Andre Villas-Boas’ arrival as the new manager at Chelsea comes at a crucial time for the club in terms of squad transition. The old guard, led by Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Petr Cech, John Terry, and Florent Malouda, have all served the club admirably, and continue to perform at a high level. But, their prime years are coming to an end, and the dynamic young manager must also concentrate on injecting youth into the side and preparing for the future, while at the same time keeping the high standards set by Roman Abramovich.
Nowhere is this more clear than with the forwards Chelsea currently have on their books. In recent years the Blues relied on the prolific Didier Drogba to lead the line, with the Ivorian netting a stunning 29 in the 09/10 league winning campaign, alongside Nicolas Anelka and Salomon Kalou who also had healthy contributions to Chelsea’s success. This was, of course, radically changed with the £50m addition of Fernando Torres from Liverpool in the winter window, and the Spaniard’s struggles to find the net and click with his new team left Carlo Ancelotti with the unenviable position of juggling four strikers with varying form and confidence levels, amidst rumored pressure from Abramovich to play the expensive acquisition Torres. With all four still on Chelsea’s books, and with Daniel Sturridge returning from a successful loan spell with Bolton in which he scored 8 goals in just 12 appearances, it seems there is a crowd even before potential additions are factored in. And considering Abramovich is usually not slow to spend- Villas-Boas is rumored to have an 80m war chest- the rumors regarding Neymar and Falcao seem mean that departures will likely be inevitable as the new manager seeks to mold the squad to his liking.
Drogba, the long-time stalwart, seemed to be the most unsettled by the addition of Torres. With both having very similar roles and styles of play, it often was a force to play them both in the same system, with Ancelotti trying to adapt both into a 4-4-2 system. But with Torres continually turning in subpar performances, Drogba was soon relied on again as the main man in Chelsea’s attack. But the longtime number eleven is 33, and Abramovich may sanction his sale to cash in on him while he still is worth a considerable fee. This would also allow Torres to become the focus of attack. Renewed vigor and inspired performances from Salomon Kalou, who scored 10 goals in just 16 starts, underlined his value to the side, and at the least he can be a valuable option from the bench. But after notching 10 goals for the first time in a Chelsea shirt, and at 25 years of age, Kalou may want more first team opportunities than Chelsea can offer, especially if new players come in. Daniel Sturridge is in a similar situation, having experienced a healthy dose of first team football at the Reebok, and Stoke, Bolton, and others have shown interest in taking the England U21 star on loan, or in a permanent deal.
Though he may not fit into the plans for the coming year at least, Sturridge’s massive potential could make Chelsea loathe to give him up unless the fee was deemed unable to turn down. Lastly, we come to the much-travelled Nicolas Anelka, who has turned out for eight clubs in his career, including Arsenal, Liverpool, Bolton, Manchester City, and Chelsea in the Premier League. Anelka declared himself happy to take his chances in a squad rotation system. Anelka scored just 6 goals in 32 league appearances, below normal standards, but he did manage 7 in 7 starts in the Champions League. Given his age and production, Anelka would be the most likely, and make the most sense, to sell. It would be more productive and forward-thinking to give 21 year old Sturridge or 25 year old Kalou more chances, as they will be around longer. Lastly, we come to potential additions.
FC Porto talisman Radamel Falcao had a season for the history books at Porto, scoring 16 goals in the league to make it a stunning 41 league goals in 2 title-winning seasons, and setting a scoring record in the Europa League including the winner in the final against Braga. He has publicly stated his desire to follow Villas-Boas to Chelsea, with the fee reported to be 26.5m. Falcao’s addition would likely mean the new manager has big plans for his best player from Porto, and a lethal partnership with Torres could be on the cards.
In conclusion, the one apparent certainty going into Chelsea’s 2011/12 campaign should be the increased production and focus on Fernando Torres as the center of their attack, especially if Luka Modric joins from Tottenham. Andre Villas-Boas has a tough task with trimming his first-team squad and establishing a starting eleven, and all eyes will be on Stamford Bridge this summer to see what happens under the Portugese’s reign.