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. 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.


  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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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