Chelsea and 5 problem positions that need fixing ahead of next season
It has been a curious time down at Stamford Bridge. At the beginning of the Premier League season, it had become clear that Antonio Conte’s position as the manager had become untenable.
Yet, for weird reasons, the club refused to sack him until they had secured the arrival of Maurizio Sarri (after protracted negotiations with Napoli). The start of the Sarri-era began with promise as the team was in the thick of the title race alongside Manchester City and Liverpool.
However, things have fallen apart and it seems the centre can no longer hold. The 2-0 loss to Liverpool in the league on Sunday was the latest in a spate of terrible performances against top-level opposition.
The 6-0 shellacking at the hands of Manchester City brought calls for the manager to be sacked.
The Italian has not helped his own cause with his tactical inflexibility and baffling substitutions.
Results have picked up in recent times (apart from the Liverpool game). However, it is seen as a temporary reprieve with most pundits postulating that Sarri will be sacked come end of the season.
Sadly, that move will address only a small part of the problem. Chelsea’s transfer policy since the exit of Michael Emenalo has been an absolute disaster. The roster filled with aging stars and average players bought for ridiculous sums (Danny Drinkwater, Olivier Giroud amongst others).
It is difficult to pinpoint a part of the team not in need of a massive overhaul. Whoever is appointed after Sarri/if he leaves will have to sift through the rubble to get the semblance of a working team.
With the prospect of a ban looming, the club may need to turn to its scarcely-used youth system to source materials for the rebuilding process.
Here is a look at five positions in the team most in need of restorative surgery:
Since the exit of Ashley Cole, the left-back position is one that Chelsea has struggled to fill. Filipe Luis, Kenedy, Baba Rahman were brought in at great cost with varying levels of failure for each.
The £23m signing of Marcos Alonso in 2016 was seen along the same lines as he was hardly lighting up Serie A before he joined the Blues. Conte quickly identified that the Spaniard’s lack of pace would hurt the side in a conventional 4-3-3 and pushed him into the left-wing back role in a 3-4-3 formation.
It worked brilliantly in the first season with the player getting 6 goals and 3 assists as the team won the Premier League title. It went badly the following season as teams had figured him out.
In Sarri’s 4-man backline, Alonso has been a defensive liability with his lack of pace and positional indiscipline being exploited to no end.
Substitute left-back, Emerson Palmieri has looked okay in the few games he has been afforded the opportunity to start.
An upgrade will be needed next season if the Blues are to become competitive again.
Cesar Azilicueta has been a very faithful servant to the Chelsea cause since he joined for £7.92m in 2012. The Spaniard has been the club’s Renaissance Man, performing with distinction in a right-back and central defensive role.
However, he has never been the fastest and has become too easy to get past in recent times. His main strengths; positioning and intelligence have also let him down regularly. The game against Manchester City a case in point as Raheem Sterling and Oleksander Zinchenko went past him with ease.
Davide Zappacosta was another of the very baffling signings the club has made in recent times. The Italian international played mainly as a right-wingback in his time at Torino. Like, Palmieri, the signing has been a terrible one in terms of delivery after a considerable financial outlay.
The club may need to do something similar to what Manchester City and Pep Guardiola did last season. Having identified the fullback positions as a weakness, the club got rid of the players in that position (Bacary Sagna, Pablo Zabaleta, Aleksander Kolarov, and Gael Clichy). It then proceeded to spend north of £140m on Kyle Walker, Bernard Mendy, and Danilo.
This move helped create the record-breaking team that won the league in style last year and is in contention for this season’s title.
#3 Central Defence
In the Roman Abrahmovic-era, few positions have offered as much solidity for the club as the central defence. John Terry, Ricardo Carvalho, William Gallas, Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic are just some of the names that have performed with distinction.
However, this has gone down over the last couple of seasons. David Luiz performed with distinction in the title-winning season under Conte. Alongside Cahill and Azpilicueta, the Brazilian stood out in the 3-man backline employed by the wily Italian manager.
In Sarri’s 4-4-2, Luiz has been a car crash. Careless, easily dragged out of position and lacking subtlety, his old faults have been cruelly exposed by all and sundry.
His partner; Antonio Rudiger has been less terrible but won’t be winning any awards anytime soon.
Cahill is past it as a starter for a side of Chelsea’s size and Andreas Christensen still has growing up to do. The myriad of on-loan centre-backs (Matt Miazga, Kurt Zouma, Michael Hector, Kenneth Omeruo e.t.c) have not been pulling up any trees.
A massive clearout (Luiz and Cahill are in their final season) will be needed and better, younger players brought in.
Pace, invention, and trickery down the flanks have been a feature of Chelsea’s play for years. Damien Duff, Arjen Robben, Jesper Gronkjaer are just some of the fantastic wingmen that have delighted the Stamford Bridge faithful over the years.
To be fair to the current bunch, they have had good days. Willian, Pedro and especially Eden Hazard have been brilliant on occasion for the team. However, with the exception of the mercurial Belgian, the others have declined.
Willian’s decision-making constantly baffles on-lookers while Pedro’s on-off form since he joined from Barcelona means he cannot be relied on. With age no longer on their side, next season will be a good time to bid both players goodbye.
The arrival of Christian Pulisic and the determination to hold on to Callum Hudson-Odoi means the club are aware of this problem. However, more quality will need to be added if the wings are to become important once again for the team.
Hazard’s future is still far from certain and with him taking on a more central role, the club will need to spend big to fill the holes down the flanks.
Undoubtedly the biggest headache, the striking position is one that Chelsea has struggled with for years. Didier Drogba and Diego Costa were big name signings who more than delivered, firing the team to multiple titles with their goals and personalities.
However, for every Drogba, there has been a Mateja Kezman, Andriy Shevchenko, Michy Batshuayi, Alvaro Morata to name a few. Chelsea has had rotten luck with strikers over the years.
Morata and Giroud, in particular, have been huge disappointments with both players combining to score less than 10 goals this season. Thus, when Morata moved to join Atletico Madrid in January, few tears were shed on his behalf.
Gonzalo Higuain’s arrival in January looks to be a temporary solution. He has looked okay in patches since he arrived but has not been helped by the lack of service from midfield (a failing of the team’s Sarriball system).
The centre-forward role is one that the club has to endeavour to fix next season if things are to change.