Is Carlo Ancelotti the only marquee signing Chelsea are going to make this summer? And if so, is that enough tweaking to see the Blues win their first league title since 2006?
The furious paper-talk bubbling around Stamford Bridge throughout the off-season has all fizzled out into a fat lot of nothing. Captain fantastic, Mr. Chelsea, or the cry-baby who bottled it in the Champions League final – however you want to refer to John Terry – is going nowhere. While on the incomings, save for Yuri Zhirov who was hardly bought on the sales rack for Â£18 million, again fans have had to be satisfied with an unhealthy serving of bupkis.
Behind the scenes though, the buzz word has been consolidation. Aside from JT, Florent Malouda and John Obi Mikel have both agreed to extend their contracts at the Bridge, while before kick-off against Hull on the opening weekend of the season, Joe Cole, Ashley Cole and Didier Drogba could well have signed extensions too.
But the obvious question is that if the Chelsea squad were not able to break the dominance of Manchester United last season, how can the same bunch of players be back to do so this time round?
Chelsea’s failings in the league last season can be pigeonholed into two different boxes. The first, which was always highly probable, was the inability of Felipe Scolari to escape the long shadow of Jose Mourinho and establish himself as the new commanding boss of the Blues. But, against all the hype which Scolari’s colourful appointment and removal brought, the bigger problem for the Pensioners were injuries.
Michael Essien is without doubt one of the, if not the best player in the league. Sadly for the Ghanaian, an injury on international duty wiped out the majority of the season, and in turn Chelsea and Scolari suffered. Images of the Champions League semi-final with Barcelona only highlight what a wonderful and irreplaceable talent Essien is.
But Essien wasn’t alone on the treatment table. Lying his stumpier legs alongside was local-Londoner and full time Eastender Joe Cole while completing the trio of first-team absentees was Ricardo Carvalho.
While in no way suggesting that the Blues were the only team with injury problems last season, it is equally valid to suggest that the return of these three starters to the first team squad could be all the extra quality needed to turn last year’s third into this year’s first.
Chelsea proved as much during the temporary reign of Guus Hiddink. The Dutchman’s tactical acumen was correctly lauded throughout his term at the Bridge in which the Blues recorded 12 wins from their last 14 league matches, a Champions League semi-final place and a triumphant win in the FA Cup final. However, it doesn’t take a genius to notice that that period also coincided with Essien’s return, as well as the superb form of Malouda patrolling the left-hand side.
Taking the form that Chelsea showed at the back-end of the 2008/09 season, add a Franck Ribery or a Wesley Sneijder before the transfer window closes, and the Blues will be a good shout for having the best squad in the league.
William Hill appreciate Chelsea’s quality, pricing the Blues joint 2/1 favourites with Manchester United to win the Premier League outright. Liverpool (11/4), Arsenal (8/1) and Manchester City (11/1) complete the top five.
(Complete odds for the race for the Premier League can be seen here.)
The Blues are priced are 7/4 to come runner-up, 5/2 to repeat last season’s third, a tempting 7/1 to pull up the rear of the Big Four, and a massive 16/1 to drop out of the Champions League places altogether.
(Complete odds on where Chelsea will finish next season can be seen here.)