We hit the back stretch of the team-by-team EPL preview countdowns. It's week three, so it's about time to start hitting some of the big boys. What better way to start a Monday than with defending league champion Chelsea? Your preview is courtesy of long-time T.O.P. commentor extraordinaire, Ironic Steel Salesman who still waves the Blue Flag in spite of my constant bashing of anything and everything which transpires at Stamford Bridge. He goes beyond the usual, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba are good routine. He does know him some Chelsea. Enjoy it. Follow him on Twitter, too.
Young Man's Blues
By Ironic Steel Salesman
I tried really hard to get creative for this write-up. Honestly, I tried to come up with something deep and meaningful. Maybe put together an allegory-type posting, comparing Chelsea to a pop culture entity or discussing their place in the soccer world at large. Basically, I was trying to live up to the high standard of well-thought out posts that Cardillo has set.
There are a couple of reasons why I was unable to accomplish this. The first being my self-imposed rule that I would only write this preview at work. I thoroughly enjoy reading and contributing to T.O.P., but there is something extra rewarding about stealing company time to write up a season preview for your favorite EPL team. I guess you could call it justice for not letting me take off for USA-Algeria. Second, with the World Cup going on it’s been a difficult summer to gauge where teams are exactly. Lack of actual transfers and belated summer holidays have made it difficult to judge what each team will look like come August 14, let alone September 1st. (The third and final reason is I’m simply not that good a writer.)
So, you are going to get stuck with a fairly straight-forward, biased analysis of Chelsea’s upcoming season. Given Chelsea’s recent record, I think that’s pretty appropriate. Aside from dick-stomping a few lesser opponents (and Villa) with the kind of scores you’d have in a game of FIFA, Chelsea’s efficient, no-nonsense approach is what has gotten them to their current level. Forget the “champagne football” that Roman Abramovich and the press have been talking about, this side is built to get results.
The question for this season is, can this team play the “beautiful game," get younger, and still win trophies? Basically, can they be Arsenal with a larger wage scale and without an empty trophy case. According to the T.O.P. Guide to Posting, this is the point where I’m supposed to break down the key aspects of Chelsea’s upcoming season in a list format:
Frank Arnesen & The Kids -- You probably haven’t heard too much about Arnesen at Chelsea, but for better or worse you will. His work as head scout (appointed in 2005) has to start producing players who can play with the first team. To date, only Salomon Kalou and John Obi Mikel have made any notable first team contributions. This season, you can expect to see Jeffrey Bruma, Patrick Van Aanholt, Nemanja Matic, Gael Kakuta, and Fabio Borini getting some important minutes. If they aren’t sold or loaned, you could add Michael Mancienne, Sam Hutchinson, and Jack Cork to that list.
If things get really crazy, you could see England’s Next Great Hope -- Josh McEachran. Given Chelsea’s recent transfer policy, as well as the league’s new squad rules, it’s key that the youth team starts to produce guys who can contribute.
Florent Malouda & Ashley Cole -- This is the one area of the field Chelsea have a major advantage over all their rivals. These are the two best left-sided attacking players in England, if not all of Europe. Both were in top form last year, and absolutely dominated almost every game they played. That doesn’t even take into account Yuri Zhirkov, who looked excellent towards the end of the season. The right side is not nearly as dangerous, though Jose Bosingwa gives them a similar dimension if he can come back to full fitness.
On a side note, how crazy was it that Malouda didn’t start for France? Regardless of personal problems with the manager, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think they would have made it out of their group if he had.
Yossi Benayoun, Ramires, and the men they replaced -- You’ve got to think that Benayoun is going to have a tough time, at least initially. He’s replacing Chelsea’s most popular player, the one England player to come out of the World Cup unscathed. He’s even rocking the No. 10 shirt.
I think all things being equal I’d prefer Joe Cole, but if his wage demands were as high as reported it’s good to end up with a class player like Benayoun. I haven’t watched Ramires enough to really know what to expect, but I’m excited to see what he’ll do if and when he signs for Chelsea.
Other than Joe Cole (who I do think will come back to haunt them at some point), I don’t think anyone who left or is rumored to leave is that significant of a loss. Michael Ballack, Juliano Belleti, Deco, and Ricardo Carvalho all are getting up there in years and have had injury/performance issues of late. They’ve done well for the club, but it’s time to move on and give time to some youngsters. I was a little skeptical of the sale of Miro Stoch, but after a lackluster World Cup I think Ancelotti may be correct in saying he’s not cut out for the Premiere League.
The Back Line -- The Chelsea back-line right now can best be compared to my fantasy baseball keeper team every year the day of our draft. I’m really excited about the team in general, but there are some guys coming back from injury, some old hands I’m gambling on, and a couple of young guys I’m counting on producing. Like I wrote earlier, Cole is probably the best left back in the country, and Zhirkov provides great cover. Hell, van Aanholt looked damn good in his limited time and did very well on loan at Newcastle.
John Terry can’t possibly have a worse season off the field, and hopefully he performs better on it. Alex was man of the match for several games towards the end of last season. It will be interesting to see where the Portuguese players fit in. I would think Bosingwa would start at RB, but Branislav Ivanovic really laid claim to that spot last season. Carvalho is maybe their third (or fourth, if you count Ivanovic) best center back at this point and Paulo Ferreira will have to again be happy as Johnny-on-the-spot across the line. There are a lot of bodies back there; the question will be if they can find the right combination of four to lock down the best England has to offer.
Michael Essien -- No player returning from injury can have as much impact on this title race as Essien. At full fitness, he is one of the best midfielders in the world. He is by quite a ways my favorite Chelsea player, so this could be completely biased, but I don't think unreasonable at all. Keep in mind that he is generally considered a tough-tackling, defensive midfielder, then look at his wrong-footed volley against Barcelona again. Then, look at my personal favorite, the screamer against Arsenal. Since Ghana don't have any competitive tournaments for him to get re-injured in the build up to, I think he should be OK for the season. To get my full feelings on him, watch this YouTube clip, and replace the words "Washington" with "Essien."
Bottom Line -- Last year I thought (and declared on this site) that Chelsea were the definitive favorites to win the league back from Fergie’s Jerks. I still think that they are the favorite, but it’s not nearly as much of a slam-dunk. Arsenal’s youngsters have another year of experience under their belt and continued to improve their side through the addition of Maroune Chamakh and the subtraction of William Gallas. Man City continues to buy every available player that don’t go to Real Madrid, and if they can field a team with fewer than five holding midfielders they should be a very serious title contender this year. United are always dangerous, although I still think they are a little light beyond Wayne Rooney, and Liverpool appear to be headed back in the right direction. Not that it’s overly surprising, but I’ll pick Chelsea to win it all. If they can’t reclaim their title, it will be Arsenal.
If not them, probably Blackpool.
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