cole’s off-field issues clearly affecting him and Bosingwa still without a comeback date. Their rivals will be stronger too and it’s unclear whether the young players coming through at Stamford Bridge will be effective.
In terms of positives, everyone in the Chelsea squad has been there and done that – the team is full of proven winners. Drogba, Lampard et al may all be another year older but they’re still better than most. Plus the biggest bonus will be the return of Michael Essien, who is the best box to box midfielder in the league. His return to fitness should see 433 being played again with Lampard and Ramires joining him in a fearsome midfield. I sense that we may yet see a creative superstar come in to play alongside Malouda and Drogba in the forward line. Mesut Ozil perhaps?
Chelsea will be there or thereabouts and even though I have them 3rd I could quite easily see them finishing anywhere from 1st through to 4th. I just feel that it may be the last shot at the Champions League for this generation and all eyes will be on that particular trophy.
In case you hadn’t realised, this week some guy is facing Chelsea for the first time since being sacked leaving by mutual consent in September 2007. Yes the Special One is back and who else could be the theme for this week’s Guardian Photoshop gallery…
Lots more here – he certainly is a rich source material.
That was the weekend that was.
1. Chelsea showed Arsenal what it takes to be champions elect yesterday with a lesson in how to blend skill with power. Up until the first goal Arsenal were in control without really doing anything, though Chelsea could have had a penalty for Sagna’s foul on Anelka. Then out of nothing Cole wasn’t closed down and a great cross came over for Drogba to finish clinically. The defending wasn’t the best. Sagna could have made a better attempt to prevent the cross from Cole and one of the centre backs could have cleared it but it was a great ball in.
A couple of minutes later an almost identical goal was scored. Cole again had time and space to put in a great ball from the left but this time it went in off Vermaelen who was expecting Gallas to clear it. Two quick goals before half time, game over. The second half was notable for Arshavin’s disallowed goal, Drogba’s free kick to wrap up the victory and nothing more.
The game showed exactly how far Arsenal have to go if they are to match Chelsea. Ancelotti’s team had height and strength all over the pitch as well as skill, overpowering Arsenal everywhere. Wenger was missing Van Persie, Bendtner and Diaby who all would have played in this game and perhaps made a difference. However you’d imagine that even with them on the pitch Chelsea would find have found a way to win.
For some reason there was a constant stream of hopeful crosses and medium length passes to the forward line of Arshavin, Nasri and Eduardo, who every time were beaten in the air by Terry & co. It changed a little in the second half but there were mainly lots of runs up blind alleys. Eduardo in particular looked well off the pace and badly needs a meaningful goal while Arshavin continued his peripheral form of this season. Walcott was poor when he came on and there are no true wingers at the clubs, instead lots of inside forward types.
As for Drogba, Arsenal must be sick of him. Two great goals and an all action performance in tandem with Anelka. He now has 10 goals in 11 games vs Arsenal and has been directly the match winner six times. I think Almunia should have done better with the third goal; his positioning was wrong (why move behind the wall?) and thus the ball was already in the net before he even reached with his dive.
Wenger can say the disallowed goal was pivotal but I disagree. As in the game against Man Utd, having all the possession is pointless if you can’t do anything with it. The reason why Chelsea and Man Utd have been the two top teams for the past few years is that they can soak up pressure and still win. Arsenal have yet to discover that method.
2. Everton lost again and although there’s no shame in being beaten by Liverpool (actually…) you sense that perhaps Moyes has taken them as far as he can. That’s not to say he isn’t right for the job and the Scot has done wonders with the budget and constraints he has but maybe something needs freshening up.
Everton won’t reach the heights of the past few seasons and the constant long-term injuries to key players means a likely finish outside the top eight this year. With the Kirkby stadium plans rejected and no buyers for the club, the future looks a little uncertain at Goodison.
3. Is the clock ticking for Mark Hughes? Seven straight draws now. Funny how you can say they’re unbeaten in ten or without a win in seven. Hughes will no doubt slant to the former but I suspect the owners will be looking at the latter. Of the seven games (Villa A, Wigan A, Fulham H, Birmingham A, Burnley H, Liverpool A, Hull H), only Villa and Liverpool are truly tough games if you have real aspirations to be in the top four, and despite everything said otherwise that is the target. Somehow I don’t think Hughes will get a second attempt if he doesn’t achieve it this season in what is such an open year.
4. Hats off to Jimmy Bullard for the celebration of the season. In case you haven’t seen it, he gathered his teammates in a circle and mock scolded a la Tango Man last season. Ironically enough it was at the City of Manchester Stadium again. His return has been the main reason behind Hull’s resurgence and they may yet find themselves in a position like last where they weren’t very good but three teams were worse. He has brought a sense of fun back to the KC Stadium and fair play to Phil Brown for being able to see the funny side of Bullard’s celebration.
5. One of those teams will be Wolves unless Mick McCarthy goes. It took a while but it’s now clear that either the players or the manager aren’t cut out for this level. Time for either to prove that’s not true.
6. Birmingham have been doing well of late. They have been hard to break down since the start of the season but Alex McLeish has realised that by adding an extra striker and playing 4-4-2 he is far more likely to rack up the points that will lead Birmingham to safety this season.
Maybe he’s stuck in some sort of international limbo like Tom Hanks in The Terminal, and is now stranded at Heathrow for the next few months until the summer window as the two clubs try and sort out this most tedious of transfers. I remember the Cashley Cole saga from 2006, where the transfer rumours had rumbled on for weeks but come midnight on deadline day there was still no concrete news. It eventually went through at around half one in the morning. This time we are again a couple of hours past the official close of the window and there are still many contradictory stories coming out. At around 5pm it seemed the deal was dead but now it appears to be on again. I expect there’ll be no confirmation either way till tomorrow but it seems he has signed. Thank goodness for that…