Chelsea: This Is The Season Of No Excuses...
So Mourinho has declared all summer spending is done.
No more players will be arriving, the club have been fabulous, he shopped in Waitrose (or more accurately at the Vicente Calderon) and the omelettes for next season are set to be fine ones indeed. Apparently.
Whilst you could be forgiven for thinking Chelsea were about to rebrand themselves as Atletico Madrid, Mourinho seems to be happy enough with the major signings he has made.
He finally has his ‘killer’ striker, or so he and all Chelsea fans are hoping, Ashley Cole has been replaced with the slightly younger Filipe Luis – whose friendship with Costa really had no impact on that decision, none at all, really – and Cesc Fabregas has joined the light /dark side. Delete as your loyalties find appropriate.
An official announcement may not have been made about Thibaut Courtois’ official future, but as so often these days, you do not have to be Inspector Clouseau to find out what badge a player will be kissing next season. You simply need access to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
It was Facebook that gave the game away this time, with Courtois wishing the Atleti fans farewell and offering the chance to do a Q&A with him as a final goodbye. That in itself is an intriguing situation. Mark Schwarzer has been handed a one year extension to his current deal, meaning he will certainly be there next season.
Petr Cech meanwhile has been predictably dignified this summer, concentrating on his rehab and getting back to full fitness, not engaging in a war of words, crying about birthday cakes, declaring his love for Paris, Madrid and indeed Monaco or instructing his agent to flirt with other members of Europe’s elite.
This in part is down to Cech being a classy man. It may also be partly down to the fact that Cech remembers just how he came to be in possession of the number one shirt at Stamford Bridge – and the fact that goalkeeper of the year and fans darling Carlo Cudicini was stripped of it through no fault of his own, merely a Mourinho ‘feeling’ come the start of his maiden season in charge during his first reign at the club.
How ironic then that history could well repeat itself, with Cech on the wrong end of the decision this time. There is no sentiment in football, and neither Cech nor Courtois are willing to spend a season on the bench – and nor should they. The exit door could yet beckon for Cech, in what has been a summer of massive change for the Blues and their long serving players.
Filipe Luis has come in and will provide cover at left back – and if Mourinho really is serious about no more arrivals, he could well find himself the number one choice at times, with Cesar Azpilicueta reverting to his natural right back slot and Branislav Ivanovic providing cover in the middle.
Such is the versatility of the Serbian defender that he can do that – and with Kurt Zouma back and looking to make an impression, not to mention the young Andreas Christensen having a flawless campaign last time out for the youth side, Mourinho may hold true to his word and give the kids a chance.
In reality however, Zouma may find himself out on loan again with his pre-season effort against AFC Wimbledon showing exactly why he is not ready for the first team yet. Tomas Kalas has already agreed to spend the season elsewhere to gain some first team experience, and you can understand why Mourinho is still flirting with the idea of another centre back given John Terry’s age and the inevitable suspensions – not to mention injuries - that will occur during the season.
The middle of the park is perhaps one of the most intriguing issues – John Obi Mikel’s future is still up in the air, Ramires is another who could well be sold should the right offer come in. Oriol Romeu has penned a new deal and is being given every chance to impress during pre-season and Frank Lampard has of course left.
Blues fans are expecting to see the best of Nemanja Matic this season and the arrival of Cesc Fabregas as a replacement for Lampard may work on the field, but in the hearts of fans, he has a way to go yet. The distress it caused for the red half of north London was a good start. Goals in pre-season will aid this further.
Both Eden Hazard and Oscar were poor during their respective World Cup campaigns and went missing for differing reasons during pivotal moments last season too.
Oscar’s work rate cannot be faulted. His head can. He makes more tackles and interceptions than any other number ten and is something special when on the ball too. The problem last season appeared to be his focus – or lack thereof. His head was in Brazil from March onwards and it was devastating for the Chelsea attack.
Hazard meanwhile flits in and out of games and does not track back even half as much as he should. Mourinho has made Cristiano Ronaldo track back and work for the team. He made Samuel Eto’o do it during his time at Inter Milan. Even Zlatan Ibrahimovic complied. Eden Hazard is nowhere near special enough to have a free run.
This is his make or break season under Mourinho and he has the chance to become a world class star. Currently he is someone who could be spoken about in the same breath as Messi and Ronaldo. He is a long way off it yet.
Chelsea fans would rather not acknowledge that Mohamed Salah and Victor Moses exist, and given their probably nominal effect on the up and coming campaign, let’s just go with that.
Moving swiftly on to Willian, the winger worked tirelessly last season and established himself as a Mourinho untouchable. He has a greater drive than either Hazard or Oscar, and as Southampton fans can testify, can score a cracking goal too.
He is coming into his own and will probably feature more than Hazard or Oscar, both of whom do not seem to have the full trust of Mourinho or in Hazard’s case, the work rate when it really matters.
The most interesting player for Chelsea fans as the season approaches is Andre Schurrle.
Schurrle displayed flashes of what he could do last season and was instrumental during the PSG comeback. He has gotten better and better – and did for Germany what he does for Chelsea.
He came on, made himself indispensable, scored three goals and followed that by setting up an even more crucial one in the final. The German has shades of Eidur Gudjohnsen about him – but with slightly more pace – and watching how he develops will be one of the thrills of the season.
It will be his coming of age season and this time next year, we could well be talking about Schurrle in the way Hazard wishes we were talking about him.
The most dreaded area for Chelsea to think about, talk about and rely upon is their forwards.
Fernando Torres remains, mainly because no one else will pay him even half the wages Chelsea will and he refuses to leave, but seems to score one vital goal a season. Victory over City, victory at the Camp Nou… you get the picture.
Samuel Eto’o has been shipped out to collect his pension and Demba Ba followed – although the latter will go down in history with the now infamous chant involving Steven Gerrard and slipping.
Mourinho seems to trust Romelu Lukaku about as much as you would David Luiz to organise a back four, and unless Didier Drogba comes back as a player/coach, the future for Lukaku is bleak.
This summer’s marquee forward is Diego Costa, epic for Atleti, awful for Spain.
Costa may have been poorly used by Vicente Del Bosque and ill-suited to a tiki-taka style, but can take comfort in the fact that Mourinho will play to his strengths.
An early goal for Costa is a must. Chelsea fans have seen too many failed forwards to afford him much patience and they have to be kept onside.
The Blues are only too aware that their rivals are strengthening as well – and Mourinho will know that this is the season of no excuses. Their lack of a forward cost Mourinho and Chelsea dear last season and despite coming close to glory, football is a game of fine margins.
The Special One has now had three transfer windows to chop and change his squad and whilst last season was obviously one of transition, this is Chelsea and we all know how patient they are – or are not.
Arsene Wenger may have had nine seasons to win one FA Cup, Mourinho is lucky he had nine months to rebuild a squad and now challenge on all fronts.
A major trophy has to be won this term (and that does not mean an FA Cup) or this time next year we could well be talking about a new manager who has arrived from Atletico Madrid, never mind players.