For a little while now Chelsea have considered themselves to be London’s top team and from their successes over the past 10 years few could argue. Roman Abramovich flew in to Chelsea on his chopper and literally transformed a top 6 side in to title contenders in the space of a season. The days of having players like Paul Furlong, John Spencer and Jody Morris seem to be long gone as Chelsea have gone through a period of paying big transfer fees for some of the world’s best players. As we start a tough December run of fixtures, Chelsea are going through a massive transition period and not all is rosy at Stamford Bridge as the club have endured a difficult start to this season both on and off the pitch.
Andre Villas-Boas (AVB) has come in to Chelsea as a young manager with a fresh approach. AVB has put his faith in youth as he desperately tries to reduce the average age of his playing squad. No one’s place has been safe in the Chelsea line-up as previous mainstays like Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Frank Lampard have found themselves in and out of the starting XI. Change at Chelsea is ongoing and for the first time we have seen cracks of discontent surface from the Chelsea squad.
As January approaches, it has been confirmed by club, player and manager that transfer requests made by both Nicolas Anelka and also defender Alex have been accepted. Anelka still has a lot to offer any side as it seems the time is right to leave after nearly 4 years at Chelsea with his contract coming to an end. Speculation about the future of Anelka has been floating around for a while, he has attracted interest from Europe, Asia and the MLS as clubs want to get a couple more playing years out of a player who has played for many of Europe’s top teams.
It may come as a surprise to many that AVB is letting a player with the stature of Anelka leave and also a player like Alex, who can provide half-decent cover at centre-back, a position where Chelsea are short. Other players rumoured to be leaving in January are Kalou, Bosingwa, Ferriera, Malouda and also Didier Drogba. From these five, the only player to clarify their future is Drogba whose agent has agent went public on the fact Drogba had rejected a one-year extension offer at Chelsea. Drogba’s agent clarified “At Didier’s age, he has nothing left to prove as a player. He will go where he is offered the most money” at least he’s honest.
It may well be that Drogba doesn’t leave until the end of the season, either way big changes are afoot at Chelsea. AVB has had a tough job at a club that is renowned for being run by the players rather than the management and AVB has changed this, putting a few noses out of joint in the process. There have been rumours of disharmony from behind the scenes at the club, players aren’t happy with the changes AVB is trying to implement and no player can survive on reputation alone anymore. Even record signing Fernando Torres has found himself on the bench recently, despite an encouraging start to the season as AVB stamps his authority. AVB has set out his plans for Chelsea’s evolution by putting his trust and faith in youth over age and experience where possible.
AVB needs to change a lot at Chelsea, despite the club’s successes, as the old boys club that underpinned the Chelsea side over the past few years is breaking up. Chelsea’s style of play and tactics during the reigns of Mourinho and Ancelotti did not differ dramatically and neither did the playing personnel, but now widespread change is upon Chelsea. For Chelsea to finish in the top four this season will be an achievement, there are not too many sides who could undergo such a facelift and still perform to a high level.
Chelsea face one of their biggest tests of the season tonight as they battle to stay in the Champions League against in-form Valencia. Chelsea must win or ‘park the bus’ to secure a goalless draw if they are going to progress in a tournament that is of paramount importance to the club. It is not just Champions League where they face tough tests this month, Chelsea have to play both Manchester City and Tottenham in the Premier League and having already lost 4 games, another 2 losses could affectively put them out of contention for a top 3 birth this season.
Once December is out of the way AVB and Roman Abramovich will be in a good place to make a fair assessment of where Chelsea really are at this season and what realistic goals for the team should be. Unfortunately for Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Spurs, Liverpool and to a certain extent Arsenal, are all pretty settled teams now in good form. Chelsea are yet to beat a top 5 side this season and have already lost twice to Liverpool in the league and the Carling Cup which suggests Chelsea have lost a bit of edge.
In a week where both rising-star Daniel Sturridge and the departing Didier Drogba, have backed AVB stating that Chelsea seem to be ‘coming together’ and also that AVB’s true work will be ‘realised in future’, it must be a timely boost for a manager under pressure from the weight of expectation a club like Chelsea carries. Tonight’s Champions League game against Valencia is a huge test of ability and character for the Chelsea players and also AVB. In front of the home fans this is a must win game and if Chelsea lose and fail to qualify for the next stages of the Champions League no doubt some will call for AVB’s head.
It will not only be interesting to see which Chelsea turn up tonight, but it also be interesting to see how Chelsea evolve throughout December and what they do in the transfer market. Chelsea fans should probably write-off this season as title contenders and just take whatever success they can get as Chelsea prepare for life under a young manager who wants to transform Chelsea in to a young team.