Chelsea have, on paper, probably the best squad in the world. And in Carlo Ancelotti, a manager renowned for his European pedigree and tactical nuances. In Roman Abramovich, they have as good an owner as any club in the world (in terms of spending, of course). In Frank Arnesen, a terrific and acclaimed sporting director. In Samsung, one of the best shirt sponsors in the world. The youth and scouting system produced Gael Kakuta, the player of the tournament at the U-20 World Cup. From top, to bottom, Roman has invested close to half a billion in the club, and Chelsea are just about as big as any club in the world today.
After winning the double last season, they produced a number of vintage performances in the autumn, before they slowly but surely disintegrated. They were dumped out of the Carling Cup by Newcastle, and out of the FA Cup by Everton while both tournaments were in their infancy. Fernando Torres scored two crackers as Liverpool beat them 2-0 at Anfield, beginning a streak of 2 wins in 13 games, from November to New Year. Sir Alex Ferguson dealt them the final body blow (not literally, though that would be hilarious) by winning both legs of their Champions League quarter final.
It’s hard to assess where things went wrong. Goal scoring, on that run of 13 games, was definitely a problem, as it was against United. Excluding the 3-3 draw at home to Villa, Chelsea scored just 6 goals in 12 games. Drogba, Malouda, Anelka, and Kalou were all present for the majority of games. Chelsea’s regular goal scorers just couldn’t face up to the task. Fernando Torres was bought to address this, and he’s done phenomenally well so far. All of them have decent goals and assists records in the league this year, but they are inflated because of the regular thrashings that Chelsea dealt out at the start of the season. Drogba has 19 goals and assists combined, but 6 of these were in the first two games, and a further 5 before November – how Carlo regret that he didn’t save his energy for later.
The midfield is definitely a problem. Michael Essien, in particular, looks to be past it. He seems to have lost the drive and energy that he possessed, as well as losing his football brain, shooting from ridiculous distances and opting to go on unlikely dribbles. He’s not the type of player you’d usually compare to Leo Messi, but he doesn’t seem to know that. Opponents get past him with much more ease and he seems powerless at times. Frank Lampard has played only half of their Premier League games this season. As with Steven Gerrard, 10 years of box to box action seems to have taken its toll on Lampard. 6 goals, 4 of them penalties is a dismal return for the season from him, though he was injured from August to December. Ramires has been fantastic since December, but he remains inconsistent. His performance in the second leg against United summed him up – drive, energy and skill in abundance, ruined by a sending off which essentially killed Chelsea’s chances.
Ancelotti’s tactics are also to blame. Playing Anelka in a role to which he is badly shoehorned was not a good idea, and continually fielding Essien when able attackers like Yuri Zhirkov remained on the bench was a dubious decision. He has been unlucky though, in that Lampard was injured through much of that bad run, and Benayoun has been injured all season. Both are capable of producing clever incisive passes to create chances. Recently, sticking with Torres has been less than ingenious, though you do have to wonder if the final decision on Torres’ involvement rests with him.
Chelsea have scored 11 goals less than Manchester United, and 6 less than Arsenal. This despite smashing in 12 on the first two match days. The defence has been quite solid throughout, with Ashley Cole being consistent throughout the season and David Luiz endearing himself to the Stamford Bridge faithful already. When Ancelotti is inevitably sacked at the end of the season, he will know why. Chelsea simply haven’t scored enough goals, and the combined £120 million spent on Torres, Drogba, Kalou, Anelka and Malouda evidently hasn’t been enough, not to mention Ancelotti’s own salary. It is no surprise that the likes of Pastore, Neymar, Kaka and Tevez are being linked with Chelsea.
Roman Abramovich’s story isn’t a classic rags to riches story, though it comes close. He will be wondering however, who can motivate the current squad of rags into winning the riches of the elusive Champions League.