New Football FanCast columnist Johann Jacobs looks at the main factors as to why Chelsea’s season will not fall apart.
Much has been said about Chelsea’s impressive start to their season under Carlo Ancelotti. A little more than a year ago Chelsea also had a new coach and everything seemed to be going well for the first three months until November broke and they were taught a lesson in football by Roma and were eliminated from the Carling Cup by Burnley. These results were followed up during the course of November and December with draws to Bordeaux in the Champions League and to Newcastle, West Ham, Everton and Fulham and a loss to Arsenal in the Premier League. January saw a crushing defeat to Manchester United before a loss to Liverpool and draw to Hull City all but ended Chelsea’s challenge for the Premier League title and also Luiz Felipe Scolari’s brief reign as Chelsea boss. Guus Hiddink took charge and restored Chelsea’s winning habit to see them triumph in the FA Cup and coming close to reaching a second consecutive Champions League final.
Although another Champions League semi-final spot, a third place in the Premier League, and winning the FA Cup can hardly be described as a failure of a season, Chelsea’s slump in form over the period from November to January left many fans wondering what might have been. With this in mind, it is still too early to get too excited about Chelsea’s excellent start to the 2009-10 season, but this year Chelsea have a couple of things counting in their favour that may contribute to them not falling apart as they did for those three months last season.
Firstly, Carlo Ancelotti has been coaching club football for nearly fifteen years. This already is a big plus from the situation last season where Luiz Felipe Scolari (although there is not disputing his pedigree as a World Cup winning coach) had taken a job as a club coach after nearly eight years of coaching international football and without any experience of coaching club football in Europe prior to that. Although Ancelotti won Serie A only once with Milan, he has the experience needed to be successful at Chelsea.
Many pundits and sceptics are anxiously waiting for the African Cup of Nations to start, expecting Chelsea to drop many points as a result of not being able to cope with the absence of Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Salomon Kalou and John Obi Mikel. This leads to the second factor which is that Chelsea will cope without these players simply because of the depth of their squad. That Drogba and Essien will be missed is a fact, but many forget that Chelsea has last season’s Golden Boot winner in Nicolas Anelka ready to lead the line again (as he did for much of last season) and Michael Ballack and Juliano Belletti to step into midfield. These two in midfield along with Lampard, Deco, Joe Cole, Malouda and perhaps even Zhirkov still provide the manager with enough options. It should also be kept in mind that Drogba and Essien missed a large part of last season through injuries and of the previous season because of the 2008 African Cup of Nations, so Chelsea should know how to cope without them already. Drogba’s absence may also give an opportunity to Daniel Sturridge to impress, which introduces the next factor.
Thirdly, for the first time in years Chelsea has a group of exciting young players that are ready to step into the first team. This group of young players together with the depth that the first team has already may make for some scary reading to other clubs. Gael Kakuta showed in his little cameo against Wolves some flashes of a truly special player. Other players on the fringes of the first team and players out on loan include Daniel Sturridge, Fabio Borini, Nemanja Matic, Sam Hutchinson, Franco Di Santo, Michael Mancienne, Jeffrey Bruma and Scott Sinclair.
And finally, despite the depth they have in the first team and the relatively large group of promising youngsters, Chelsea may decide to spend big on players in the January transfer window because of the temporary suspension of the transfer ban imposed on them by FIFA. This means that Chelsea will look to even further strengthen its squad, keeping in mind that they might not be able to do so for nearly two years.
Although it remains too early to predict, all the factors discussed above should point to Chelsea possibly having an excellent season and that there is no reason for them to fade away in the same way as they did last season.