Munich spirit may sustain Blues
The Blues must build on the emotion of their Champions League triumph if they are to take on the Manchester clubs this term…
Chelsea’s 2011/12 campaign is difficult to pin down. Actually, that’s not true – it is very easy to pin down. Incredible success in the Champions League, eventual failure in the Premier League, all amid significant managerial uncertainty. But plenty of questions were posed and not all of them answered. Is Roberto Di Matteo really the long-term answer or just a man in the right place at the right time? Who will overhaul the squad? How and when? Despite the immeasurable delight which came with European success, the administration are hungry for more, and desperate to have the Blues challenging Manchester for domestic honours again.
Having been handed the reins on a full-time basis and heavily backed in the transfer market, Di Matteo starts the campaign with plenty of credit. But there is just a feeling that he may be holding for fort for a bigger name – or more precisely, the name Pep Guardiola.
The Italian is a popular figure both with the players and the fanbase but he has little room for error in the Premier League. Success on the continent was Roman Abramovich’s dream but it was not meant to come at the expense of domestic domination. While there were plenty of mitigating factors for last season’s sixth-placed finish, anything like a repeat will not be tolerated. The Blues ended the campaign 25 points shy of the champions; not since 2000/01, when they were pushed into sixth by Ipswich, had the Londoners been so far off the pace.
It is impossible to imagine the afterglow which must come with the sort of triumph Chelsea enjoyed in Munich in May. With Tottenham bumped out of the Champions League places as a result as the FA Cup also secured, there ought to be a considerable overspill of emotion into 2012/13. But while the successes of last term can never be forgotten, the immediate joy will fade if there is no springboard to further progress.
However, the Blues have so far been a touch more proactive in the transfer market than the champions, recruiting Eden Hazard, Marko Marin and Oscar all for significant fees. And there is a belief that while Manchester City are worthy favourites, Di Matteo’s men can keep them – and Manchester United – honest.
Though the likes of Alex, Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka have been moved on, Chelsea could still do with something of a rebuild. John Terry and Frank Lampard will not go on forever and while the successes of last season have allowed the club to put off any difficult decisions on that score, the issue remains in the background. It is difficult to imagine Di Matteo phasing out either without a prompt from above.
The club have shown they retain the desire and wherewithal to attract star names from the continent. But with financial fair play regulations likely to come into the equation to a greater extent this season, the Blues could also do with finding some answers from within.
Oscar (Internacional), Marko Marin (Werder Bremen), Eden Hazard (Lille).
Didier Drogba (Shanghai Shenhua), Jacob Mellis (Barnsley), Salomon Kalou (Lille), Jose Bosingwa (QPR), Thibaut Courtois (Atletico Madrid – loan), Kevin De Bruyne (Werder Bremen - loan), Romelu Lukaku (West Brom - loan).
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