Serious problems emerge for Chelsea
In the space of a few months, Chelsea has gone from the top of the table to struggling misfits. Ten points from a possible 33 in their last eleven games has left the reigning champs reeling.
Such is the devastating run of form, the Stamford Bridge faithful are now focused on Champions League qualification for next season; a far cry from back-to-back league titles, which seemed almost inevitable, such was the fluency and dominance in the early weeks of competition.
Roman Abramovich, the ruthless Russian owner, is witnessing his Chelsea empire crumble from underneath him, and unless he acts fast, the situation will become almost irretrievable.
Firstly, the manager, Carlo Ancelotti, must be given time and funds to turn this slump around. Ancelotti is a man worth persevering given the reputation he has earned in his managerial years. Ancelotti is a calming figure, rarely making brash statements, undermining referees or opponents. He has ignited a team spirit at Chelsea, which is sometimes difficult to harness at big clubs.
He also has a good resume, which includes European glory with AC Milan, whilst his league and FA Cup double last season should earn him more time. Ancelotti was a big coup for the club in the summer of 2009 and should the search be on again, it would be difficult to find a similar calibre of manager. Above all else, he is part of a long-term process for the club. This is to develop an attacking and winning identity whilst being financially viable. Under Ancelotti, progress has been made on these fronts.
The Chelsea squad is still one to be reckoned with; it just needs some serious rejuvenation. John Terry has stood tall throughout the rot and his captaincy is inspirational. Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Michael Essien, Ashley Cole and goalkeeper Petr Cech are the players the squad rebuilding needs to take place around. Frank Lampard still has a few years left and Didier Drogba is still a big player.
The problem Chelsea has is squad depth. The starting eleven are among the best in Europe, but football teams are about more than eleven players. Chelsea is now counting the cost of Ancelotti’s vicious selling last transfer window. The players who departed Stamford Bridge left Chelsea with a bare squad, which relied on young academy prospects far too much.
As a result, the inevitable injuries which come in a long season have dented the team hugely. Lampard left a gaping hole in the Chelsea midfield and their loss of two centre backs simultaneously exposed the side’s defensive frailties. Even now, with a largely fully fit squad, the players seem exhausted due to their amount of game time as Ancelotti has been reluctant to give starts to his young players.
The upside is that Roman Abramovich needs to decide whether he is content with the period of mediocrity which threatens to absorb Chelsea. But If he wants Chelsea to continue to grow as a footballing powerhouse, he must provide funds for investment. Ancelotti, who he must stand by as manager, needs to buy up big. The current football market is one of inflated values, which isn’t helped if Manchester City are after the same player.
Benfica’s David Luiz has been the much talked about as the possible answer to Chelsea’s defensive issues. The imposing defender would provide needed cover centrally and at right back, two problem positions for the Blues.
Luiz will come at a price though, his buyout clause at the Portuguese club said to be 45 million pounds. A less expensive option would be Bolton’s Gary Cahill, who has impressed at the back for the trotters this season, with Ancelotti said to be a fan.
Chelsea’s inability to score was highlighted during the weekends 1-0 defeat to struggling Wolves. The expensive option up front would be a player like AC Milan’s Alexandre Pato who is thought to be keen to link up with his old manager. Athletico Madrid’s Argentinean sensation Sergio Aguero would also cost the Russian serious money, but it’s what’s needed for the Blues to return to their best.
The other factor for Abramovich to consider is adhering to UEFA’s financial rules which come into place next season, ordering clubs to break even by spending no more than they generate over the respective season. Ancelotti worked hard to reduce the clubs wage bill last summer and chief executive Ron Gourlay’s goal has been to make the club self-sustainable.
Buying big would be a setback to Chelsea’s financial goals as well as taking a serious dip into Roman Abramovich’s pockets. Roman Abramovich has some serious thinking to do; does he really want the club to become a dominant force in European football? Or is the Russian billionaire tired of his latest ‘play thing’ and the problems its causing him?
There are still things to salvage this season; a fourth FA Cup in five seasons and the jewel in the crown, a first ever Champions League win.