The Premier League season is nearly upon us and last year’s runners-up are looking to go one better this year and lift the title come next May, but is that a realistic possibility or is it just a dream for the coming campaign?
For me, the new man in charge at Chelsea is a very significant appointment. Andre Villas-Boas, known simply as AVB, has already been at Chelsea during the Roman Abramovich era; he knows how the club works and also has worked previously with some of the players which is a big plus. The biggest question mark over him is how will he cope with the pressure from the owner to win trophies straight away, especially after he over-performed with FC Porto last term, winning the domestic double and Europa League – could this be a rod for his own back or could he be the key to Chelsea’s success this season? In my opinion the appointment of AVB as Chelsea’s leader is a symbol of how times have changed at Chelsea. Over the past few seasons all the talk has been of an ageing squad, with stars such as Terry, Cech, Cole, Lampard, Anelka and Drogba, players who Chelsea built previous success on, in their 30’s and nearing the twilight of their careers. Whether Abramovich did this consciously or not, the appointment of AVB is more than the appointment of just a manager, it is a signal of intent at a new future at Chelsea. At only 33-years-old, AVB is the youngest ever Premier League manager, which is quite a statement from a club that doesn’t like to take chances. But up to now, tried and tested managers have only had limited success and backing and a change was needed.
The appointment of AVB is the strongest show of intent that Chelsea have made, sending out a clear signal that there has been a shift in their mentality and they are here to build for the future. AVB has characteristics that will help shape football in this country over the coming years; a statistical era is evolving in our modern game, something that AVB embodies.
This comes through in who he signs and how he signs them. With the transfer of Romelu Lukaku all but done, this is a reflection of a new forward-thinking policy Chelsea will adopt over the coming years; Lukaku is only 18, but is a player of high promise and potential and will cost a reported £20m. The reason he isn’t seen as a gamble to Chelsea is because of the way AVB scouts players; he looks at how he was raised, his physical characteristics as well as his statistical data, before signing anyone.
Previously, the recruitment policy at Chelsea has mirrored that of Real Madrid during the previous ‘Galácticos’ era; sign whatever player, at whatever cost, regardless of whether the player will have any resale value or longevity at the club. These signings were supposedly guaranteed to perform. Shevchenko is a classic example of this. With situational, statistical and performance analysis in mind, there is no doubt Shevchenko is a player that AVB would never have signed. Much like AVB, if you are good enough, you are old enough and Chelsea will no longer rely on players approaching their late 20’s as their main signings.
There now seems a greater reluctance to ‘splash the cash’ willy-nilly like times of old; but it is not only Lukaku that embodies a new era at the club, but other signings like Thibaut Courtois, the 19-year-old Belgian keeper and Oriol Romeu, recruited from Barcelona B, who is also 19-years-old, that reinforce this new policy. Chelsea signed Oriol Romeu for only £4.35million and it was a signing that came from nowhere. Chelsea fans were scratching their heads thinking ‘who is this guy?’ and ‘these aren’t the big names we are used to’. The Spanish under-20 player looks very promising but still needs time to evolve as a player and this is what AVB wants. He can shape a player who has had a good education already, but is still young enough to learn mentality as well as tactics and technique. Other managers were all too quick to dismiss other emerging talent like Daniel Sturridge or give players like Josh McEachran a chance in the first team, AVB has taken his time and they are now, more than ever, part of the first team squad. But with young players that still need to be groomed, how will the core aging squad hold up during a long, tiring season? The talent and quality within the squad is high, but if injuries set in like they did last season, will the rest of the squad be able to cope with the extra burden, especially the youngsters?
They have already lost Michael Essien for most of the season but we cannot forget this is a highly talented squad that have strength and depth in all positions.
Chelsea are solid at the back with Terry and Luiz, now that the latter is settled, forming a solid centre back pairing. They have the best left back in the country in Ashley Cole, whilst the right back spot will be contested by Bosingwa and Ivanovic, backed up by the ever reliable Cech. This could be a perfect back-line as AVB shapes the style of how this team plays. AVB is a manager that likes to play attacking, free flowing football, so don’t expect too much change in the 4-3-3 system that previous managers played.
The big question though is how do you fit all the attacking players in? Do you just write off Drogba because of the amount they paid for Torres? Or do you give them both a fair shot, despite the fact they are similar players? Torres is a fantastic goalscorer and it is inconceivable that he won’t do the business for Chelsea this season. The cliche ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’ springs to mind, why shouldn’t we expect Torres to return to top form this season? It wouldn’t surprise me if he was in with a shout for the golden boot at the end of the campaign. With Torres, Drogba, Anelka, Kalou, Sturridge and Lukaku in the ranks, Chelsea certainly seem to have the fire power this season, who will stay and go before 31st August remains to be seen.Frank Lampard is still a key player and will make them tick and with his assists and goals, as will Flourent Malouda, who will want to keep his form up all season after a flying start to last season. Ramires, Benayoun and Mikel will mix with the youngsters to be a midfield force, but this is an area they are short of a player in, so don’t expect their summer signings to have finished.
Chelsea are determined to get their hands back on the title and Abramovich wants them to win the Champions League. Have they got enough in the team to do it? They will certainly be up there in the league challenging both Manchester clubs, but the race for the Premier League title has never been so wide-open, so they have their work cut out. No doubt they will progress through the group stages of the CL, but whether they are ready to win it this early in AVB’s reign remains to be seen. FA and League Cups are distinct possibilities of a trophy though. Will that be enough to keep Abramovich happy and AVB around for more than one season?
Predicted finish: 2nd