Is moving out the old guard at Chelsea still the priority

Chelsea’s decision to hire Roberto Di Matteo for the short term was a smart move. The Italian evidently managed to settled the mood at the club following the departure of Andre Villas-Boas, and got the team playing a familiar and successful brand of football. However, much like Di Matteo’s appointment, Chelsea’s squad should be looked at as a short term bridge to further success under a youthful squad. With that, the underlying theme of moving the old guard on is still a top priority for the club.

A significant piece to Chelsea’s successful puzzle over the past number of years has finally left the club. Didier Drogba’s absence has rightly sparked questions as to how Chelsea and their ambitions can replace the powerful striker. Another view, however, is to ask how the team are finally starting to become liberated from a style of football that isn’t wanted.

Drogba is technically excellent in many aspects of the game, however his presence connotes an idea of “direct” football rather than attractive passing and shifting patterns. Roman Abramovich wants good entertainment for his money; he wants what Spain and Germany have, and fair play to him. He took a gamble with the untested Andre Villas-Boas but the old guard at Chelsea were having none of it. In their defence, it’s difficult to force a group of experienced veterans to deviate from a tried and trusted playing formula. Quite simply, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Villas-Boas’ dismissal—along with many before him—is the work of those on the pitch and their forcing of Abramovich’s hand. The new signings like Eden Hazard and Marko Marin are technically gifted attacking players. Like they demonstrated at their previous clubs, they advocate a style of play that differs greatly from what is on offer at Stamford Bridge at the moment. It’s all well and good playing with the proverbial fire that is Financial Fair Play, but it’s a huge shot in the foot if players like Hazard or Juan Mata can’t play football to their strengths over the long term.

The high line at Chelsea was introduced to help contain the game in the opposition half. The results, unfortunately, were games like the 5-3 home defeat to Arsenal. Entertaining but without results. It’s a good move to bring in a manager who can enforce that level of play and to a successful level—making the pursuit of Pep Guardiola plainly obvious.

The problem with Chelsea’s squad—specifically those who take up significant roles in the squad—is that they’re extremely difficult to part ways with. The foundation of Chelsea’s success over the past number of years has been that of John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, and Petr Cech forming the spine of a title-winning side. It’s understandable that there are reservations to hurry them out of the club and force swift and necessary changes. (By necessary, again looking at the desire from Abramovich).

But there is a need to accept that these players are reaching the twilight of their career. One or two such as Lampard and Ashley Cole may continue to be of great use and service to the club, obviously in a much smaller capacity. But the walls are struggling to contain the wave of fresh faces waiting to make an impact and change.

While the heroic and unlikely performances of Chelsea’s Champions League winning run did bring out the best in a number of players with a continental background of playing, it was simply a successful effort in the short term. The goal was achievable if the entire squad united under one banner and with a single mentality. However, players like Torres and Mata, as well as the newer arrivals, have so much more to offer than just a backs against the all approach.

Somewhere in this Chelsea side there is the potential to be a frighteningly good attacking side. The pieces are forming in place and many have youth on their side. There’s also a young goalie on-loan at Atletico Madrid who can be a leading ‘keeper for any major side in the Premier League, and who will add greatly to a successful foundation for many years.

Unlocking that potential in the entire squad will depend on how quickly and smoothly the club can find a transition from the old guard and towards a younger, new-look Chelsea. To be successful for many years, the club need to ensure the core of the old guard is moved on.

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