Pts: 35 (10-5-5)
Preseason Prediction: 2nd
Accuracy: Don’t want to talk about it
The preseason is the preseason, but it does look like Chelsea has a few more questions than a champion usually does. Their depth has clearly taken a hit in the last couple of seasons, and Carlo Ancelotti will probably have to turn to one of his young kids at some point in a big spot. I mentioned Frank Lampard’s and Didier Drogba’s contributions last seasons, but Florent Malouda was also on fire for much of the campaign as well, a tough form to repeat this time around.
Still, Drogba and Lampard are still two of the best at what they do, Ancelotti is a fine manager, and Chelsea certainly has the players to repeat. But I think they’re going to come up one spot short to one team that might just a little younger and a little hungrier than they are.
Well, unfortunately, I did hit on their weak spots, and I’m sure you were all picturing Jeffrey Bruma when you read “Ancelotti will probably have to turn to one of his young kids at some point in a big spot.” Malouda hasn’t even come close to last year’s form (he has 8 goals, but 6 of them were in the season’s first 6 games), and obviously he’s not alone. Other than the horrible lack of depth, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what has gone wrong, which makes it even more disturbing.
You can blame the midfield, but Ramires and Michael Essien should have able to shoulder the load when Lampard was out. You can blame the defense, but John Terry has actually been in decent form of late. You can blame the strikers, but Drogna has 8 goals and 8 assists.
But if you would have told most Chelsea fans that Paolo Ferreira would make 17 appearances, that might be your first clue that the team is in trouble. And, sadly for Chelsea, things look like they’re going to get worse before they get better, unless Patrick van Aanholt, Gael Kakuta, Josh McEachran suddenly turn into Premier League stars in the next couple of months. Not bloody likely.
Preseason best new signing:
Ramires – Amazingly, Ramires has yet to record a goal or assist in the Premier League in 16 appearances. He was forced into full-time duty earl when Lampard got hurt, but those types of stats are just killing Chelsea this season. Ironically, he has played his best soccer in the last few games, and Chelsea will need him to get a lot better if they want to even make the Champions League next season. And he has to play, there’s no one there to replace him. The Premier League hounds are waiting.
Preseason key player:
Michael Essien – I love Essien’s game, but is he a jinx? Chelsea basically won the title without him last season, his presence wasn’t needed for Ghana to make the quarterfinals of the World Cup, and now Chelsea has fallen apart with him playing every game. He’s got 3 goals, he leads the team in fouls suffered (31, which is a remarkably low number for a team leader), but something is missing. Chelsea would love to have the guy that scored the almost-game winner against Barcelona in the Champions League semifinals a couple of seasons ago. He’s got 3 goals, but a couple of commanding performances would help the team get some much-needed confidence.
Key player now:
Frank Lampard – With Lampard out of the lineup, everyone’s cutting off Ashley Cole getting forward at all costs, basically daring Chelsea’s attack to come from the middle of the field. With Ramires, Essien, and John Obi Mikel as the midfield, he creativity and vision just isn’t there to break decent teams down. Can Lampard, coming off an extended injury layoff and nearing the end of his career, do the job? Chelsea’s Champions League existence probably depends on it.
Inside the numbers:
0 – Number of starts made by Yossi Benayoun before he went down for the season with an injury. It didn’t seem like a huge loss at the time, but boy would Chelsea love to have Benayoun as an option right now.
Outlook: To paraphrase, “Cesc Fabregas is not walking through that door. Lionel Messi is not walking through that door.” Chelsea will likely sink or swim with the squad they currently have, and right now their head is dangerously close to going under.