Chelsea's Amazing Summer Means The Title's Within Jose's Grasp
As the frenzy surrounding Jim White Day™ on Sky Sports was reaching its feverish conclusion, things were oddly serene in SW6. Around the country there seemed to be vary degrees of lunacy being implemented. Hull City, clearly still drunk from their European jolly, appeared to try and sign any continental player available. Strangely a tug of war appeared to develop over who was going to sign Tom Cleverley. Presumably someone at either club came to their senses. Arsenal fans were being Arsenal fans – apoplectic with rage at what was or was not happening: from Cavani, to Falcao, to Defoe and finally to Welbeck. Arsenal that. Manchester United appeared intent on being that kid who cheats on Football Manager and signs everyone. I am still baffled why a team with that kind of money is happy with Chris Smalling as their defensive lynchpin.
Through all the insanity it was peculiar to note that Chelsea were not involved. In fact, I was so content with how the window had transpired that I barely watched any of Sky’s coverage. The departure of Fernando Torres to AC Milan had opened the door for Loïc Rémy to join on the Saturday. Marco van Ginkel’s season long loan to AC Milan was also wrapped up sharply. The squad, in essence, was finalised well before any of the madness had begun.
It really has been a summer of excellent work in the market for Chelsea. José Mourinho and Michael Emenalo have worked in harmony to deliver the precise targets required to develop this Chelsea side. It is always interesting to rememeber that Mourinho had a stretched relationship with former incumbent Frank Arnesen. Nevertheless, his time working with Emenalo during his second stint has produced some fantastic results.
With a degree of certainty the relationship works because Mourinho will identify the type of target he requires; leaving the identification of the talent to Emenalo and his team. There will, of course, be specific players in mind. However, one would expect that a list of players is presented upon which Mourinho, Emenalo and the football board agree who to pursue. This should remove any future incidents that see the club buy someone like Fernando Torres on a whim. Everything seems far more methodical these days.
The recalling of Thibaut Courtois may well have raised a few eyebrows around the Premier League. With Petr Èech still in the bracket of elite goalkeepers, Courtois’ return would be a tricky situation to navigate. Chelsea have potentially the best goalkeeper in world football at their disposal, who only has two years’ left on his contract. Mourinho’s handling of the situation is akin to how he handled the Czech internationals arrival some ten years earlier. Pragmatic, pointed and logical, the Belgian has displaced Chelsea’s Number 1 and looks to remain in goal for the next 10 years’ plus.
John Terry is, by his own admission, approaching the tail end of a spectacular innings at Chelsea. With that in mind the club have done extremely well in recruiting an array of talented centre-backs to potentially replace him over a two-year period. While there are many currently at the club with potential, the signing of Kurt Zouma looks very prudent. The Frenchman looks hand sculpted in terms of being the ideal Premier League centre-back. He is freakishly powerful, commanding, brave and athletically gifted. Much of his game is raw, having relied upon this supreme physicality in France. Yet, there is a feeling that if the teenager develops the technical side of his game he could cement himself at the heart of Chelsea’s back four for years to come.
Replacing Ashley Cole was never going to be an easy task. Cole is comfortably Chelsea’s best ever full-back and a player who likely starts in any Premier League Greatest XI. Being replaced by César Azpilicueta during the 2013/14 season suggested the writing was on the wall though. Filipe Luis was therefore identified to provide the club with a naturally left-footed option on that side. A good defender with superb capacity to get forward and link play, he was brought in from Atlético Madrid for a reasonable fee. He will take time to adapt physically. The form of Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanoviæ is going to be difficult to circumvent at the moment. However, it can only be a matter of time before Luis claims the starting berth.
In midfield, the most surprising buy of the summer was the arrival of Cesc Fàbregas. A very mixed bag in terms of supporter opinion would be the fairest way of summing up his transfer. Fàbregas is still ‘fondly’ remembered for his role in an Arsenal team that were actually decent and for his time at Chelsea’s favourite European opposition Barcelona. He was the antithesis of Chelsea in every way possible. Then he hit that sumptuous half-volley chip to André Schürrle at Burnley and everything changed. It was otherworldly vision.
Fàbregas is an incredible addition to Chelsea’s midfield. Given the ridiculous transfer fees flying about this summer he is a bargain. Already developing a telepathic understanding with Diego Costa, he is the technically superb midfielder Chelsea has needed for an eternity. The Spaniard has been at the heart of all of Chelsea’s attacking play so far and looks rejuvenated at Stamford Bridge. Mourinho is making him feel like an important player again and he is responding in due course.
Perhaps the signing that came with the greatest amount of trepidation was Diego Costa. Incredibly a season of world class form at Atlético Madrid was ignored in lieu of a poor World Cup. The media were all over him, labelling him a flop before he had even set foot inside Cobham. Chelsea fans are a bit tender when it comes to strikers. I am not sure the scars of Fernando Torres will ever truly heal. So the £32m outlay on a striker we were being told was overrated and a one season wonder hit home somewhat.
What has happened since Costa’s arrival has been nothing short of a miracle. He was superb in pre-season, but that usually comes with a caveat. It would be how he handled “proper” football. Four goals in three games and more importantly the feral nature of his performances have put concerns largely to bed. Yes, it is very early in the season, but Costa looks absolutely tailored to play for José Mourinho. The fans have taken to him like no other player in recent years.
He plays like a man possessed, never stopping, always harrying, niggling, coercing his teammates forward, running in behind, dropping deep, peeling wide and occupying defenders. He is the centre-forward Chelsea has needed for 5 seasons. The goals may stop flowing at such a preposterous rate, but Costa’s contribution to the team goes beyond that. He creates space and provides a focal point that allows everyone else the time they never had last season. A superb signing and hopefully he continues on the same trajectory.
The signing of Loïc Rémy completed Chelsea’s transfer dealings this summer. In a world where Ross McCormack goes for £11m in the Championship, the £10.5m of Loïc Rémy looks ridiculous in terms of value. The French international has every tool to succeed at Chelsea as both an auxiliary winger and a more traditional striker. Deputising for Diego Costa is likely to be how Rémy starts his career, but in a season where Chelsea will play upwards of 50 games (you would hope) the Frenchman looks a key figure. Loïc Rémy is a change of pace option to Costa’s physical power and he is a player with great finishing ability. Not since Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka in their pomp have Chelsea had such quality in attack. When you add in the experience and leadership of Drogba, Chelsea’s forward line looks particularly strong.
Speaking of Didier, that move in particular appears to have already paid dividends. Clearly the Ivorian is not being asked to spearhead Chelsea’s title campaign. His influence is more wide ranging than that. When Terry revealed Didier gave the pre-match team talk against Everton and six goals followed, it says a lot about Drogba’s motivational ability. He has been brought back to close games out and lead the team internally. A fantastic way for Didier to end his career at Chelsea before a coaching role beckons with the club – it looks like his relationship with Diego Costa is going to be crucial for the Brazilian to settle at Chelsea.
On the departures front the sheer amount of money received for David Luiz was staggering. Likewise, seeing £28m for Romelu Lukaku come our way despite the Belgian never scoring a goal for Chelsea was baffling. Demba Ba left for pastures new. Around £76m was recouped in transfer fees and even more received from loan fees paid on Chelsea’s twenty-six loanees. It is crazy to think that Mourinho et al. have managed to completely reshape the club and still actually walk out with a small profit. In the era of Financial Fair Play it shows a degree of acumen in the market, particularly around young players, that not many can match. Chelsea bought value, quality and potential this summer and sold players for significant fees who did not fit in with Mourinho’s vision.
A superb window that gives Chelsea a realistic chance of winning the league title.