Being champions of Europe helps in the transfer market. The long-running saga over Eden Hazard ended almost immediately after Chelsea’s Champions League victory, and the extremely fast Hulk soon followed. These moves totally transform Chelsea’s stagnant offense, and vault the Blues back nto Premier League title consideration. Manchester City will be hard to beat, but United’s over-cautious transfer policy may give Chelsea a chance at passing the Red Devils.
The more immediate question, however, is who starts, especially in the attacking midfield positions, where, in addition to new signings Hulk, Hazard, and Marin, players like De Bruyne, Kakuta, Benayoun, and Piazon are ready to make the step up.
Perhaps the biggest question is at manager, where public opinion seems to be split about 50-50 as to whether Roberto Di Matteo will stay or leave.
Much of the constant turnaround at this position has come from Abramovich’s desire to win the Champions League. Now that Chelsea have become the first team from London to win the holy grail, RDM should get rewarded with the long-term job. The new signings prove that Chelsea are still ambitious, and give Di Matteo the freedom to try several different styles, instead of just parking the bus, and relying on huge strokes of luck. Everything Di Matteo has done at Chelsea has worked, he is a hero to the fans, and Abramovich can prove that he is not as crazy as he seems.
If Di Matteo stays, he will almost certainly use a 4-2-3-1 formation, a system that fits his squad very well.
At least one thing will stay the same over the summer; only a serious injury will stop Petr Cech from being the starting goalkeeper. Chelsea also has Petr Cech’s successor ready, the young Belgian phenom Thibaut Courtois. One just won the Champions League, the other the Europa League (on loan to Atletico Madrid), and Chelsea will have a top-class starting goalie for a long, long time.
Courtois will be loaned out to another team over the summer, so aging Henrique Hilario or error-prone Ross Turnbull will be the backup. The youth-team keeper, Jamal Blackman, looks very promising.
This area of the squad will be very similar to the 2011-12 version, and that is not a bad thing. John Terry and Gary Cahill, one possible center-back pairing, also play together for the national team. David Luiz will probably start ahead of Cahill; he has immense talent, but is error-prone and somewhat overrated.
As for the fullbacks, Ashley Cole is a strength on the left, while Branislav Ivanovic may have been their best player under Di Matteo.
Gregory van der Wiel, the best defender on Holland’s national team, is Chelsea’s next transfer target, and he is talented enough to start ahead of the versatile Ivanovic, who could be a very useful sub. He may even start next to Terry in the center, or in the defensive midfield. The Serbian’s performances have made him a transfer target for a quite a few teams, including Real Madrid, and he could well be on his way out of Stanford Bridge this summer.
The once-great Jose Bosingwa has been deemed surplus to requirements, leaving this defense, high on talent, and low on depth, even with Sam Hutchinson and Ryan Bertrand as back-ups, especially if Ivanovic leaves.
As for Van der Wiel, the club could use him. They have taken care of their transfer business very quickly and effectively, and would be smart to do the same for the Ajax defender, lest a good performance at Euro 2012 raise the price.
Defensive midfield is this team’s biggest weakness. Only Jon Obi Mikel naturally plays the position, and he has yet to impress a large percentage of Britain. Michael Essien is a shadow of his former self, while Oriol Romeu hasn’t proven himself yet. Frank Lampard, Ramires, and Florent Malouda are all talented, but aren’t defensive midfielders. Either Lampard or Ramires will start in most games, and will join the attack and let Mikel do the defending. In big games, however, Chelsea will want two true defensive midfielders, and will probably start either Romeu or Ivanovic. And what happens if Jon Obi Mikel is injured?
Farther forward, Ramires was extra-ordinary this season, and Lampard is guaranteed a spot in the team, meaning that Raul Meireles will have to move to find a starting place. He is one of the most underrated players in the squad, but was bought to play Andre Villas-Boas’ style and RDM does not have a role for him.
Meanwhile, Josh McEachran, England’s big hope, is the future of the Blues, and will hopefully see a lot of playing time with his already extraordinary talents.
All three new signings, Eden Hazard, Hulk, and Marko Marin play in very similar styles and positions. This is good, not only because they are very good players, and can combine well together, but because winger was Chelsea’s biggest weakness this season.
Hazard, the world’s most wanted creative footballer, seems to have been guaranteed playing time, and a spot in the center of the field, which will push the indispensable Juan Mata wide, seemingly putting Hulk, who is a threat to score whenever he touches the ball, on the right wing, and leaving the vastly underrated Marko Marin out of the squad altogether.
With the new signings, Chelsea has added much needed pace and creativity to Stamford Bridge. Their offensive style will be almost the complete opposite of this year’s, and it will be one into which Fernando Torres fits a lot better.
All three of these players are great finishers, but are more famous for their assists, so look for Torres to start scoring again.
There are quite a few players who looked ready to jump into the weak spot in the starting XI before the transfers. Ulises Davila and Kevin de Bruyne, who impressed in the Eredivise, are both extremely talented, creative, attacking midfielders, whom Chelsea cannot afford to let go to waste. Gael Kakuta is blossoming into a very good winger, and he is raring to get a debut, and show the club his talents. Lucas Piazon is more talented than any of them, waiting to break into not only the Chelsea first team, but also the Brazilian national team.
They will be a very useful group to have on the bench, or to send out on loan.
While these younger players can sit on the bench, or get loaned out, older players, like Yossi Benayoun, impressive on his loan spell at Arsenal, will have to leave Chelsea. Expect Benayoun to stay at Arsenal, along with former Blue Solomon Kalou, who was released earlier this month, and is reported to be one of Arsene Wenger’s targets.
Florent Malouda still has great talent, as he showed by taking control of France’s friendly win over Serbia, but will no longer be able to start on the left wing. He has the skill set to drop into a more defensive role, but Chelsea have the personnel in that position (Lampard, Ramires, McEachran), and Malouda is very inconsistent. He wants to stay, but will likely be forced out.
Didier Drogba and Malouda were once superb in attack together, with a perfect understanding of one other; now the Ivorian too, while still on the squad, will leave in the summer, possibly to join the last member of Chelsea’s old attacking trio, Nicolas Anelka.
Fernando Torres has also expressed unhappiness at how the club have treated him, and the signing of Hulk may have been partly to cover for Torres, should he leave.
Romelu Lukaku and Daniel Sturridge both want to center-forward role, instead of playing wide as Drogba had forced them to, and Hulk will want it too. The Brazlian has a shot at it, but it will most likely be Torres, putting Hulk on the right-wing, where he was so successful at Porto.
Despite Sturridge’s breakout season, Lukaku, getting increasingly frustrated with his lack of playing time, will likely be the back-up forward, as he has both physically and finishing ability, two things Torres seems to lack.
In fact, despite the fans love of him, it might be a good time for Chelsea to sell Torres. Coming off his best season ever, and still young, his value will be high, and he is still a ways away from breaking into the starting lineup.
Don’t rule out loan moves for either Lukaku or Sturridge, and, of course, more signings by Chelsea, perhaps for a solid defensive midfielder (Javi Garcia? ), and a forward who can challenge Torres (Moussa Dembele? Demba Ba? Andre Schurlle?).
Van Der Wiel/Ivanovic—Terry—-Cahill/Luiz—-Cole
——–Two of Obi Mikel, Ramires, and Lampard———
Third in Premier League, Semifinals of Champions League