Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Chelsea end of season report

In previous weeks, two excellent defensive displays in Madrid and at Anfield gave Chelsea renewed hope in both the Champions League and Premiership.

However, Chelsea's season was ultimately meekly extinguished over the next two home games with Mourinho's early season proclamations that the team was not at the correct level proving accurate.

Chelsea were soundly beaten at home by a very good Atletico team before any lingering Championship hopes were snuffed out by a woeful performance against Norwich. So where do their achievements sit this season?

Season aspirations, achievements and reality
Mourinho's assertions of course that Chelsea were not title challengers was purely for the press and everyone knew it. With the league lacking an outstanding team there was always a chance.

The Premiership has been an odd place the last two seasons. Last year United simply put their hand up and took the title whilst everyone else looked on.

This season again, there has been a door ajar for anyone who wanted it and only Liverpool have mounted the kind of run that has shown the hunger to win it even if they ultimately fail as their evening at Selhurst suggests.

Chelsea have taken 16 of 18 points from the other top four teams this season so the reason for their not winning the title is a plethora of dropped points against teams from the bottom half of the table.

Results such as those at home to Sunderland and results at Villa and Stoke have killed momentum and lost vital points at crucial times.

Barring goal scoring feats of biblical proportions, Chelsea have secured automatic entry to the group stage of the CL again next season by finishing at least 3rd. That was probably the absolute minimum required.

Winning or challenging for the CL this season was to anyone's mind probably several steps too far. Not one of the English sides looks like a genuine contender in Europe right now. That Chelsea again proved the most capable was commendable and another semi final is a great return for the club.

The squad
Chelsea' squad is a little bizarre right now, The slightly eccentric hue it has taken on is probably a result of poor planning over the past few seasons with zero continuity in the managerial chair.

Different managers with different plans, philosophies and wishes and an owner dreaming of the promised land of Guardiola had led to a hodgepodge of square pegs in round holes and Mourinho attempting to find a tactical solution to the entirely unbalanced smorgasbord of talent he was presented with.

The defensive unit looks ultimately sound as they have shown in several tough away fixtures but the midfield looks very unbalanced.

Matic, Oscar, Hazard and Willian all look fine players who fit with the profile but the likes of the box to box Ramires and the slightly lost looking Schurrle don't seem to gel with the current tactics.

Other than fine tuning the defence, Mourinho's tactics have reflected this jumble this season resulting in too many ponderous performances such as against Sunderland, Norwich and Swansea. He needs to fix on a formation he believes will work and decide which players fit with that system.

It is quite possible that none of the three strikers at the club will be there come August and the recruitment of new talent and what to do with Romelu Lukaku will take up a lot of column inches this Summer.

Whilst I remain a huge David Luiz fan, he doesn't seem to fit with Mourinho's strongest team or indeed his style of player and it may well be that given FFP considerations that he is sold to help to fund the new talent required upfront.

I for one would be sorry to see him go. Tomas Kalas however looks like he is more than ready for more game time at the back.

What to do with the old guard?
Terry, Lampard and Ashley Cole all looked a bit teary eyed after the Norwich game. If both the aspirations of salaries and performance are measured, both Terry and Lampard are worth keeping for another season.

If Chelsea do go and buy a new left back then it may be time for Ashley Cole to move on. He was a favoured son of Mourinho the first time around but the Arsenal players' Christmas party put paid to that this time around. He remains a highly capable left back however.

Possibly more controversially, I would be prepared to sell Petr Cech. He remains a loyal lieutenant to Mourinho and for that reason I don't think it will happen this season.

I do think however that Thibot Courtois is already a better goalkeeper - Cech has never been quite the same since his head injury - and Chelsea risk losing the player permanently unless he is taken into the fold. He has been performing magnificently for Atletico for 3 seasons now.

Cech would still fetch a good transfer sum and in the days of FFP this should be considered. Petr Cech, Fernando Torres and a cash top up for Diego Costa with Courtois coming to the Bridge would make perfect sense to me. It would also give the squad a fresher complexion

Transfer targets
Firstly, as mentioned above, I would bring both Lukaku and Courtois into the first team squad, they are both good enough and ready. I firmly believe Chelsea would have more Premiership points this season had they retained Lukaku.

Conversly there are strong rumours that rather than integrate him into the squad, that Lukaku will be sold. We will wait and see.

I'm a little bit 50/50 on Diego Costa I have to say. Up until this season, his record is patchy at best and Chelsea can ill afford to make another mistake of Schevchenko or Torres proportions.

In terms of striking options, it is of course highly complex to secure the right players given that the big teams are mainly unwilling to sell players and also with wages a big consideration in these times of FFP

Edison Cavani remains a wonderful player but his availability may depend on Chelsea's willingness to sell Eden Hazard.

I firmly believe Mourinho's admonishing of the player this week was a form of pep talk and I don't believe that Abramovich would countenance selling what is exactly the type of player he has so craved.

Mourinho after all has also been quite brisk when discussing Oscar's last few months and I can't think for a minute that they wish to sell him either having already dispensed with Juan Mata.

It is clear that in the same way that United need to replace Scholes and Liverpool will have to replace Gerrard that Chelsea need to replace Lampard.

Whilst not an exact like for like, I do believe that Oscar's work rate and defensive abilities mean he could play deeper for Chelsea especially with the man mountain of Matic alongside him. Luca Modric is excelling in that very role for Real Madrid right now.

Ross Barkley continues to get rave reviews and Chelsea will also effectively have a new player next season with the fit again Van Ginkel.

Luke Shaw looks a prized asset at left back and Chelsea will have a tough time fighting off Manchester United for his signature if the papers are to be believed.

Filipe Luis at Atletico is also rumoured to be a target at left back but he is already 28. Chelsea have seemingly moved on from their previous transfer bungles of buying mature players with little or no resale value but again, we shall have to wait and see.

The good, the bad and the ugly
Mourinho's tactics (as always) have come into focus this season. I for one will take far greater notice next season when the team will be 'his' rather than he working with a squad he is not completely happy with.

There have been occasions when they have looked like the Chelsea of old such as the wonderful 0-1 win at the Etihad this season, that was classic Mourinho.

There have been other excellent performances such as the home leg against PSG.

Wins such as the one at Liverpool were for me perfectly acceptable as the end justifies the means but I can understand the frustrations of others at the tactics employed.

There have been occasions when I too have felt frustrated at a lack of ambition such as at Old Trafford - granted it was early in the season and most had not grasped just how bad United actually were - and at the Emirates.

Recent performances in particular against Norwich, Swansea and Sunderland have shown Chelsea to be badly lacking in ideas and solutions when playing against teams employing tactics similar to their own.

New strikers will hopefully put an end to these types of displays and these are the games where my point about us having more points had the Plan B option (quite possibly plan A by now) of Lukaku been available.

The Mourinho effect
It is always said never go back and I for one experienced much trepidation about the return of a guy I unashamedly idolise.

Whilst the initial months of his return were relatively low key, he has slowly but surely upped the ante and we are now routinely treated to FA hearings and his unbridled assaults on all whom he deems to have wronged either he or his players.

He divides opinion like almost no other but there is no doubting that he is box office gold for the Premiership media train.

So what does Roman think?
The biggest problem with Chelsea's non speaking benefactor is that no one outside of a handful of people actually know. The rest of us are left to wait for the back page headlines after another manager is jettisoned.

Mourinho's exit the last time around was a fairly undignified affair but it was also widely telegraphed from that Summer with his discontent at a lack of transfer funds made abundantly clear.

The schism between the two men had been ever widening since the arrival of Andriy Shevchenko the year before.

Having returned to Mourinho, it must be assumed that Abramovich was prepared to compromise to some degree but one would also most certainly resume that Jose would have to do the same and possibly more, he remains the subordinate after all.

One must presume that in return for some kind of free rein on transfers and footballing matters there would have been a commitment to playing the type of football that Abramovich so craves.

Chelsea's football has over the course of the season become increasingly pragmatic (detractors would say negative). That is of course oft the way with Mourinho but it usually accompanied by silverware.

There have not been the slightest murmurs of discontent emanating from Stamford Bridge so one must assume that Jose had a free pass this season as long as minimum criteria such as CL qualification were met.

If however Mourinho gets the players he wants this Summer and Chelsea fail to develop next season and the football is at the same time shall we say, 'less than expansive' then one wonders whether Abramovich may be on the phone to Bayern asking whether they are bored with Pep yet.

Summing up, a season of progress or failure?
Overall, Chelsea fans should be happy but there is definitely a case for saying this was an opportunity missed.

The squad has a lot of promise with Hazard, Oscar and Willian in particular all capable of improving. Nemanda Matic has added balance to the midfield and with defensive stability still there, the adding of firepower upfront should make Chelsea a formidable prospect next season.

Compared to Bayern or the top 3 in Spain (although they look set to raid one of them) Chelsea look a level off in European terms but if Mourinho has not lost his touch and builds on this season then expectations next season should rightly be higher  - No Nonsense.