Lower your expectations: Chelsea’s strong start deceives

by Florian Powell

A week and a bit into the new season the league table makes pleasant reading for Chelsea. Their total of nine points from three games is guaranteed to keep them ahead of the big cheeses until they come back from Monaco.

They have also beaten and kept a clean sheet against Newcastle United, but if we start calling Chelsea title challengers, we might be getting ahead of ourselves.

Beating last season’s relegation favourites Wigan and newly promoted Reading are not titanic achievements for a Champions League team; much less so when they came about in a laboured and generally uninspiring fashion. And the brilliance of Eden Hazard, who has started the season wonderfully, masked the weaknesses about the Stamford Bridge outfit quite well, because from an overly volatile owner down to the reserve goalkeeper, Chelsea do not have the means to be serious contenders.

Di Matteo

I find it hard not to like Roberto Di Matteo. He was charming, if incompetent, at West Brom and now he’s charming, if a bit less incompetent, at Chelsea. I also find it hard to argue that he shouldn’t have been given the full time Chelsea job; he won the Champions League, and you can’t let a manager go the week after he’s done that, at least not on a moral ground.

However, if parking the bus and hoping for penalties will sometimes win you the Champions League (where were you in Istanbul?), it is a sure way of not winning the league. Unfortunately, apart from a drubbing of Tottenham in the other cup semi-final, this is the only trick that Di Matteo has shown us.

True, he has other qualities off the pitch. He can keep the players happy and he gets along with the press and everyone in the world. He is a really lovely guy, and I feel bad calling him incompetent, but a smash-and-grab approach to the games against last season’s table toppers will probably have a worse return than Manchester United’s Class A shares. And as that frightful April afternoon has shown us, it is these games that mattered last season, and there’s really no indication that this is about to change.

Factor alongside this his boss’ whims, which turn with the wind, and three defeats later we could have another wasted season and Frank Lampard as interim boss.

Player power and lack of quality

Actually that wouldn’t be such a bad idea since it would keep the vice-captain off the pitch some of the time. I have nothing but admiration for Lampard’s qualities as a player; he has everything you could have asked of a modern midfielder in 2005. Unfortunately he cannot mask his redundant role in the team with well taken penalties.

The playmaking abilities of Mata and an increasingly influential Mikel mean that Chelsea should by-pass the former box-to-boxer, and it would probably be better for the team if the more incisive and unpredictable Meireles came in. But Di Matteo wouldn’t want to do that too often.

At the back Chelsea have more problems. Getting over Cech’s occasional gaffes, apart from John Terry, who magically remains imperious, there are holes all over the place. Ivanovic is a slow red card waiting to happen, Gary Cahill has not returned to his early-days Bolton form and Ashley Cole is desperately past it. Watching him try to deal with McCleary last week was comically painful. As for David Luiz… it’s best if I leave any description to Gary Neville.

Further up the pitch, one injury prone 50m striker is not the same as two ordinary 25m forwards. And it wouldn’t take much for Di Matteo to have to carve an attacker out of stone. Sturridge may be happy to swap the wing for the main job, but how happy would anyone be having him there?

The point that I’m laboriously trying to make is that apart from Eden Hazard’s wizardry I really don’t see much for Chelsea fans to be optimistic about. A lack of quality in defence, odd selection policies revolving around a dinosaur in midfield and a lack of depth in attack are not going to earn much silver.

Too many games

Ah, there it is ‘lack of depth’. After all, doesn’t everyone say Barcelona has the same problem? Well, yes. But Chelsea isn’t Barcelona. I can’t see a Messi or a Mascherano. And it would be fine to go through a normal season relying on more or less the same eleven. The blokes at Chelsea are fit enough to steer clear of niggling injuries and the rest is luck.

But consider that with the Club World Championship somewhere in Middle Earth, the European Super Cup and decent cup runs, Chelsea’s players could well end up playing 60-odd games not counting internationals. It was the same problem Barcelona encountered last season when they ‘only’ won the Copa del Rey an year on from so convincingly winning the Champions League. And can you count on Torres to bang them in for 60 matches or the smash-and-grab to work in each and every big game?

28 Responses

  1. Jamie says:

    OK I don’t think they will win the league. but you seem to have seriously misunderstood Chelsea’s style and start to the season.

    I don’t know how you can think Chelsea have a lack of quality up the pitch and will park the bus. It’s true they have one serious striker, but Torres might not get injured either.

    Your analysis smacks of bias. Your opinions of Lampard and Luiz are formed wearing (probably whatever shade of red) severely dibilitating blinkers, and it doesn’t make for a well-reasoned argument or a good read.

    I agree not to get carried away by Chelsea’s start. They would expect 9 points from these games I’d say, so nothing special so far. They’ll have problems at the back over the season, but there’s no way they’ll park the bus this year, they’ll play attractively and score goals. They’ll also win a lot of penalties based on Hazard’s start and Mata’s playmaking.

  2. Terje says:

    Im sorry to say this but this article show me that you dont know a lot about football.

    You are mentioning a couple og players so lets look at City or Utd. Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy. Are any of those better than Chelseas back four? i would say no with maybe Kompany as better than Terry. Utd Rafael, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra defintly not better.

    This article is just lazy journalisme, if you dont have any better points to come with its better you just keep your opinions for yourself?

  3. Tim says:

    What an embarrassing excuse of an article.

    Are you a spurs fan or something?

  4. Tino says:

    These such a poor article; itacks in substance. Besides ManCoty which team in the league can match Chelsea in player to player depth? And irs all round a retarded article

  5. Dennis says:

    Don’t compare us wid barca, only arsenal worship them, we are our own identity. Fans are optimistic coz we r attacking more than last season and if swansy used average players 2 punish teams i don’t see y u slam ur players.Its team spirit that matter. After all barca want the same D. Luiz 4 €30m. If RDM is incompetent then who has been competent enough 2 win CL with chelsea? All gud coaches have come from small clubs mark u.

  6. james says:

    If Chelsea are so called ‘non-title contender’ who else could it be? Man City were fortunate to win an lowly Anfield due to a shocking Sktrel moment and were uncomfortable. Man Utd were outmuscled by a Everton side and were lucky to win against a Fulham side that are normally poor away from home. Arsenal lost their best 2 players in Van Persie and Song and replaced them with 3 new signings of which only one could be described as quality. So please do inform me who will challenge for the title?

  7. Daniel says:

    This is such a biased article, it almost smacks of a 14 year old school boy’s first attempt at written word since his miraculous recovery from a severe head injury which has not only gifted him with a severe form of dysphasia but a complete absence of any actual knowledge of the subject matter.

    Two thumbs down.

  8. Rmolar says:

    Can you tell us what hope your own team has to winning anything this season? you dont just jump on a worldwide platform and make sweeping statements with no foundation outta bias. I must really say this article makes for a very poor read.

  9. Sir Cecil says:

    As current European Champions and, in just a few weeks time, World Champions, Chelsea supporters will have a good laugh at Mr. Powell’s risible article.

    1. conceptmayor says:

      yeah, cos chelsea have depth and posses world class tireless players, i see us winning at least 3 trophies if not more

  10. simon says:

    Red tinted glasses maybe? Machester clubs are still the two favourite clubs to win the title. Stick to your day job please. If that happens to be writing and analysing football, do the world a favour and quit while you are bad.

  11. emmy says:

    Nice article that shows excellent n lovely use of English language. I totally agree with all you said. Thumbs up

  12. rotimi styles says:

    Sometimes, I wonder how people can be thinking like this,Fi̶̲̥̅̊n̶̲̥̅̊ε̲̅ we shouldn’t get carried away but aleast we have τ̲̅ђε̲̣̣̣̥ depth in squad,it i̶̲̥̅̊s̶̲̥̅̊ clear you are an antichelsea,talking of lampard Α̲̅πϑ cole,guess U̶̲̥̅̊ need †• Check up urself,wen lamps Α̲̅πϑ cole v truly passed their time,they are still world best players,go check τ̲̅ђε̲̣̣̣̥ top 10 nominees for uefa award.just shup up Α̲̅πϑ face ur team rather than criticise

  13. Me says:

    This smacks more of sour grapes and wishful thinking than journalism.

  14. Versamuyi says:

    Good analysis but with holes. If u decide to analyse other top 4 teams player by player the way u analysed chelsea players, u will end up saying the same about them too. Even barcelona is not spared on the basis of your analysis

  15. Braderst says:

    . Cheslsea defend well attack with precision and are effective! They may not be as exciting as man city to watch or as many options going forward as utd but they do what they have to do to get the job done. They have won three in three and haven’t given anyway many goals at all, granted they haven’t played the best teams in the league but Newcastle have two brilliant Forwards and have attributes that could see them sneek into fourth place so there’s no doubting they have quality and Chelsea shut them out for a game with conceding only one or two chances, they will be affective against other teams who are better also because of there capabilities at the back and they have over in every defensive position and have just signed a very solid right back in cesar azpilicueta and you name me a better left back than ac that isn’t debatable?

  16. kola says:

    D only reasonable point out of this article is dat we should not get carried away wit chelsea early display. Buy the rest is absolutely rubish! How cud you say chelsea lack quality upfront, may be you are jst tryin to get on our nerves. Dat was how you guyz criticized and condemed us before each of last season champions leaque match and at the end you all eat your worlds. Anyways, we wait for u as d season progresses.

  17. Blue2theCORE says:

    Sometimes when reading football articles you stumble upon( for lack of a better word) fo*ls.I looked at the topic and thought huh let me see what this is about a sensible guy writting some sense but whoa!First I salute James he isnt a chelsea fan clearly but you can see he has no bias and has sense but people like the author you have to wonder how they got their jobs.Chelsea have no quality upfront??do you know chelsea,s squad players?we have the best quality attack in the EPL only city have a better one.Chelsea cannot park the bus??we only packed the bus in three games we couldnt afford to lose if we tried attacking we wouldnt be where we are right now! Instead of saluting RDM tactical genius you say he is incompetent how many mangers have won the UCL even Wenger one of the best managers in football hasnt(Im not saying RDM is better than wenger).Finishing you say Chelsea struggled against Reading and Wigan (noticed you didnt give us credit against newcastle) I dont object to that but the title challengers also have Man City struggled against Southampton and were lucky to get a point against Liverpool,Man U were deservedly beaten by Everton and Fulham gave them a run of thir money.Oh seeing how you have a brainless footballing mind maybe City and Utd arent even your title challengers.

    Chelsea are title contenders whether you admit it or not.Write us off just like you did in the UCL and see.

  18. Martinez says:

    Wow! You really are stupid Mr.powell

  19. andy says:

    you sir,are a true example of how much you people hate chelsea and not to mention you made a strong case of assuring us ur js a pc football analyst by mentioning mascherano… u kidding me ? and messi wait wat …last time I checked its 8 games 0 goals against chelsea. And regarding super FRANKY 10 season 20 f…king goal every season datz legend bit.h, hazard,marin and mata are full of trickery with oscar,moses,sturridge,essien (once best in world box to box midf ),romeu,paizon and defence u gotta b kidding me 4 sure iva scores more goal dan entire barcelona defence combined ,terry stil best cb in pl,luiz may b u dnt watch matches urself ask arjen robben ,cahill growing great prob best replacment 4 terry and cole huh best lb in world ask messi,cr7 … cech da best ever … chelsea wil win ucl,and epl,fa ds year watch it… btw city shaky start and united twice js manage to win bt cudnt c u mocking dm typical uefalona fan

  20. Sam says:

    Mr powel or wateva u call urself, i really wonda hw u got dis job,oh i c u bribed jst as usual.pls if u dnt know wat 2 say or write about go n sleep or perhaps u shuld go bak 2 skul n start learnin hw 2 write over again.pls u shuld equaly write us off jst as u did last season n c d wondas dat wil hapen.up hazard,up moses,up chelseafc

  21. Florian Powell says:

    Thanks for reading. Two things:

    One – I didn’t write Chelsea off in last season’s Champions League. There’s a betting slip somewhere in an old pair of jeans that shows that.

    Two – I’m happy to take criticism, but please make sure I understand why my article is so bad by writing in eligible English or French. Preferably with punctuation.

    -FP

  22. Ben says:

    I don’t knw why u guy even reply to dat bullshit he wrote in the name of article.he is an ungrateful man period.

  23. Ben Bitok says:

    You appeared to now football but you completely lost the facts and in effect giving a real picture of your unreal and partial thoughts. Let us begin with defence, you said David luiz, Ivanovic and cahill are lacking in qualities to make chelsea to be called title challengers?! You must be insane atleast in football. Even that barca u’ve heaped so much praise, wanted to sign one David Luiz. I wonder what you would say of him if he ever crosses(dnt smile it won’t happen)…when you talk of Raul Merriles being better than lamps then one wonders wht the hell footbal u talkin about! Am not saying lamps is the best but raul does not came anywhere near him! Ashley cole,malouda and raul are the ppl who shud leave chelsea and you were mean on that. As for di matteo he might not be best manager but hes trying. Anyway it appears to me are just a hater and your core business is to discredit chelsea not to discuss footbal as it is.

  24. Dev says:

    Powell,I bet ur one of those ABC (Anybody but Chelsea) trolls. Everyman and his dog said we wouldn’t recover from Napoli but we did,then beat Napoli,Benfica,Barcelona and Bayern Munich in their own stadium. Just because the pundits never gave Chelsea a chance,they could only explain it one way by claiming we were lucky. I bet if we end up winning the EPL,you would come up with more excuses. Hehehe. Champions of Europe and laughing @ the haters.

  25. Xzecute says:

    Hey guys, take it easy. Don’t you understand what Florian is trying to do?

    He’s trying to provide a analytical counterpoint to Chelsea’s story so far this season and by taking OTT, extremely critical views, encourage discussion of Chelsea’s weaknesses, of which there are many. And I’m sure we all agree with this.

    And Florian, most of the people who will read this article will be serious Chelsea fans, and IQ’s frequently drop when you’re dissing the club they support and love.

    I do agree that Frank Lampard’s older but he’s definitely not past it. Give me Lamps any day, but no further forward than CM or CDM. No more stupid shots from distance please.

    With respect to Ash, he’s still one of the best left backs in the world, ridiculous point. And we have excellent cover in Ryan Bertrand.

    Re: your comments about RDM you’re obviously just trying to provoke a response by being controversial.

    RDM has proved himself pretty much up to the task at Chelsea, tactically and man-management-wise.

    And as another poster mentioned, we only parked the bus in 3 matches and really because it increased our chances of winning.

    RDM recognized winning was the main thing required of him and he did what he had to do with the personnel that were available at the time. I salute him for almost always getting the tactics spot on.

    Now he’s got different players it’s only taken a few games to thoroughly change the way Chelsea play and revive Torres (something 2 much more decorated managers before him completely failed to do).

    RDM has 1. Reinvigorated Fernando Torres. Whether that was down to Hazard or not, he’s completely changed the team mentality as the previous midfield took stupid potshots from distance instead of supplying the striker.

    2. Got them to play to the new central striker’s strengths – through balls, ground passes and interplay rather than pointless crosses and hopeful long balls.

    3. Beat Barcelona (with an on-fire Messi), home win (clean sheet against the best attacking side in the world) and 2-2 away draw, and beat Bayern Munich on their own ground in a CL final. We even scored more beautiful goals than Barca did, first chipping Valdes then dribbling past him to tap into an empty net.

    4. Won Chelsea the Champions League. How many top managers have tried and failed to get this done even under less pressure than RDM?

    5. Shown the intelligence to successfully adapt his tactics to suit the available players and the opponents’ strengths and styles of play.

    6. Managed and settled one of the most ornery and troublesome squads in the Premiership, egos knocking together, player power sacking experienced managers and language-based cliques all over the place.

    7. Successfully begun replacement of the all-powerful old guard and also begun laying the foundation for Chelsea’s future success.

    8. Made really really excellent buys this season, I can’t really see any potential flops. And with Chelsea’s history of buying players and throwing them away, I think thats pretty good.

    8. Maintained the good relationship with the media that Ancelotti built up and AVB tried to sour.

    9. Kept his job and even got promoted by one of the most trigger-happy, hardest to please club owners in the world.

    Everything RDM has touched so far has turned to gold. If Pep or Mourinho had taken over from AVB and accomplished what RDM has to date, the media would be oohing and aahing and falling over themselves to congratulate him and shower him with accolades. Manager of the season, definitely.

    RDM isn’t incompetent. At best he’s a genius, a true gem once hidden but now exposed. At worst he’s what I suspect Pep Guardiola was at Barcelona – an extremely good fit for his club, whose appointment coincided with the gelling or maturing of a really good set of players.

    Sometimes Florian, a good fit is all you need to win trophies and achieve the unexpected. Definitely not incompetent anyway.

  26. Xzecute says:

    Now to the real issues:

    1. Chelsea’s defence is horribly suspect. Did you see how many chances Reading created against us, how easy it was for them to score? Lucky win in my eyes.

    Newcastle also got some gilt-edged chances but just couldn’t put them away. Arsenal, City & United may create and convert even more chances against Chelsea if they don’t lock down that defence.

    2. Chelsea’s confidence is still as shaky as when Ray first left. If Gary Cahill’s Lucky Strike hadn’t woken us up, we would have ended up with an embarrassing, energy-sapping defeat.

    3. No backbone and this worries me. We will not always have the lead. Championships are won by teams that know how to respond when chasing the game.

    Did you notice how the players’ shoulders dropped and play became disjointed when Reading went off script and actually scored a goal?

    Man I miss players like Ballack, leaders in the middle of the park to yell at weak-minded, no-confidence slackers and wake the team the h@ll up.

    4. Hazard is great but how long before some hardman targets him specifically and breaks his leg? We need to give Oscar, Sturridge, Marin and Moses enough playing time that we don’t overly depend on the lad and suffer a slump if he’s unavailable.

    5. Also, how long before some astute manager realizes that Chelsea’s current system leaves huge gaping holes at left & right back for teams to exploit on the break?

    6. Key issue. Second-season blues. We’ve been here before. Recently.

    Does this sound familiar: Chelsea have just won two big trophies. We’ve let go of some aging or underperforming players and sent a couple of young ‘uns on loan to gain experience. We’ve had a p!!ss-poor pre-season but a fantastically successful start to the new season playing brilliant, entertaining football. Who’s the manager?

    Well it’s not RDM, it’s Ancelotti in his second season, the one after we one the League title and FA cup. We’ve got a similar situation now and similar issues; a suspect defence that hasn’t really been tested yet.

    I’m just hoping that when we get the equivalent of our first big test against City two years ago, the wheels don’t come off like they did back then.

    7. Chelsea’s so-called striker shortage.

    This is the one all the pundits are talking about, but funnily enough I’m not worried about this “issue” at all. Frankly, I think they lack insight.

    With the kind of speedy, creative, mobile, unselfish football the midfield is playing nowadays, whether Torres is available or not, Chelsea will score goals. If the designated striker doesn’t score it will likely be because the system is faltering, not the player. The first choice and alternatives we have now are good enough.

    Whether its Sturridge (whom I suspect might actually score more goals than Torres under the new system, unless the old Torres fully returns), Piazon, Moses, Hazard or Oscar that up front in this system, whoever it is will bang in goals as long as he is speedy, intelligent and composed.

    It’s just like Barca, any decent, pacy striker that plays ahead of their midfield will score goals because he will continuously be on the receiving end of high quality service. It will not all depend on him to make his own goals. Which unfortunately was the case with Chelsea in the past.

    In fact I don’t think we need to panic and buy Schurrle. This season could be the (re)making of Torres, Sturridge and Piazon. And give Todd Kane games. That boy is fantastic! In fact Kane & Hutch are as ready to be promoted as Bertrand. Piazon maybe a little less so.

    I’m quite glad that Lukaku didn’t get his chance this season for two reasons:

    1. His loan deal gives him games, development time and the anger-motivation to become the player we know he can become.

    2. If he’d stayed, his Drogba-like frame might have tempted Chelsea to revert to the lazy “long ball to big striker” football of old (aka hit and hope football).

    This would bypass the midfield entirely and completely misuse his physical strength, wasting it in pointless, stupid hold-up play and ultimately draining his goal output just like it did to Drogba.

    Long ball and hold up would also ignore his excellent pace and technical skills, which would be a huge waste.

    Sending him away forces Chelsea to play smart, supportive football so when he comes back, he’ll return to a system that will get the best out of him rather than turn him into a donkey that’s forced to carry large baskets of the team’s um… wasted potential.

    Which was Drogba’s role at Chelsea, by the way. Turning crap into gold.

  27. Grant James says:

    I disagree with a lot of this, and agree with some of it. The most astounding is the criticism of Gary Cahill. He’s been absolutely superb since signing. If you fancy a more in-depth read of my thoughts, you can read my Chelsea Season Preview. I covered some of these things. The lack of a backup goalkeeper is quite alarming. You can find the article here: http://www.football-analysis.com/chelsea-201213-season-preview/

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