Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Premier League Midseason Review - Chelsea

Games Played: 19
Games Won: 12
Games Drawn: 4
Games Lost: 3
Goals For: 35
Goals Against: 19
Goal Difference: +16
Home Form: 28 out of 30 points (2nd in league)
Away Form: 12 out of 27 points (7th in league)

Summary of the season so far:

The Special One returned to Stamford Bridge in the summer, and with it the expectation of more domination and glory for Chelsea. The verdict is out as far as domination is concerned, but at this point of the season Jose Mourinho has guided his beloved Blues to a position where the possibility of achieving glory this season is getting increasingly stronger.

Chelsea’s away performances in this campaign have left a lot to be desired, and even the home performances are missing the control and swagger of Mourinho’s first reign at Stamford Bridge. Nonetheless, that Chelsea are just two points off the pace at the summit of the league despite hardly playing good football suggests that Mourinho’s insatiable appetite for results and getting important wins remains as strong as ever. Throw into the mix that Chelsea are undefeated in encounters against their direct rivals, and Blues fans have every right to be happy with the first half of the league season.

Player of the season so far:

Eden Hazard has consistently delivered for Chelsea this season, taking control in the attacking third with great runs and most importantly excellent finishes. The Belgian leads Chelsea’s goalscoring tally with eight goals in the Premier League, and has linked up really well with every midfielder and forward in the attacking third.

While Hazard has been sensational, Oscar pushes his teammate into second with his all-round displays from midfield. Oscar’s technical ability is second to none. Excellent in keeping possession, fluid when moving with the ball, allied with precise passing, Oscar is the closest player Chelsea have to a midfield orchestrator. What’s often overlooked is the Brazilian’s work off the ball and his contribution in helping the defence. His tackling is under-rated while his natural ability to read the game ensures he takes up the correct positions when required to track back. As Chelsea get set for the business end of the campaign, Oscar is the one player for whom there are no obvious replacements in Chelsea’s big squad.

Underwhelming players:

While he has shown sporadic glimpses of his talent when scoring some wonder goals, Willian still appears to be not much more than a show pony. He hasn’t caused too many problems for defenders in the Premier League so far, and I haven’t seen much to make me believe he will improve as the season goes on. What grates fans of Chelsea and neutrals alike, is that the Brazilian has recently been given more starts than the criminally neglected and underused Juan Mata. There is merit in Mourinho’s argument that Mata isn’t necessarily the best defensively, however the Spaniards talents can surely be accommodated in attack, especially in light of a misfiring forward line.

Demba Ba, Samuel Eto’o and Fernando Torres have all been given sufficient chances but none of the trio have grasped the opportunity to become the first choice striker under Mourinho. Meanwhile Chelsea’s defence isn’t as rock solid as it was during the Portuguese’s first reign, with John Terry and Petr Cech showing increasing signs of vulnerability. That Ashley Cole has been deservedly dropped in place of an inverted left-back in the form of Cesar Azpilicueta, speaks volumes about the England international’s decline in club colours.

High Point of the season:

Chelsea haven’t been at their best this season, and nothing emphasizes this better than the fact that there is no dominant performance that one can remember from the Blues campaign. 2-1 victories against Manchester City and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge despite not being at their best enabled Chelsea to get six crucial points in addition to deflating the morale of their rivals. The 3-1 win at home to Southampton and the 4-3 win at Sunderland showcased Mourinho’s tactical flexibility as well as the attacking verve that Chelsea can showcase when the team is on song.

Low Point of the season:

Defeats away to Everton and Newcastle were deserved, as Chelsea failed to turn up in the second half of both matches. The 3-2 to loss to Stoke at the Britannia stadium was unacceptable in a game Chelsea dominated only to throw away with horrendous mistakes in defence. Neutrals would have liked to see the Blues show more gumption away to Arsenal and Manchester United, but the results justified the means. The worst performance by far was the 2-2 draw at home against West Brom, where Chelsea escaped with a point thanks to a ridiculously gifted penalty in stoppage time.

January transfer requirements:

Chelsea are well-stocked in midfield, and if anything rumours abound that Juan Mata might even try and force a move away in January. A goal scoring forward is the need of the hour for Chelsea, with Mourinho himself admitting that the amount of chances being wasted has resulted in unnecessarily nervous ends to games. If there is any substance in a move for Falcao, Chelsea could ostensibly become clear favourites for the title.

Prospects for the second half of the season:

As has been alluded to in this piece on a few occasions, a Jose Mourinho team near the top of the table without being close to their best is an ominous sign for Chelsea’s rivals in the second half of the season. If Roman Abramovich can splash out the cash on a proven centre forward, Chelsea’s starting eleven will have a complete look about it. That being said Chelsea’s away form has to improve to be considered frontrunners in the race, and the Blues will be targeting a minimum of five wins from their 10 fixtures on the road. With the experience and winning mentality of club stalwarts such as Frank Lampard and John Terry aligned with the conviction of their manager, it is hard to see Chelsea dropping any unnecessary points in a manner that their rivals are prone to. That in itself is sufficient for me to label Chelsea slight favourites when it comes to the business end of the season.
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