Chelsea FC : a turbulent time
Despite maintaining a respectable place in the Premier League and competing for both the FA Cup and Champions League, Chelsea Football Club is in a somewhat tenuous position. The recent resurgence of both Manchester clubs has left the Blues scrambling to pick up the pace. There is certainly cause for concern among fans when you put recent transfer business and club decisions under the microscope.
Now a clear 15 points behind league leaders Manchester City, Chelsea's Premier League title defence is all but over. The priority is clearly to maintain Champions League football next year. In this year's competition, the Blues have drawn Barcelona in the round of sixteen. Hello. Even the most optimistic fan knows the slim chances of progressing against Ernesto Valverde's formidable side. While Chelsea has shown the ability to best opponents such as Atletico Madrid over two legs, they have also displayed a propensity to lose against teams like Roma.
As a whole, Chelsea fans seem largely unconvinced by their chances for a trophy this season. It seems important to note this is a different set of issues than those faced after Jose Mourinho's last title. The problems this season can be traced to squad and backroom deficiencies, not a manager losing the dressing room. These concerns were epitomised by the most recent 3 - 0 loss to Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge.
While signing unwanted but talented players Ross Barkley, Olivier Giroud, and Emerson Palmieri is almost certainly great business, especially with each player arriving for under £20 million, the feeling remains Chelsea could have pursued somewhat better targets. Alex Sandro, Edin Dzeko, and Riyad Mahrez were all first choice options that did not materialise.
If such deals had gone through, one would anticipate a far more competitive Chelsea side. It is crucial to point out. however, that Chelsea has transformed from a club that buys marquee names, then devises a system to accommodate its dazzling array of individuals, to one that signs under-the-radar players who can plug-and-play in the club's existing system. Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses are perfect examples.
That said, there is no player who can convincingly cover for Eden Hazard's creative output. The Belgian is undoubtedly the fulcrum in Chelsea's attack. Additionally, while Giroud makes for a fantastic, if not perfect, backup striker, you cannot help but think Chelsea needs to dig deeper into its pockets to guarantee goals. Alvaro Morata clearly has the ability but is simply misfiring at present. He played much better at Juventus and Real Madrid in the secondary role Giroud will now assume.
Another facet of the transfer market that has always irked Chelsea fans, youth development, has again reared its ugly head. Charly Musonda and Kenedy have been loaned out to Celtic and Newcastle United respectively. After promising displays, their departure drew a collective groan from Blues faithful. The only positive to be taken from this ever-diminishing squad is hope the youngsters thrust from the nest may follow a similar journey to their erstwhile teammate Andreas Christensen. Likewise, there could now be room in the squad for rising star Callum Hudson-Odoi to forge his own breakthrough. In his brief debut against Newcastle he looked genuinely superb.
The critical element is to tie Hazard and Thibault Courtois down to long term contracts. Each has perhaps one major career move left, with the ever-present allure of Madrid lingering. For Hazard his only chance at making a serious bid for the Ballon D'or may reside at the Santiago Bernabeu. The uncertainty surrounding Conte's future clearly contributes to the club's turbulent nature. Securing Chelsea's best assets would surely provide stability.
Overall, it is a worrying time for Chelsea. That said, fans who side with the Italian, wishing Roman Abramovich would start spending again, or who can't wait for Luis Enrique to arrive, both crave the same thing. They want their club at the top of both England and Europe. Nothing less will do.