Chelsea fans have become used to exciting transfer windows. For most of Roman Abramovich’s ownership of the club, the Blues have splashed millions and millions of pounds on high profile targets.
At the same time, rival fans have criticized Chelsea. The allegation is that Abramovich has “ruined” football, by making the game about whoever has the most money. Whoever spent the most would win the most.Yet this summer, the roles have been switched entirely.
United have already dropped £70 million on improvements, and there are no indications that Louis Van Gaal is stopping any time soon. Arsenal has brought in Petr Cech, for almost £10 million, a massive step towards solidifying their backline.
City spent nearly £50 million on Raheem Sterling alone, and another £8 million on Fabian Delph. Liverpool has brought in Roberto Firmino and Nathaniel Clyne for a combined £41 million. Meanwhile, Chelsea has bought… who? Falcao was brought in on loan, and Asmir Begovic has replaced Cech as the number two keeper. Nathan, a young Brazilian, was also purchased. None of these players are really the big names that Chelsea fans were looking for. Falcao is seemingly washed up, three years out of his prime, and will only feature when Diego Costa needs rest. While a solid backup to Thibaut Courtois is important, it isn’t flashy.
The lack of activity has worried fans. While Chelsea’s main title rivals are improving their squads, Jose Mourinho is seemingly content with his. Players have vocalized that feeling. Nemanja Matic told the Daily Mail “Our team was champion and a team that is champions is ready for everything. I think we have enough.”
Matic continued “Maybe other teams will sign lots of players but that may be worse for them. It is sometimes better to stay with the same team for stability. I am sure that if we stick to doing what we are capable of, we can achieve a lot this season.”
Branislav Ivanovic agreed with Matic’s assessment, saying “When teams are not happy with their situations, they need to make big signings but we know what we have to do. We have to look at ourselves, be strong mentally and more ready for extra pressure.”
Both Matic and Ivanovic said that, at the moment, Chelsea’s squad is strong enough to defend the title. Matic said later in the piece that winning the Champions League was not a matter of upgrades in talent, but upgrades in focus.
Matic: Maybe others will sign lots of players but that maybe worse for them. It is sometimes better to stay with the same team for stability
— ChelsTransfer (@ChelsTransfer) July 20, 2015
Yet, no one outside of Stamford Bridge denies that Chelsea does need, in some places, significant upgrades.
Eden Hazard is responsible for the vast majority of Chelsea’s offence. He is the only player in Chelsea’s team who can create all on his own. He can score and assist. His runs tear apart defenses. Because Chelsea has only one such player, however, teams can shut down Hazard, and thus shut down the Blues attack.
Another player in Hazard’s type would transform the Blues from the dominant English team to one of the best in Europe. Mario Götze, Gareth Bale, or Antoine Griezmann all present viable options to share Hazard’s burden.
Chelsea could use another upgrade in the center of the park, as well. Since Frank Lampard left, and even before that, the Blues have lacked the box-to-box midfielder that he was in his prime. A player who can defend with strength, break with pace, create for others, and score crucial goals. Paul Pogba looks like just the player to fill that hole. He is more athletic and physical than Lampard ever was, and is defensively solid. Although he lacks what Lampard brought in playmaking, Pogba is a definite goal scorer, and will take a burden off Hazard.
And yet, Chelsea has taken no action. Some light rumors have linked Götze and Griezmann with Stamford Bridge, but neither move seems to be anywhere in the foreseeable future. Bale, on the other hand, looks set to gain a new role of importance in Rafa Benitez’s Real side. Mourinho actually shot down any Pogba speculation several days ago. “I think everyone has an interest in Pogba,” he told the Guardian. “But there are things you can do and things you cannot do. I love the Eiffel Tower but I can’t have the Eiffel Tower in my garden. I can’t even have the Eiffel Tower of Las Vegas.”
In the context of the article, where Mourinho earlier said that any team Pogba goes to immediately becomes better, that quote makes no sense. If Pogba is that good of a player, then why should he say that Chelsea can’t afford him? This is Roman Abramovich we’re talking about, a man who spent £2 billion on the club in his first decade at the Bridge.
There are several ways to explain Chelsea’s inactivity this window, and a lack of funds is not one of them.
Firstly, Mourinho and the management could genuinely be satisfied with the squad. Even as United, City and Arsenal all reload for title challenges, Chelsea looks like the only one without a hole in the starting XI. Sure, some parts need to be improved upon, but for now, the Blues should be okay.
Secondly, this could indicate a shift in Chelsea’s transfer and youth policies. Previously, the club had sought to improve only through transfers. The academy was unimportant.
But recent events have shifted Abramovich and Chelsea away from reckless spending. The most important was the Fernando Torres incident. The Blues spent £50 million on Torres, only to have the Spaniard score just 20 goals in 110 appearances.
Abramovich had wasted money before, but this was different. Torres went long periods without goals (his first 910 minutes with the club were barren), and often looked timid in front of the net. Although he scored important goals, and found his form briefly under Benitez, the Torres of Chelsea was never the prolific goal scorer of Liverpool.
The embarrassment of Torres has since spurred Abramovich to spend more carefully. On top of that, the new FFP restrictions have made balancing the books more important than ever. Now, Chelsea seeks to not only buy players for good prices, but also sell them for good prices.
Most importantly, both of those events pushed Chelsea towards developing its academy. Young talents, like Ruben Loftus Cheek and Dom Solanke, have been at the club for most of Abramovich’s time. But only in the past two or three years have fans begun to pay attention to, and care about, the youth teams.
The fact that Jose isn’t looking to Pogba, Bale, or Griezmann to fill in the gaps could mean that he is looking to the youths. Solanke, Loftus-Cheek and Jeremie Boga could all be playing more important roles at the club this year, and in coming years.
There is also a third way to explain the lack of activity, but it is a much more unlikely possibility. It could be that Jose actually doesn’t want anyone on the market right now. Maybe he actually doesn’t think that Pogba is all that good, or at the least worth the money.
Maybe he would like Bale or Griezmann, but wants to wait it out. Benitez is doing everything he can to keep a discontented Bale at Real, even giving him a new, more central role. But maybe after one more year of hate from his own fans, Bale will be ready for a move back to the UK, and Jose will be waiting with arms open.
Greizmann has only played one year at a top club, and Jose might be keeping his distance until he sees more of what he likes. With Euro 2016 in the summer, Mourinho might even wait till August to make his move.
In reality, Chelsea’s lack of activity can be explained by some combination of the first two. Chelsea’s XI really is better than those of the Arsenal, United and City, and continuity is a factor that cannot be undervalued in an ever changing league.
Mourinho really does seem to genuinely want to give youths a chance, and has talked about Loftus-Cheek gaining consistent minutes this season. Given Loftus-Cheek’s style, bringing in Pogba would be redundant, and would kill the youngster’s hopes of ever breaking into the first XI. Both are box-to-box midfielders, and while Pogba is ready now, Loftus Cheek has time to study under Matic, one of the best holding midfielders in the world, before he needs to take over the starting role.
Chelsea fans shouldn’t be worried about the lack of activity. While the other title challengers certainly look much stronger than they were this time last year, it will be hard to knock the Blues off the pedestal.
This summer shows that Chelsea and Mourinho don’t conform to others. As rivals load up on talent, the champions sit back. As United, Arsenal, Liverpool and City all spend buckets on upgrades, Mourinho works on perfecting the squad he has. Chelsea fans have no reason to be worried. The Blues are doing just fine.[separator type=”thin”]
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Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea: Three talking points from the Etihad
Manchester City managed to beat Chelsea for the second time this season as they continue their march to the Premier League title. The contest was far from entertaining, as the visitors showed no interest in playing football and instead to soak in pressure.
Pep Guardiola’s team didn’t have to get out of second gear and it was a more comfortable victory than they would have been expecting. The Citizens are now 18 points clear at the top of the table and remain on target for 100 points, which would be a superb achievement.
Meanwhile, Chelsea sit outside of the Champions League places and are now five points behind Tottenham in fourth position. They will need a near perfect end to the season if they are to avoid missing out on qualification for next season’s competition. Here are three talking points from the Etihad Stadium…
David Silva showed his class
The 32-year-old has been at Manchester City for the majority of their journey from Premier League also-rans to elite super club and he remains a crucial player for them under Pep Guardiola.
If he had been in the team for the entire campaign, he would be running Kevin de Bruyne close for the PFA Player of the Year award. He is a classy operator who seems to get better with age.
He got the important assist for the winning goal with a superb piece of play and that is becoming par for the course for the Spanish international. Silva completed 95% of his passes and made three key passes during the contest. Meanwhile, he was very good out of possession as he made three ball recoveries.
It has been incredible to watch Pep Guardiola get all of his attacking talent on the pitch at one time, but the improvement of both Silva and De Bruyne off the ball has helped achieve that.
They are now complete midfielders and capable of thriving in both halves of the pitch. The midfielder is a club legend and supporters will be hoping that he has a few years left in him.
Antonio Conte continues to make puzzling decisions
Last season, the Italian was lauded every week as his side won the league title comfortably, but he has failed to follow it up with a good second campaign. There have been a lot of problems for Chelsea this season including recruitment, tactics and player performance.
They have been reliant on Eden Hazard and as the campaign has progressed, the team have lost their intensity, which suggests they no longer believe in Conte.
Their 3-4-2-1 formation was revolutionary, but they have moved away from it frequently this season and haven’t been able to settle on a first eleven. That was one of Chelsea’s strengths last season. Gary Cahill and David Luiz have been sidelined, while Alvaro Morata has failed to replace Diego Costa sufficiently.
On Sunday, Conte chose to field Hazard as a lone frontman, but he struggled to impact the game in that role. He is best when having space in front of him to run into and he didn’t have that against Manchester City.
The Belgian international was isolated and touched the ball only 31 times. It was a tactical error and one that blunted Chelsea’s attack before a ball was kicked.
Ilkay Gundogan is flourishing in the middle of the park for Manchester City
The former Borussia Dortmund midfielder has had his problems since arriving in the Premier League.
He has suffered a few injuries and that has seen him struggle to secure a regular starting berth, but he has featured prominently in recent weeks and is perfect for the system. Gundogen recycles possession effectively and that is required, especially when the opposition team sits deep.
Gundogen touched the ball more than any other player on the pitch with 181 touches and was very good at distributing the ball quickly. He finished the match with a 96% pass success rate, which shows his role.
He wasn’t taking any risks and he didn’t have to. City have a lot of attacking talent and the German international isn’t required to try risky passes to influence the game.
Although Chelsea didn’t get on the ball much, Gundogen broke up the play when required with four ball recoveries. Fernandinho’s absence could allow the 27-year-old to secure the place on a permanent basis and he does offer more in the role, especially in possession. It was a strong performance and one of the standouts in a dull affair.
Manchester United 2-1 Chelsea: Three talking points from Old Trafford
Rob Meech brings us three talking points as Manchester United overcame top four rivals Chelsea at Old Trafford on Super Sunday.
Goals from Romelu Lukaku and Jesse Lingard helped Manchester United record a crucial victory over Premier League top-four rivals Chelsea.
In-form Willian had fired the visitors in front on 32 minutes before Lukaku restored parity shortly afterwards.
Both sides looked capable of snatching all three points, but it was substitute Lingard who had the decisive say when he nodded in Lukaku’s cross.
Alvaro Morata thought he had equalised for Chelsea late on but it was erroneously ruled out for offside, denying the Blues what, on balance, would have been a deserved point.
Here are three talking points as United reclaimed second spot and moved six points clear of Chelsea.
Lukaku makes a statement at long last
He was at the centre of a tug-of-war between United and Chelsea last summer before eventually joining the Red Devils to be reunited with Jose Mourinho, with whom he had worked at Stamford Bridge.
It is fair to say the Belgian’s not entirely justified the huge transfer fee, but this performance suggests the tide could be turning.
His goal, which settled United after a shaky start, was the first he had scored against a top-eight club this season and it could not have been more timely.
Emboldened by his strike, the 24-year-old looked back to his menacing best and, although Thibaut Courtois denied him a second of the afternoon, the Belgian played a key role in United’s winner.
His chipped ball to Lingard was inch-perfect, handing the England man an opportunity he couldn’t refuse to put the hosts in control.
This wasn’t a vintage United performance by any stretch, but it bore all the hallmarks of a Mourinho team.
Chelsea’s top-four hopes suffer a blow
It has not been an easy period for Chelsea boss Conte, who had to face questions about his own future following shock defeats to Bournemouth and Watford.
He answered his critics to some degree as the Blues held mighty Barcelona to a draw in the Champions League in midweek.
This was another improved display from his charges, with no suggestion that they are not playing for their manager.
Willian’s goal was well deserved but their lead lasted only seven minutes.
Chelsea can feel aggrieved that Morata, who had earlier hit the woodwork, had a late effort ruled out for offside when he appeared to be level.
Nevertheless, the Blues now sit in fifth place, two points behind Tottenham Hotspur who saw off Crystal Palace earlier in the day.
There are still 30 points to play so all is not lost for Chelsea, despite this setback.
But with competition so fierce, Conte knows his side face an uphill climb to finish in a Champions League spot.
Super-sub Lingard presses his case
While Lukaku had struggled to have an impact in the crunch games, the same cannot be said about Lingard.
He was in sparkling form earlier this season, scoring six goals in a nine-match spell over the festive period.
Although that form tailed off to an extent, the 25-year-old reminded Mourinho of his ability to make something happen.
Ten minutes after coming on for Anthony Martial, Lingard was at the centre of the celebrations when he converted Lukaku’s cross.
Despite having a peripheral role at times, this was his 13th goal in all competitions for United this season.
England boss Gareth Southgate is a known admirer of Lingard’s and, with World Cup selection on the horizon, the United academy product will be hoping to get as much game-time as possible in order to book his place on the plane to Russia.
After this telling cameo against Chelsea, Mourinho may have a hard time leaving him out of the starting XI.
Willian’s form shows he can provide the support Eden Hazard needs at Chelsea
Willian’s form for Chelsea of late suggests he could play a key role in the Blues’ season run-in, writes Jack Jackman.
The performances from Willian over the past week have been excellent and Chelsea will be hoping that he can maintain that level for the season run-in.
The Blues have been too reliant on Eden Hazard this season and, quite often, if the Belgian international doesn’t perform, the team don’t win.
They have been labelled a one-man team by some on social media and that hasn’t been an unfair accusation. However, there has been an improvement during the last three matches and their Brazilian international has been a major reason for that.
The upturn in form started with a win over West Brom in the Premier League. It wasn’t an excellent performance by any means, but it was notable as it put an end to their winless run and injected confidence into the squad.
The victory also served to provide Antonio Conte with a new enthusiasm that had been lacking when Chelsea had been beaten convincingly by Bournemouth and Watford in back-to-back fixtures.
Although it gave the squad a platform to build on, there remained worries about their motivation and ability to compete with the rest of the top-six.
Hull City offered a tricky test in the FA Cup just days before the return of the Champions League, but Chelsea delivered a professional performance filled with class.
They were 4-0 up by half-time and Willian was the star performer. He scored two goals as he exploded back into form. It could have been a hat-trick for him on another day as he hit the woodwork in the closing moments.
It was an all-action display from the 29-year-old and he looked to have motivation that he had been lacking earlier in the season. Every time, the ball arrived at his feet, he would be positive in his choices.
During the match, he completed six dribbles, attempted four shots and made four key passes. He couldn’t have been more influential and his efforts earned him an opportunity against Barcelona.
Willian didn’t let his manager down during the contest with the La Liga side. It is one thing playing well in the FA Cup against lower league opposition and a completely other thing to show up when it matters most.
During his Chelsea career, the Brazilian international had always been a dangerous player, but he hadn’t proven himself in the biggest matches and that is why managers have been reluctant to make him a regular starter at Stamford Bridge.
That may have changed in the Champions League as he delivered a man-of-the-match display against one of the best teams in Europe.
Few thought that Chelsea could compete with Barcelona, but they showed that they could and earned a credible 1-1 draw in the first-leg. Willian was central to that success and with a bit more luck, they would have won the game.
The Brazilian international hit the woodwork twice and it looked like it wasn’t going to be his day. They were two excellent efforts from range and showed his quality from outside the area.
Willian is capable of scoring from anywhere inside the final third and in recent weeks, it looks like he has been given more encouragement to shoot on sight.
He didn’t lose his confidence and eventually he did find a way past Marc-Andre ter Stegen as he fired his side into a lead.
There wasn’t much to choose between his performances against Hull City and Barcelona, but the latter was more meaningful.
He completed six dribbles, attempted four shots and made four key passes, the exact same numbers as he produced in the FA Cup.
Willian has been accused of lacking consistency in the past, but that can’t be directed at him over this past week.
In addition to his attacking threat, the 29-year-old forward worked hard out of possession and that is important against a team like Barcelona.
The visitors dominated possession with 73% and Chelsea needed every player on the pitch to contribute off-the-ball.
Willian played his part as he won two tackles. Pedro is seen as the more industrious player when compared to his Brazilian team-mate and that may be part of the reason why he is picked to start more often.
However, that may change during the last few months of the season, as Willian has showed that he can combine work rate with attacking threat.
Chelsea’s problems lie in attack and the Brazilian could emerge to provide the support that Eden Hazard desperately needs.
Despite only starting 13 times in the Premier League this season, he has contributed four goals and six assists, with a goal involvement every 123.9 minutes.
Since the 2015/16 season, Willian has struggled to be as important to the team. During that campaign, he won both Chelsea Player of the Year and Player’s Player of the Year. Chelsea didn’t do well that year and finished in a lowly 10th position.
In hindsight, the attacker’s accomplishments were dampened by the team’s underachievement. Now, he has a real opportunity to reach those standards again, but this time in a side challenging for major honours.
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