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Optism Abounds As A New Season Approaches


Alan

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A new season is almost upon us. After having our footballing hunger abetted by the brilliant Euro 2008, leagues across Europe are raring for action. Like fans of most teams, I am quietly confident of my team’s prospects. This thread connects fans in what can be a very partisan sport, no matter what division or league your team is in.

Chelsea are my team, and I’m frankly salivating at the thought of what the new season will bring. The pain of going to Moscow and witnessing us lose a Champions League Final has made me anticipate the return of football and the chance to achieve what we so narrowly missed out on last season.

The appointment of Luiz Felipe Scolari was a very good choice by the Chelsea hierarchy. While the press rather comically banded around every manager under the sun for the job, the Chelsea board remained calm, simply stating that they were happy with the search for a new manager. The appointment, without a doubt, caught the press of guard .

"Big Phil" as the tabloid press have taken so readily to calling him, has won a number of trophies in a number of different countries, including of course, the World Cup with Brazil in 2002. His teams can play attacking football, but also winning football.

He isn’t afraid to make big decisions for the benefit of the team, as he showed when he dropped Romario from the Brazil squad for the 2002 World Cup to accommodate the 3 R’s; Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho. Such a skill is needed at a club like Chelsea, where some of the player’s ego’s were not checked by the unimposing but competent Avram Grant.

The signings made so far will improve the squad, and the rumoured purchase of Robinho from Real Madrid would add quality on the wing, where Florent Malouda and Shaun Wright-Phillips have often failed to impress.

The arrival of Deco will bring some extra creativity, if not goals, to Chelsea. Such a task will likely still be delegated to Ballack and Lampard, who looks like he will be staying for at least another season. There is no doubt that Chelsea have a world class midfield, with strength in depth with the likes of Mikel, Essien, Ballack, Lampard and Deco to choose from. It’s a nice problem for Scolari to have.

Jose Bosingwa could be the solution to Chelsea’s right-back problems, something which has affected the club since Mourinho took charge. As we saw in the Euro’s, Bosingwa is not scared of going forward, and Scolari’s vision of playing more attacking football will include the likes of Bosingwa and Ashley Cole bombing forward from the back, something which we have seen in Chelsea’s two pre-season games so far.

Jose Mourinho’s purchases last summer have so far proved to be inadequate, and it seems as if most of his buys will be shipped out before the season has kicked off. Steve Sidwell has already gone to Aston Villa in a £5 million pound deal, and rumours surround the futures of Claudio Pizarro, Tal Ben Haim and Florent Malouda. The deadwood is being shifted, and quality has been brought in.

My only slight worry is in the striking department. If Drogba decides to go, then we are left with Anelka, Shevchenko, Pizarro and the talented but inexperienced Franco Di Santo.

I don’t think this would be the end of the world, as they would be supported by the likes of Lampard, Ballack and Deco from the middle, and Joe Cole and Kalou from the wings. Also, playing in his favoured central role, Nicolas Anelka should flourish. The main reason for his largely ineffectual performances last season was Avram Grant’s tendency to play him out wide.

Andrei Shevchenko got injured last Christmas when he finally hit form, with his performance in the 4-4 draw with Aston Villa (setting up Alex and crashing in a superb goal) being one of his finest performances in a blue shirt to date. If he is partnered up front with another striker and given a run in the side, we might see him recapture that form.

Claudio Pizarro scored only two goals last season, but he wasn't given much of a chance to impress by Jose Mourinho. It will be better to judge him once he has been given a run in the team by Scolari.

Franco Di Santo has shown plenty of promise in his short time at the club. He scored seven goals in eight reserve team games last season, finishing as the team's top scorer despite only arriving in January. So far in pre-season he has scored two goals in two substitute appearances.

Chelsea’s pre-season so far has consisted of two easy victories over some mediocre opposition. But the games have provided glimpses of Scolari’s philosophy and the style of play he has in mind for this Chelsea team.

Scolari has experimented with two strikers in a 4-2-2-2 formation, with Anelka and Kalou upfront. Neither of them are very good at playing the role of battering ram that Didier Drogba has played so well for the past four years, so it seems that Scolari’s Chelsea will aim to play the ball on the ground a bit more, instead of just lobbing it up to Drogba.

The pace at which the players have come forward with has also caught my eye. Under Mourinho, Chelsea’s build-up play was very measured and tentative, the incisive pass or attempted break through would often not be very quick. In his two matches in charge so far, Scolari’s players have come forward much more quickly, utilising Nicolas Anelka’s pace and ability to play off the shoulder of the last man.

The full-backs have also been given more license to roam, with Ashley Cole and Jose Bosingwa (very briefly) doing so in Chelsea’s first game against Guangzhou. Paulo Ferreira was given a similar remit against Chengdu Blades, but he doesn’t seem as competent going forward as Bosingwa.

Overall, it seems a more attacking approach will be employed next season.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, Chelsea came so close to winning a number of trophies last season. The thought of what a highly competent manager like Luiz Felipe Scolari could do with very much the same squad should have Chelsea fans dreaming of Rome in May. And why not?

A relative asked me yesterday, "What will Scolari bring to Chelsea?"

“The league title,†I quipped.

The veracity of my optimism will only become clear come May, but I’ll be in plentiful company awaiting the outcome of the optimistic predictions I have given for my team.

Link to my article.

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Good post and most would share the sentiment. Its nice to have Fergie targetting us as clearly he sees CFC as the threat.

Injuries are bound to play a big performance, let's hope we stay fairly free of them.

Although attacking soccer is great and I love it when CFC is on the move going forward with lovely little interpasses cutting the midfield to pieces at the same time I will settle for boring 1:0 wins if that's what it takes. Its a long season and generally speaking the teams with the best defences end up at the top of the table.

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Nice article Alan.

If you asked me towards the end of last season what squad changes I would like to see, I would have said:

1. A decent manager - Grant not good enough

2. More creativity in central midfield - Lamps and Ballack play too deep, and go for goal themselves too often, leaving the lone striker isolated

3. More quality on the left wing - never really replaced Robben or Duff, SWP and Malouda not up to scratch

4. Stability at right back - too much chopping and changing between Ferreira, Beletti and Essien

5. Dead wood in the squad removed so that we can get a bit more serious about the youth setup

And so far this summer we have (1) signed Scolari, (2) signed Deco, (3) attempted to sign Robinho, (4) signed Bosingwa, (5) sold off or are in the process of selling off the bit part players.

I guess time will tell whether these are the answers to our problems from last season, but at least all the issues are being addressed.

It is easy to forget that a squad with these five problems went as close as you can go to winning three out of four trophies last season. We still have the same quality squad that outclassed Man United twice, Liverpool twice and Arsenal in the back half of last season.

With the improvements we have made, and the fact that we have just about managed to hang on to all our key players (Lamps and Drogs in particular), I think we have improved as a squad, and should do very well next season.

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A lot of people are saying that chelsea are going to take a backward step this season, bollocks! who would knock out of the top 2? I can see Arsenal falling out of the top 4. No Ronaldo at ManU, Liverpool wasting all their money, and Arsenal players all wanting more money. It's our year for the Quad!

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It's our year for the Quad!

Come on blueday mate!

Dont start all that Quad stuff,they on exist in the off-road sense.

What sort of expectations would we have if we thought we were on for that.

Its pretty much an impossible thing and talking about it before we have kicked a ball,remember this is Chelsea were talking about!

Im hoping for some decent football and beating Sp*rs twice.

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Nice article thanks Alan.

Personally I would like to build and see more youngsters and I wouldnt mind missing out on trophies to achieve that... . but that isnt gonna happen.

Deco, Lamps, Ballack probably have a 2-3 more seasons in them at best, so not long term

Like the fact that Sheva got a mention, much better than people are making out and his goals to games ratio is not bad at all and he was hitting some great form.

but then Drogba/sheva not the future either.

Think at the back we have got it solid for a few years back, but concerning the above, i would hope there is some more succession planning going on.

We were in dream world under Mourinho (the best manager in the world).. now we dont have him I am looking for a senior guy who has strength in his convitions to build a team, hopefully we got that.

for once my expectations are not too high, a trophy would be nice but I am not losing sleep over it.

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great artical al. we have now won three of three games so far pre season scoring 13 goals and conceding none which is good but i dont like to judge too much on these games because the opposition were garbage and nothing close to premiership standard. we do however look very exciting going forward and i really hope we continue that into the league this season. the players we have brought in so far are exciting too! i was not all that impressed with deco in the first half of the blades match but by second half i really seen what he was about with some excellent passing,picking people out from nothing. i would still like to see a robinho or someone like that brought in and i hope to see alot of franko di santo this season. again great article come on the chels :)

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Burning with optimisms flames? Not really. We're more a train running low on soul coal, I'm afraid. It's all well and good to look at pre-season with Blue-coloured glasses and think everything is rosy in the garden, but that's just the Chelsea tv slant - "13 goals for and none against", as they keep rattling out, as if it actually means something! Here are a few reasons why I'm not as optimistic as I have been at the start of the past few seasons:

1) Maka has gone. Whatever anyone says about Essien or Mikel Obi or anyone else given the task of following the genius that was Claude Makelele, they will never come close. The bloke has been integral to our success over the past 3 or 4 seasons and is irreplaceable, simple as that. Thanks Maka for all the body-swerves, the unsung match-winning tackles, the impish cheeky of you - thanks.

2) We have no forwards - Drogba is off, either in body or spirit. Very few of us want him to stay, he doesn't want to stay, but go or stay makes no difference - the relationship is over. Sheva is an ex-striker, shuffling around seeking past glories. Anelka is not a goal scorer, Di Santo isn't ready and there's no-one else, is there? Scolari seemed to cope without any notable firepower with the Portugal team, but what did they win? Nice football but winning football?

3) United will be stronger. Some of their players are now seasoned veterans yet barely out of nappies. If they add Berbatov or someone of similar class we won't get near them.

4) Scolari won't be able to cope with the strains of an egotistical squad and a packed schedule - I have nothing to base this on, just a gut feeling. The squad is happy at the moment, but when Frank or Ballack or Joey Cole are left out, and he reads them the riot act, I sense anger will become division. Remember Ballack's response to being subbed last season? Scolari won't take that from him, and Ballack won't take kindly to being scolded by Scolari. Again just a feeling.

5) Lampard. Love the bloke, admire his strength of character and the way he plays his heart out for the shirt, but it needs to be resolved one way or t'other. Sign the contract or leave. It'll hang over us until January, at which point he'll cut us to the core by signing a pre-contract to re-join Jose. If it's all still up in the air, the club will suffer. Will Scolari play him? If he has a bad game will we all be thinking his mind is elsewhere? Too distracting, too difficult.

Fair enough I could probably have listed a whole load of reasons why we'll be riding that wave of success again, and I concede it's a complicated game, but I do think we'll be the disappointed ones again this season. I'm not just trying to be the smartest monkey around these here parts and maybe I'm just having one of my cynical days, but I really don't see how all these factors can possibly add up to us being stupidly happy.

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Jack

You need to take a few happy pills.

I'd be one of Maka's biggest fans one maka, two maka , three makele etc, but our central midfield is very powerful. I wouldn't swap Lampard, Ballack and Deco for any other midfield. As holding midfielder then there is essien or mikel. Neither have Maka's silky skills but Essien brings power in exchange, and Mikel is improving pretty quickly.

In attack we shall see, certainly things will be far better if Drogba is fully motivated and fit. However I have a feeling the goals will come this season. Kalou will be more polished and Anelka more settled, who knows there may even be a couple of goals in Sheva.

We have a coach with a far better pedigree than that of last season. Last season getting money out of Abramovitch was tough because of the fight with Jose. This season its obvious there is money around.

Its a tough, tough competition, but there's no other team with better prospects or more depth.

Liverpool have a strong force up front and may improve. United I don't think have gone anywhere and whereas I thought Giggs and Scholes would fade last season I'm more confident about it this time around. Only Anderson of last seasons recruits really looks the goods to me. Arsenal, will be bigger and older and more experienced and perhaps they will improve because of that, however I don't really see it at this stage.

Hope springs eternal and right now I'm full of it.

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Agreeing with ozboy - Jack, you need to start looking on the bright side of things. In response to your points:

1. Agreed that there is no replacing Maka. But in Lamps/Ballack/Essien/Deco/Mikel we have easily the strongest central midfield in the Premiership, if not in Europe. I think a move away from a system that relies on a screening Maka-type midfielder might be a good thing in terms of our attacking play, which is what has lost us the last two titles.

2. I see no problem with our forwards. Both Drogba and Anelka will whinge and whine this season the way they always have. But it has never stopped them from being quality players previously, and won't this season either. On the football pitch, both are strikers of the highest quality, and no matter how much we deplore their actions off field, they have always delivered on field. Sheva is more than adequate as backup - he's not first team material any more, but I am more than happy having someone of his experience on the bench. And (assuming we get rid of Pizzaro), there should be lots of opportunities for Di Santo and Kalou to get some valuable experience. You can't stack a squad with 4 or 5 world class strikers and wonder why we can't bring through someone like Di Santo.

3. United are not stronger. Not yet in my opinion. That might change IF they get Berbatov, but after Spuds have sold Keane, I doubt they are all that interested in letting another striker go - or if they do, it will be for seriously big money. As far as the Manure youngsters go - yes, they will be a year older and a year more mature, but at the other end of their squad, the likes of Giggs, Neville, Scholes, Van der Saar etc will be a year older and not as good as they have been previously.

4. I think Scolari will be just fine. I am very impressed with the way he has palmed off Fergie's mind games etc. It shows he's not the hot-headed reactive-type manager that the press make out. And if he can't control the egos in the squad, then who can?

5. I'm not too concerned about Lamp's situation. Scolari will play him - there is no doubt of that. And if he wants to sign a pre-contract with Inter in January, then he should be allowed to. As long as it doesn't affect his performances over the next 12 months. I don't think it has ever been about the money on offer, for Lamps or for the club. As a club, we don't need the money from his transfer, so why force a "sign the contract or leave" situation? It would make no sense. And I think if Lamps wants to go, then it will not be because he thinks he's underpaid. It will be because he wants a new challange.

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Agree with Jack on a few points, certainly the Drogba issue which is a shame because he's a class player and as Jack says, the love affair is over . The fact we havn't bought in a player to replace him is mind boggoling and could be a major factor in our season. I'd like to see Sheva stay for one more season and try and prove the critics wrong but if a decent offer comes in he's gone. Anelka still has the GOD attitude which wont wear too well with our manager and unless he starts regularly he'll be off too, saying that, i still think he has goals in him.

Kalou is not a world class centre forward , hasnt got that eye for goal that Drogs has .

Maka will be difficult to replace in any side but our midfield is strong , skilful and solid with the current players we have . At the back , well, J.T. and Carv, i cant think of a better pairing in world football.

Injury free we will be Champions if we can replace Drogba if he f***s off .

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Jack, Jack, Jack.... *shakes head in disbelief*

How is it possible to be so pessimistic so soon?.. Christ, maybe a phone call to the Samaritans is in order?

Let me try and help.

Point1.

Yes, Maka has gone, the great servant to us that he was.

He was Jose’s player of the season on more than one occasion, and had a MAJOR influence on us retaining the Premiership, but come on? He has to leave at some point? Like it or not, some of his performances last season struck me as rusty, despite his class, and there comes a time when someone has to say enough is enough. He’s 35 for Christ’s sake. Sooner or later, we, as a club, have to face up to the fact that we have to play on without him.

Now I’m not saying this is going to be easy – Essien would be my choice as natural successor, however he is disgustingly wasted in this, or any purely defensive role, and has far too much energy to be left as a holding player. The young Mikel certainly has the more instinctive defensive attributes needed, but he does have a habit of suffering from the age old Impetuousness of Youth, and sometimes leaves you with the feeling that he is still learning on the job (which is to be expected I suppose?).

I suspect, as someone else has pointed out already, that Scolari will be keen on moving away for the need to have a defensive shield altogether, and may, for example gamble on a midfield of Lamps, Ballack, Deco & Essien, with all members sharing defensive duties. Whether this will be successful, or detrimental to our cause is something that will come to light very soon, but I have every confidence in Scolari to recognise if it’s not working, and to change it.

Point2.

Now, within this point, I agree on a couple of things.

Firstly, Shevchenko is ‘’an ex-striker, shuffling around seeking past glories’’, so he will inevitably get his chance again at some point this season, and inevitably fail to impress. Whatever the case, I think it’s prudent to suggest that he cannot be relied upon to get 15-20 goals this season. Moving on to Didier ‘Drag Queen’ Drogba; yes, he is a stroppy so n’ so, but I don’t think there has been many occasions in which his on the field efforts could be questioned? Silly behaviour in the European Final, but to be honest, that doesn’t happen often. (It was just very unfortunate that he got his timing so badly wrong!). Whinge, or no whinge, he is a top player. An awesome centre forward. The best in the business at what he does. All the superlatives! And quite frankly, in our current position, I believe that we are better off with him, than without. He is easily capable of scoring another 30 goals a season, so I would join me in praying that his knee injury doesn’t flare up too many times this season, because again, he will be vital to Chelsea.

To say that ‘Anelka isn’t a goal scorer’ is very strange? That’s pretty much all he’s done throughout his career, albeit apart from when Houllier shunned him at Liverpool, and when Citeh did something very similar. Played in the right position, as he has already quite rightly pointed out, he will still offer a very serious threat to other Premiership defences. With him and Drogba, you have everything you could possibly desire as a coach. Pace, Power, Movement; the lot. The partnership wasn’t really tried by Grant last season, so I’m hopeful that Scolari will give it a chance, as I think it will bring goals. Tevez & Rooney? Keane & Torres? Drogba & Anelka? I think it’s as good as anyone’s.

I agree with you in that it’s the backup that concerns me most.

Sheva, we have already covered, which means that you are then relying on either Pizarro to find his scoring boots, Kalou to add finishing to his game, or Di Santo to be the next ‘whoever’. (Crespo maybe?), which is a big ask.

I have voiced on many occasions that I would love to see Berbatov at The Bridge. If we sell Pizarro, and bring this guy in, then I feel it would give us the much needed quality option up front, and would really strengthen the idea that we can realistically snatch the Title back. I fear, as many do I’m sure, that if Utd get him, then it may be one ask too many for our Blues this season…But they haven’t got him yet! I think this is merely a pipedream, so my efforts are surely being wasted, which means that I will now believe that Kalou will have his best season yet, and turn into the finished player that we think he could be. Let’s live in hope eh?

Point3.

Now this is quite a straight forward one. No, I don’t think they are stronger. Pretty much the same as last season in fact, except they have even more pressure on them as Premiership, and European Champions. Their ‘old boys’ are another season older, and even more prone to lengthy, unfortunate, injuries, which I think will be key, as the last two seasons for Chelsea have been terrible in terms of players being out. I can’t emphasise enough how unlucky we have been. If anything, we have strengthened along with Liverpool, and Spurs, but not necessarily United. I think the whole top four will be the closest run thing yet in recent Premiership history.

Point4.

My feeling is that the players are delighted to have a genuine Character back in charge. A father figure and someone that they have confidence in. Scolari has made all the right noises so far, and I’m not going to start doubting his credentials now.

Sure it will also be a learning process for him, but he is no mug, and I expect him to pass with flying colours.

I have seen, neither heard nothing from him that makes me panic. I’m sure the players are loving feeling like a ‘group’ again, and that this will do nothing but spur us on for the season.

Point5.

I’m not sure what the worry is with Lampard? His future has pretty much already been sorted?

This will be his last season with Chels’, before joining Inter, and I can respect that.

Frank is the pinnacle of professionalism, and I expect him to have a brilliant final season with us.

Of course Scolari will play him? He’s quality? Both he and Deco look like a great balance in midfield.

It’s more how Scolari will find room for both Ballack AND Essien that is intriguing…

All in all Jack, plenty of reasons to be cheerful.

We now have a boss that seems to know what he’s doing, and also a bunch of players that want to play for him!

The football will be interesting to say the least, and I look forward to seeing how it develops.

If we get ‘that’ Striker in, then I will be the proverbial pig in sh*t.

K.T.B.F.F.H

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Samaritans?

Happy pills?

Listen, I'm not pessimistic, just realistic. All the factors I listed will come into play this season -yes Maka is 35 and we will play a different way, and Lamps is a professional but...

Sorry, just can't feel like anything has taken much of a step forward. I wait to be proven wrong, I hope to be proven wrong, but I was right last season (although roundly condemned for my 'pessimism'), and unfortunately I think I'll be right again this.

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Samaritans?

Happy pills?

Listen, I'm not pessimistic, just realistic. All the factors I listed will come into play this season -yes Maka is 35 and we will play a different way, and Lamps is a professional but...

Sorry, just can't feel like anything has taken much of a step forward. I wait to be proven wrong, I hope to be proven wrong, but I was right last season (although roundly condemned for my 'pessimism'), and unfortunately I think I'll be right again this.

I respect your opinions Jack, that's what this forum is all about, but Jesus, lighten' up will ya? :P

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