A club’s ability to win silverware, whether it is Chelsea or Liverpool, has always been used by both fans and pundits as a litmus test for measuring footballing success but, as is often the case, this season’s Premier League success stories have in fact come from many of the teams whose trophy cabinets’will remain empty this year.
Newcastle, Swansea and Norwich are just some examples of high achievement over the past twelve months and yet it was Liverpool and Chelsea who raised a trophy this year, the two clubs that have in many respects had disastrous seasons. As beneficial as these victories will have been for both the Anfield and Stamford Bridge faithful, these cup wins cannot eradicate long-term problems and instead simply serve as a quick plastering over of cracks that will sooner or later inevitably show.
Past successes have lead to fans expectinga great deal from either club and yet in recent seasons there has been a steady decline in achievement. Three years ago Liverpool and Chelsea finished second and third, qualifying for the Champions League and challenged Manchester United for the title right up until the latter stages of the season.
These cup wins cannot eradicate long-term problems and instead simply serve as a quick plastering over of cracks that will sooner or later inevitably show.
Chelsea now look set to land their lowest league position since the beginning of the Abramovich-era and if Liverpool remain in eighth place they will equal their worst Premier League finish, which begs the question, can this season really be viewed as a success for either club?
The peculiar decision by Abramovich to replace Ancelotti with the young Jose Mourinho protégé Andres Villas-Boas was met with mixed reactions, many questioning whether a fairly inexperienced manager could handle the task that lay at Chelsea. Sure enough, Villas-Boas exhibited tactical naivety in big games often being questioned by both fans and press and yet most will agree that his demise ultimately stemmed from attempting to change too much too soon. The Portuguese manager tried to phase out a number of the Chelsea old guard, lost control of his dressing room and was sacked after just over eight months in the job. But Villas-Boas’ visioning of Chelsea was correct, the squad did need rebuilding and injecting with youth, he was just simply not the man for the job at that moment in time.
However, this does not mean Di Matteo is either. As astonishingly successful as his tenure has been, up until now he has not done anything particularly radical and instead attempted to squeeze out the final juices that remain from the aging squad Villas-Boas shunned.
The astounding performances Chelsea produced during the two legs against Barcelona suggested that on their day they are still a match for anyone, even if some did feel they exhibited anti-football tactics. However, there is still little doubt in people’s minds that players like Drogba, Lampard and even Terry are reaching the end of their shelf life and questions remain around whether Di Matteo is the man to rebuild Chelsea’s squad and inject new life into its aging dressing room.
Villas-Boas’ visioning of Chelsea was correct, the squad did need rebuilding and injecting with youth, he was just simply not the man for the job at that moment in time.
In 2009 Chelsea finished their season having conceded only 24 goals. Compare this to the 45 that has met the back of their net this season and it is fair to say that defensively they have slipped dramatically. This would perhaps not be such a problem if they were hammering in more goals than in previous years and playing expansive attacking football, but they currently sit on 63, five less than they scored in the 08/09 season, withonly one game remaining.
The spine of Drogba, Lampard, Terry and Cech was arguably one of the best in Europe a few years ago but with Chelsea conceding more than ever in the league and creating close to 100 less goalscoring opportunities than they were three seasons ago, maybe the backbone ofS tamford bridge, which contains a combined age of 127 years, is not what it once was.
While the recent successes of young and talented players such as Ramires, Sturridge and Mata implies that it might not all be doom and gloom for the blues, an FA Cup win and a Champions League final will still not guarantee success in the future.
Abramovich needs to look past these achievements, see that youth becomes a priority in the future and make sure that whoever takes charge next season has the ability to dismantle and rebuild the Chelsea squad into a side that can once again challenge for the title.
An FA Cup win and a Champions League final will still not guarantee success in the future.
Just like Chelsea, Liverpool have experienced dire league form this season and yet excelled in their cup runs, but the real worry is that they have failed to bolster their attacking strength in spite of significant financial investment. With a shot accuracy of 40 percent and a chance conversion of just nine percent this season, they simply are not clinical in front of goal and although the defensive partnership of Agger and Skrtel seems sound, too often this season have they failed to take their chances and then been beaten on the break.
The club has spent over 100 million pounds since Fenway Sports Group took over at Anfield with a goal to retain Champions League qualification, but with only 47 goals this season as opposed to the 77 attained during the 08/09 campaign, it is fair to say that Liverpool are not performing and the monetary cost of new signings means they have to shoulder some of the blame.
Whilst Andy Carroll has shown glimpses of his Newcastle form, he is yet to hit true goal scoring form and Luis Suarez, a truly world class player, is in need of a partner who finishes the chances that are provided by the Uruguayan. Downing seems to be forever in love with the woodwork making his 20 million pound price tag seem a tad steep and Jordan Henderson, whilst young, once again has a big money transfer to live up to and has so far struggle to do so.
It seemed appropriate that that these two clubs should meet in the FA Cup final given their similar situations. Neither Chelsea nor Liverpool should be happy with where they currently stand and as good as collecting silverware is, they must now both accept that improvements need to be made and fast. For these two clubs, any trophy wins this season have been tainted by the lingering sense of future decline.
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