October 12, 2012 by Socrates
Amongst all the anticipation of the new season and the predictions that pundits and fans are inevitably drawn into making, there was seemingly a consensus on who would win the Premier League. Obviously there has been much debate on whether it would be Blue or Red but nevertheless, it was agreed that it would be the Manchester clubs which would battle it out this season. Their contest was so dramatically close, and so isolated at the top (19 points separated them from third-placed Arsenal) that it would surely be foolish to consider any other club. Indeed, Arsenal have been trophy-less for what we are repeatedly told is an eternity, Spurs seem to lack the financial fire-power to capitalise on their recent progress while Liverpool have been in complete meltdown. Of course that leaves out one other potential contender. A contender that was dismissed as too old and needing too much change to have any chance of winning the league. Rather, Chelsea, last season’s shock champions of Europe, should count themselves lucky if they can finish in the top four.
Those who considered the Blues of London, to have little prospect of upsetting the Manchester dominance (myself included), may still be proven right. Only seven games into the season, there is still the possibility that injury-crises, poor form or dressing room unrest could push Chelsea well out of title contention and make mere European qualification a challenge. Interestingly, this is still the belief of many. Chelsea’s excellent start has yet to really change the prevailing belief that come the spring, it will either be a two-horse race or one of the Manchester clubs will be storming to glory. Either way, Chelsea are no great threat. But should they be taken a little more seriously? Afterall, until at least 20th October, they will be four points clear. And the problems that appeared so deeply rooted in the team were not enough to prevent them from conquering Europe in May and winning 6 out of 7 in the league this season.
One of the key reasons why Chelsea have been discounted was the loss of striker and club legend Didier Drogba. In his stead is a player of a different style and club status; the Spaniard Fernando Torres. During last season there were doubts over both players. While the question of Drogba was whether he could sustain his form, power and undoubted impact on football matches for a further season, those raised over Torres were whether he could ever regain the form he showed at Liverpool and Atletico Madrid. The effeminate Spaniard had always been held as one of the best goalscorers in world football. Yet following his £50 million move, his finishing ability had completely evaded him. But even towards the latter stages of the season, Torres was showing glimpses of his former self. The start of this season appears to be even more promising for Chelsea fans with the striker bagging himself four goals. Furthermore, the endless discussions over formations and the use of a lone striker have been put to bed with the departures of Anelka and Drogba. The ex-Liverpool man is assured of his place and the system he is playing in.
Branislav Ivanovic has been another crucial player in the club’s good start. Over the past few seasons, the Serbian defender has quietly solidified a place in the first team. Aside from his impressive goal-scoring record (which has continued into this season), Ivanovic has surprised many with his performances at right-back. He may still be more defensively minded and bulkier than many top-level full-backs, but he has proven himself to be one Chelsea’s key players. Tough-tackling, powerful in the air and possessing the steely determination one would expect from a man born in socialist Yugoslavia, Branislav is surely one of the best defenders in Europe at the moment. However, it would be wrong to suggest that the strength of Chelsea’s defence so far has been solely down to Branislav. As much as his critics point to his off-field misdemeanors and his worrisome lack of pace, John Terry remains a highly effective defender. His leadership and experience will also be crucial in helping Gary Cahill and David Luiz. Cahill will turn 27 before the end of the year but is still coming to grips with the pressure and expectation at a club like Chelsea – the intensity of which he had yet to really experience at his former clubs. Terry’s influence on the Brazilian Luiz has perhaps already been evident. The unmistakable Luiz was unconvincing last year. His inexplicable and sudden ventures forward were constantly being highlighted by MOTD and Sky pundits. In contrast, he has put in some excellent displays this season.
There remain concerns at Chelsea Football Club and it is quite understandable that few have tipped them for success this year. Questions are still to be answered on the impact Frank Lampard can still have and even his admirers will admit that he has looked pedestrian at times. Ramires may provide the running and dynamism in midfield, but can the likes of Mikel, ‘Lamps’ and Oscar up their workload without the tireless Brazilian midfielder? Strangely with Torres seemingly doing so well, the concern is how Chelsea would cope with the Spaniard being unavailable for a lengthy period. However, even with these issues, the flair of Mata, Oscar and Hazard and the quality they have defensively, might just make Chelsea genuine title challengers.