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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Chelsea a Serious Contender for English Crown

Roman Abramovich, if anyone, means business. And for the past few years now, the owner of Chelsea Football Club has not been happy. This year, though, he might actually crack a smile.

Eight game-days into the 2009-10 Premier League Season, Chelsea look to be serious contenders for the English crown.

Yeah, okay, you hear that about every year around this time, but this time the thought has a bit more conviction.

The Blues currently sit on top of the Premier League by a point, having defeated the likes of Sunderland, Tottenham, and Liverpool, all in dominating fashion. For the first time since Jose Mourinho’s disruptive departure from Stamford Bridge two years ago, the puzzled club do not look fragmented on the pitch.

Actually, they look quite functional. Not beautiful—but functional. The Blues field a rugged, gritty-styled squad and cannot be expected to play a pretty game. They are showing, however, that they can grind out results—and, well, in pretty decent fashion.

Didier Drogba may be the biggest beneficiary of the Blues’ new groove. The Ivorian striker has been reborn and seems to have rediscovered his top form of years previous. He is effectively harassing defenses—with the help of his diving antics, though—and already has five Premier League goals to his name.

Drogba’s partner in crime, Nicholas Anelka, is also on great form, coming off his Golden Boot season in 2008-09. Likewise for Ashley Cole. Heck, even Deco doesn’t look too bad.

It’s not difficult to trace the source of the Blues’ recent success back to the man in charge, though. Carlo Anceolotti, the club’s fourth manager in two years, is bringing something to Stamford Bridge that his predecessors could not—fluidity on the pitch. For the first time in two years, Chelsea look comfortable and confident playing with each other.

Ancelotti’s good start in West London can be primarily attributed to his successful employment of the 4-1-2-1-2 with Chelsea. Unlike managers past, who tampered with 4-4-2’s and 4-3-3’s, Ancelotti has figured out the Chelsea squad and under which structure they best function. The Italian mastered the 4-1-2-1-2 formation with AC Milan and his expertise is now thriving with one of England’s most difficult teams to manage.

Ancelotti’s success, though, was not entirely unexpected. The Italian boasts an impressive resume. Many Blues faithful were confident that he was the man for the job. And while Chelsea’s Big Four rivals seemed to lose more quality than gained this summer, the West London club returned a near-identical squad to last year, bolstered by the addition of Russian back Yuri Zhirkov.

You got this sense, too, that when club captain John Terry and Chelsea reaffirmed their commitment to each other in August, it was like a commitment to success. (Terry was involved in a summer-long transfer saga with Manchester City.) Chelsea ultimately turning down great money for a dwindling player, and Terry declining a chance to redefine himself elsewhere after two below-par seasons, sent a warning to English football that Chelsea was back.

The mood in West London is clearly evident on the pitch because so far this season, Chelsea look fantastic—well, unattractively fantastic.

You see, there is nothing extravagant about this Chelsea club, but they are extremely solid. Most importantly, they know how to win. Former Blues defender Marcel Desailly said it perfectly—Under Ancelotti, the club seems “at peace.” Could this be the year Roman Abramovich finally finds his peace?

***Disclaimer: Chelsea are my least favorite team in all of sports. I write what I think, though, and try to be unbiased in doing so. So, I hope this article jinxes them.


  1. Nice to see a chelsea article dodds. I have to disagree with you about chelsea playing "functional" football. Under Jose when chelsea would grind out those 1-0 wins and at times be content with a 0-0 draw, that was functional football. The football chelsea started the season with was beautiful. Players were moving off the ball, the ball was constantly moving, and they scored some pretty attractive goals. The last few games they have been more "functional" as you put it but still playing more "beautiful."

    The one thing you forgot to mention and may go unnoticed is lampard's dip in form in this system. Lampard hasnt had a goal besides a penalty in 7 or 8 games which is pretty uncommon for a midfielder who scores 20+ goals a season. In the 4-3-3 lampard really controlled the midfield and drove on the attack. He is playing at the tip of ancelotti's diamond but he cant quite seem to find his groove in this new system.

  2. Yeah, but they still have that workmanlike style. I can't honestly say their the most fun team to watch either. And you just love watching Chelsea play too much.

  3. You're right about Lampard, though. The past few years he was used to orchestrating play through the midfield and this year he's asked to attack.

    Lampard's best goal-scoring opportunities are earned through workmanlike play in the midfield, making occasional, long, Michael Bradley-esque runs from the midfield in behind the defense. So that true center midfield role allowed him to orchestrate attack through the midfield and come upon opportunities that best-suited his goal-scoring strengths.

    Now ironically, while in a more advanced attacking role, Lampard may score less goals than previous seasons. BUT his role will be meant more to attack and open up opportunities for Anelka and Drogba up front. Ancelloti is finally capitalizing on the potential deadly relationship the two can have.

    Lampard may be having difficulty adjusting to his new role, but the rest of his team is thriving and I'm sure he is a good enough Chelsea player to eventually settle into his offense.

  4. Your right, its just difficult as a chelsea fan to see one of the best midfielders in the world struggling to adjust to a changed midfield that was previously centered around him. I am really excited to see how Joe Cole fits into this new system with him coming back from injury. Also it will be interesting to see where Zhurikov fits into this squad. It would be difficult to take out ashley cole who is arguably chelsea's best player this season, but it would be equally as difficult to throw him into the left side of the diamond since he is a naturally wide player.

    The one stumbling block this season for chelsea will be that stupid african nations cup. Essien, drogba, and mikel will be gone for a month. Ballack is going to have to slip into the holding role and deco is going to have to step up.

  5. You know who I think is really missing from the Chelsea squad--Schevchenko. I think they need to re-acquire him and he will lead them to greatness. Tal Ben Haim, too.