Chelsea legend Pat Nevin is back for the new season as he considers the on-field options available to Roberto Di Matteo…
It was difficult to get a real handle on what actually happened at the end of last season, it was too extreme, too amazing and for many just too surprising.
Of course in many ways it was the greatest season in the club’s history, winning the Champions League and the FA Cup was extraordinary, particularly after the nine months that preceded that amazing night in Munich.
It was also many other things, it was clearly the culmination of a huge effort by the club, particularly the core players such as Didier, Frank, JT and Petr over a long period of time. Not to forget the owner and his largesse of course, Roman finally had his dearest wish granted, so that the group in the widest sense finally fulfilled their destiny.
It was also the culmination of a lifetime of hopes and dreams for Chelsea fans young and old, for Chelsea fans recent and long standing. The memories are there now as well as that star on the shirt and they can never be taken away, for all this we can be truly thankful. But of course life, the world and football goes on and new challenges loom.
As I muse on what last season was, the temptation is to say that it was the end of an era – Didier Drogba has gone for a start, so that has to be of major significance and draws some sort of line. We wish this Chelsea legend, all the best for his future in China and beyond that as well. We all thank him for every goal he scored, for every blistering performance, but for all the highlights it is impossible to ignore his timing in his last appearance. He may never kick a ball for the Blues again, and if he didn’t kick another football again in anger, I think it would have been incredibly fitting that his last one was that one.
So what have we got to look forward to now, is it really the end of an era? Do we have to cope with the rebuilding of the squad and maybe have to wait a bit until the success returns as the club’s style is entirely reshaped?
It may well be the case that winning trophies might not be a total certainty with such a different looking team in the short term, but I for one am not seeing too many black clouds on the horizon. The defence hasn’t changed much and indeed has probably been improved now that David Luiz and Gary Cahill have got their feet under the table – to be fair they didn’t look like rookies in the Champions League final did they?
What I suspect will change is the formation, there were quite a few adaptations last season but looking at the players bought and the preseason games already played, you might as well get ready for 4-2-3-1 to be the preferred option much of the time. Who are going to be the sitting two midfield players? Well I think Lampard, Mikel, Mereiles, Romeu and Essien will be fighting for those spots. Yes, our Frankie being asked to play a little deeper and I suspect he will be brilliant there. At a push even Ramires could play in one of those two positions if stretched but his real strength is as a more attacking midfielder, he must be allowed to gallop up and down the field as he did in the semi final of the Champions League so spectacularly in the Nou Camp.
So what about the attacking midfield trio? Alongside Ramires in an area that will be contested furiously there will be Mata, Oscar, Hazard, Marin, Benayoun and Malouda. That is an incredibly gifted and creative group of players most of whom have about a decade of the best years of their careers ahead of them. Maybe there is an argument that there is a limited amount of experience at the top level of the Premier League in that group and as such maybe Yossi or Florent could get quite a few games early on if Robbie sees fit.
The first tie in anger is the Charity Shield and maybe this is not the best time to gauge the new boys, against a battle-hardened bunch of league champions who have been together for a little while now. After that the Premier League campaign kicks off and once again I think the fixture computer has been kind to us. With the likes of Reading and Wigan right at the start, it is almost exactly what Roberto Di Matteo would have wished for, though he isn’t really allowed to say it out loud.
The strikers should get opportunities in these games with the creativity amassing behind them, but who will get the nod up front? Obviously Fernando Torres must be favourite to start the first games, after all he was joint top scorer at the Euros having played relatively few minutes when you add all his field time together. As a European champion and Champions League winner I guess he should be on a bit of a high, but he will not get it all his own way.
Romelu Lukaku no longer has Didier Drogba ahead of him in the queue so opportunities may be more regular, even if they are from the bench at the start. You probably noticed I didn’t include Daniel Sturridge in the attacking midfield crew. That is because I think he is an out and out striker, both in style and in mentality. Three into one doesn’t go and that is before considering Kakuta and any youngsters coming through. There might also be the odd signing still to come, but this looks like a well-balanced squad to me, particularly if you are thinking of the long term.
So much then for those who say that Chelsea are too old. Judicious signings may have all but remedied that problem already, particularly if Mata continues to improve, Hazard and Oscar start well and David Luiz and Cahill also continue to grow their understanding.
Once more I start the season excited about our prospects, just as I did last year. Plenty of friends (especially those not Chelsea fans) and many others in the media and through social websites thought I was being over-optimistic, blinded by my love of the club but in the end it was an even greater season than I could have hoped for. Munich was a great night, but this may well be a new dawn, yet that doesn’t mean I am not looking forward to the day and the days ahead.
My competitions will be back very soon and I hope to hear from you all again then. If you still want to add to the huge list of comments about what you did in the ten seconds before and after Didier Drogba scored the winning penalty in the Champions League final feel free to send them to me at [email protected] They may still end up in a publication I am putting together but in any case I love reading them and will be posting some more on this page.