What Jose Must Do To Make Chelsea Title Contenders Again
It is a measure of the standards Chelsea have set for themselves in recent years that a season when they finished four points off the top of the Premier League and reached a Champions League semi-final was viewed by some as a failure.
So what does Jose Mourinho need to do to take that extra step and secure a trophy or two next season? The short answer is not very much. But for home slip-ups against the likes of West Ham, Sunderland and Norwich, Chelsea could easily have pipped Manchester City and Liverpool to the Premier League title. They did the double over both those sides, but it was dropping points against lower placed teams that ultimately cost them. A little more luck might have also seen them reach the Champions League final, although most Chelsea fans will hold their hands up and concede they were beaten by the better team on the night in the second leg against Atletico Madrid.
In terms of tactics, Mourinho more often than not gets things spot on. The media threw terms like ‘tactical masterclass’ around after a weakened side secured the win at Anfield that so dented Liverpool’s title ambitions. The truth, though, was that he set his team up to achieve a result, no matter how aesthetically unpleasing, and his players were able to carry it out. His ability to man manage and get the most out of his players is second to none, and it seems he always has a plan B, or even a plan C, when required. He will no doubt work with his squad when everyone is back from the World Cup to establish his favoured system and start to get an idea of his starting line up come the first league game in August.
There are, of course, things that need to be improved in terms of personnel. One key area to address, and this will come as a surprise to precisely no one, is the need for a striker who can bang in more than the disappointing return that Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba managed between them last season. At the time of writing the signing of Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa looks imminent, but we still await confirmation from the two clubs. Another option would be to bring Romelu Lukaku, who had such a successful season with Everton, back into the fold. If Chelsea are ever going to give him a shot at being a first team regular, this must surely be the time. Meanwhile Eto’o has announced he is leaving after his contract expired, while Torres’ future at Stamford Bridge still could be in doubt. Eto’o couldn’t resist a few parting shots at Mourinho, mainly over the manager’s jibes regarding his age, despite the fact he had a decent season albeit with a modest return of 11 goals.
In midfield there is already strength in depth. All time record scorer Frank Lampard announced his 13 year love affair with the club had come to an end this summer, and in the cold light of day it was probably the right decision for both parties. A midfield boasting the likes of Oscar, Andre Schurrle, Eden Hazard, Nemanja Matic and Willian, to name just a few, terrorised a few teams last season. Marco van Ginkel, who missed the majority of last season through injury, will also be one to watch, having narrowly missed out on making the Dutch World Cup squad. There may yet be more comings and goings in this department over the summer. With the potential addition of Barcelona and ex-Arsenal man Cesc Fabregas looking on the cards, Mourinho will be relatively happy that he has the midfield players to play a variety of systems and cope with the sheer volume of games the club is likely to face.
At the back, the future of Ashley Cole is as yet undecided but David Luiz is departing after a too-good-to-turn-down offer from Paris Saint Germain. Despite his occasional propensity for glaring errors, he will be missed, both in terms of his pure football ability and his capacity to entertain. With John Terry nearing the end of his career, although he has signed a one-year contract extension, Mourinho may start giving 21-year old Czech centre back Tomas Kalas more games. In his handful of appearances last season he showed what a prospect he is, in particular his mature display at Anfield late in the season. The addition of a full back looks likely, with Chelsea apparently pursuing another Atletico Madrid player, left back Filipe Luis.
As for goalkeepers, Petr Cech has been at Chelsea for a decade and is rapidly closing in on his 500th game for the Blues. At 32 he is by no means old for a goalkeeper and he remains one of the best in the Premier League. The question remains whether Mourinho decides to bring Thibault Courtois, who has spent the last three seasons on loan at Atletico Madrid, back to Chelsea. He looks a fine keeper, already one of the best in the world, but it is unlikely he and Cech will want to fight it out to be first choice. In the future Chelsea fans will hope he makes the number one position his own at Stamford Bridge, but it would not be a huge surprise to see him stay at Atletico for one further year. Meanwhile veteran Mark Schwarzer has signed a further one-year contract as backup, and last year’s Under 21 keeper Jamal Blackman also looks a decent prospect.
It will be interesting to see how the summer plays out in terms of transfers in and out of Chelsea. Mourinho is a shrewd man and even with Financial Fair Play to consider, he has the financial backing necessary to give him a good chance of securing the transfer targets he has identified. When the squad is finally assembled there are few better managers at getting the best out of them. I expect Chelsea to be very competitive next season, both domestically and in Europe. Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal and a no doubt resurgent Manchester United are likely to give them a run for their money in the Premier League, but when it comes to handing out trophies at the business end of the season Chelsea should be there or thereabouts.