It’s tantamount to heresy, but I think that there’s a great degree of over-optimism among Chelsea fans as the 2012-13 season gets underway. There’s a danger that the double cup win in May 2012 has disguised what was largely an unsatisfactory Premier League season in 2011-12. With the Stamford Bridge trophy cabinet bulging at present, that may seem unfair, but the huge gulf in points between champions Manchester City and Chelsea underlined that in the “bread and butter” stakes, Chelsea did not have a good campaign.
The optimism has been fuelled by the signings of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Marco Marin. But let’s look at these new arrivals rationally. Hazard was one of Europe’s most sought-after talents and there’s no disputing that he has a nice touch, but he shone in France. Oscar is Brazilian, which always has cachet. Marin has come from the Bundesliga and may only figure on the fringes of the Chelsea first team in 2012-13. Until the real action gets underway, we do not know how these players will shape up. None are “Marque” signings.
Do the new faces address some of more long-term issues that Chelsea have? The Cech – Terry – Lampard – Drogba axis is starting to break up. Drogba is now plying his trade in China, Terry has been tarnished by “Antongate”, Lampard has one eye of Hollywood and Cech no longer looks impregnable. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Terry and Lampard could leave Chelsea over the next 12-18 months so the heirs to their throne will need to be bedded in. Gary Cahill and David Luiz may be the next central defensive partnership, but are we that convinced? And Ashley Cole – how long will he figure? As for Cech, Chelsea do not have a current shadow keeper worthy of his place.
But it is up front that worries me most. Fernando Torres remains an enigma although he has the ability to flourish now the shadow of Drogba has receded. But one decent forward is not enough and despite his Team GB exploits, Daniel Sturridge doesn’t do it for me. Although a new signing may yet emerge before the deadline, Chelsea do need to bulk up with Hulk, at the very least.
Chelsea’s achievements in 2011-12 were considerable and deserve to be celebrated. But we would be fooling ourselves if we felt that the Blues are the best in Europe. The team that picked up that unique double was done – unless considerable rebuilding is undertaken, and that may not happen until Roman Abramovich really gets the man he wants, Chelsea will continue to follow in the slipstream of the Manchester clubs. I would love to be proved wrong, though….