Chelsea enter the new season having experience many highs and lows in the one that proceeded it. From crashing out of the Champions League, to the arrival of Rafa Benitez, to Lampard breaking the club goal scoring record and finally to winning the Europa League, Chelsea fans went through every emotion. This summer they’ve been very active in this transfer window, both in departures and arrivals, and most significantly the special one has returned.
Now an evaluation is needed of what they have gained, what they have lost, what it indicates going forwards and what the squad is really capable of. Many of Chelsea’s strengths and weaknesses haven’t changed significantly despite 6 new faces (5 new signings and 1 a returning loanee) but a new organisational base under the returning manager will still mean that there are updated expectations.
A grand total of eleven first team players bid their farewells to Chelsea over the summer. Yossi Benayoun was released having reached the end of his contract, as was Florent Malouda who moved to Trabzonspor on a free. Ross Turnbull similarly saw his contract expire and is now a player for Doncaster Rovers.
Emotional goodbyes were also said to an incredible club servant, Paulo Ferreira. Signed in 2005, he initially player a crucial role in bringing Chelsea’s first league titles to the club, but eventually became a squad player as the years went by. A model professional, and always passionate when used – he has even been known to neutralize Gareth Bale. Indeed, a player who will be missed and appreciated by all Chelsea fans.
Six new loan moves of first team-squad members also transpired. Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea’s outstanding young Belgian goalkeeper, has returned to Atletico Madrid for a third successive season. Marko Marin also moved to La Liga, joining Sevilla after failing to impress due to injury and possibly a lack of opportunity in 2012/2013, whilst Oriol Romeu headed to Valencia, also on loan. La Liga will be worth keeping an eye on for Chelsea fans this season.
Wallace, signed in January, will be heading to Inter Milan on loan after impressing hugely in pre-season, and new signing Christian Atsu will be heading to Vitesse Arnhem on loan after joining from Porto in the dying days of the transfer window.
A big departure from the club was Victor Moses on loan to Liverpool. A very, very interesting move. Victor Moses fulfilled the role he was expected to extremely well in his first season with Chelsea. He was largely back-up to Hazard, Oscar and Mata, but since none of those could start every game he played a great deal and gave Chelsea some good strength in depth for only £8 million. Now he will be strengthening a team that many (but certainly not all) would consider a direct title challenger. Even if there is no silverware rivalry, there is certainly some fan rivalry there, and many Chelsea fans will not be comfortable with this decision. It’s not really comparable to Chelsea’s recent policy of loaning out youth only for them to return stronger; Moses is not a teenager, nor is he inexperienced so all this serves for Chelsea is to move his wages out of the club and free up space in the squad. A transfer would have done the same things and would have also allowed Chelsea a transfer fee. Since Moses may well have played his last match for Chelsea, it seems odd to loan him to a direct rival and arguable competitor.
Perhaps the most notable loan exit though is Lukaku to Everton. This transpired in the closing minutes of the transfer window following a failure to send Ba to Arsenal or anywhere else. Many fans will be upset by this move, but unfortunately it may have been the best decision for the both the club and the player in the end. Had he not left for Everton then there would have been four strikers bidding for one starting spot in the team. In the long run it would not be the end of the world if the likes of Eto’o or Ba got less game time, but for Lukaku it could be devastating for his career and a repeat of his first season at Chelsea. Given the situation the club was in then, a move to Everton where he would get more minutes, increased responsibly and a new experience was best for everyone involved. Now we will have to wait and see whether Lukaku can improve on his 17 league goals from last season.
So with those names now no longer with the squad, there was room for plenty of new additions. In truth Chelsea did not have a particularly large squad the season before, and so their capacity to bring in players was already high, which is perhaps why there are now 6 new faces.
Schurrle was the first of three attacking midfielders to come into Chelsea’s squad, a player identified by Chelsea before the arrival of Mourinho but given the green light to be signed by the same man. At Bayer Leverkusen he played on the left side of an attacking trio, similar to Hazard at Chelsea, but was not as similar in the way that he actually played.
Very direct in his approach, Schurrle scored 11 goals with 7 assists in his 34 starts, and on average was directly involved with a goal every 145 minutes. He did this by averaging 3.6 shots a match as well as 3.2 successful dribbles. It’s in his nature to drive at the opponent with the ball at his feet and to look for goal early on and often from distance. In many ways he is a Mourinho player through and through: a work horse who will always do his part for the team in defence whilst maintaining an attacking liability for the opposition.
This and the fact that he was more direct than any of Chelsea’s attacking midfielders last season will be the reason for this signing. Oscar, Mata and Hazard were utilized as build up players, who all had higher pass accuracies, passes completed and key passes per game than Schurrle. This does not necessarily mean that Schurrle is weaker, technically, than any of those three, just that he is more ambitious with his passing as he is with his dribbling and shooting. He certainly provides something different that Mourinho can rely on as a plan B – that is if he is not plan A.
A Brazilian player that remains a little under the radar when it comes to playing for the national team, yet this one has the potential to be Chelsea’s biggest signing of the summer. Stolen from under the noses of Tottenham, he becomes part of one of the most talented attacking midfields in Europe; his biggest strengths are his versatility and low centre of gravity, similar to that of Eden Hazard making him an excellent dribbler.
He was bought from Anzhi Makhachkala where he had got injured in his first game (against Newcastle) and from then on made only made a handful of appearances, although he did get four assists and two Man Of The Match awards in that time. At Shakhtar he was considered one of the stars of the league – in 2010-11 he was voted the best player in Ukraine, and he actually played against Chelsea twice last season in the group stages of the Champions league and was dominant in both games, scoring twice against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
I think the best way to sum up this signing is to say that while it has the potential to be a great one, it was not one Chelsea needed. If Chelsea had left this one alone, kept Moses, and spent on a new defensive midfielder it would have made a lot more sense. He’s at Chelsea now though, and he has undoubtedly improved the team so it’s one where Chelsea fans will just have to wait and see.
Marco van Ginkel
An encouraging signing for Chelsea; the centre of midfield is an area in the team in which Chelsea were certainly short, and in fact they could have probably done with another signing along with this one.
As I have already said about van Ginkel in the past, the best way to describe him is complete. He has qualities akin to that of both Lampard and Ramires and has no obvious outstanding weaknesses, especially when one goes by his stats. He is a physically strong player standing at 6’1” and is perhaps the definition of a box-to-box midfielder. In this way he is similar to Ramires who takes advantage of his pace and stamina to get a foothold in the game. However, while Ramires may sometimes end up relying on that due to a poor first touch and final pass, van Ginkel is also very gifted technically. He had an 85% pass accuracy for Vitesse last season, higher than Ramires and Lampard (84% and 80%), and his ability to move the ball quickly through midfield with a cutting pass is one of the strong points of his game.
He scored 8 goals with 8 assists in the league for Vitesse, proving that he is more than just an engine. It seems he is as equally creative as he is direct with his goal scoring, and he further provided 36 chances for his team mates over the course of the season. You could perhaps describe him as Ramires and (a younger) Lampard combined, yet Mourinho has barely used him since the start of the season despite him being one of Chelsea’s most impressive players in pre-season. It’s a little perplexing, but he is certainly a talent who should only improve, and will provide excellent quality in depth to Chelsea’s squad.
A player that commands a lot of respect around Europe, and an individual that is certainly proven. He won two consecutive trebles with Barcelona and then Inter Milan before making his big money move to Anzhi, and even before that was a constant in Barcelona during one of their most dominant eras in Europe.
The reason why Chelsea fans are concerned is that he is 32, has been in a “weaker” league for a matter of years, and has in fact been playing out of that striker role and has played deeper a lot of the time. That said he was brought in on a free with his wages slashed, and for a one year contract in a situation where he would probably just add depth, it wasn’t the worst idea.
That was the situation when he signed, but times have changed. Now Lukau has gone to Everton on loan, when originally it had looked like was going to be Ba going somewhere. Well it’s relatively safe to say that, at the moment, Torres is first choice and it is likely that it will stay that way looking at early indications this season. Lukaku would likely have been a close second choice, but now with his exit Eto’o could find himself with a lot more minutes on the pitch. Chelsea fans will have to hope that he can rediscover some of that famous form from Barcelona and Inter.
Kevin de Bruyne
He’s not a new signing but he is a quality addition to the squad. He’s just spent the season on loan at Werder Bremen, won their player of the year and it’s not outrageous to say that he may be the biggest reason for their survival in the league. In 33 appearances he scored 10 goals with 9 assists, with 89 shots and 85 chances created over the season. A balanced attacker in that sense and one who is most comfortable in the centre, but who can also play out wide.
He is a little unknown to many fans, especially of other clubs, but to put some emphasis on to how good he is, he was Dortmund’s first choice to replace Gotze. It didn’t work out though, and Chelsea will be delighted to have him. He is one who has bags of potential to fulfil and the only worry in this situation is competing with 5 other quality players in his position that will limit his time on the pitch. I would add on de Bruyne, I personally think he should be one of the first names on Chelsea’s team sheet having followed his progress closely last season.
A simple signing – Ross Turnbull’s contract was up and Chelsea needed some decent back up. Schwarzer fits the description, experienced in the Premier League and very capable of stepping in when required. To get a player like this on a free would have been an easy decision, and it’s also an upgrade from what they had in reserve in 2012/13.
The Situation Now
Going into the season Chelsea still lack a world class striker, but they have three good strikers. None of them are outstanding, none of them are terrible, and all of them have the potential to recapture form from their pasts which is what has led each of them to be at Chelsea. Chelsea have missed out on multiple big name targets in this department, and the fact is that come the end of the window there was nobody left out there, and this was left as their only possibility. It’s certainly not the end of the world though, as the Chelsea team really ticks through the attacking midfield.
As far as that attacking midfield goes, it’s awesome *full-stop*. Mata, Hazard, Oscar, Willian, Schurrle and de Bruyne – six players for three positions. There aren’t many attacking combinations that can rival that in Europe at the moment. It’s certainly the strong point of Chelsea’s team and whether it can live up to that potential will probably define Chelsea’s season. There’s not a lot more to say than that.
In central midfield Chelsea are perhaps a little under-staffed. Mourinho has heavily relied on the Lamaprd-Ramires combination and has been relatively stubborn with that. Marco van Ginkel is yet to be given a proper chance, and Mikel has been used only as a sub; Essien not at all. Similar to Chelsea’s striker situation, it’s not a bad midfield but it lacks a bit of world class at the moment now that Lampard is getting older.
Nothing has happened to Chelsea’s defence really. Jose has said that Luiz “has to play” when he is fit, and he showed that by throwing him in at the deep end against Bayern Munich. Ivanovic seems to be favoured to Azpilicueta at right back, and Terry seems to be getting games once again. With a more organised setup under Mourinho I would expect this team to concede a lot less goals than last season, certainly not through away as many leads as they did.
Overall the future is bright. Some areas of the team could have been strengthened a little more, and Lukaku going on loan is not going to go down well, but there is still a lot to be optimistic about. Here is a preview to the new season by @feroze17 to get all Chelsea fans motivated for what is to come.
European statistics were taken from WhoScored.