Chelsea became European champions in 2012, while simultaneously lifting the FA Cup and finishing sixth in the Premier League. They fired a young manager that they paid eight figures to obtain, then went on to win two trophies with an interim manager who got fired from his last job at West Bromwich Albion. It's a safe bet that no club will have as strange of a season during this Premier League season as Chelsea had in 2011-12.
Instead of starting from scratch with a manager for the umpteenth time, Roman Abramovich decided to keep the guy who got him the European Cup he's always wanted. It's reasonable to wonder whether or not Roberto Di Matteo has the chops to guide Chelsea to further success, but he's obviously earned the benefit of the doubt. Plus, the players love him.
Chelsea have aspirations to win trophies again this season, though fans will find it tough to get too mad if they remain competitive but fall up short. Didier Drogba has departed and no one has come in to replace him. John Terry and Frank Lampard are a year older. Romelu Lukaku, Josh McEachran and Kevin De Bruyne aren't ready to contribute yet. Ryan Bertrand, Gael Kakuta, Oscar and Oriol Romeu are probably another year away from being good enough to start for Chelsea on any kind of regular basis. The future is bright for Chelsea and the present isn't exactly bleak, but this is a team in transition.
There's a lot of weight on the shoulders of Fernando Torres, who somehow won the golden boot at Euro 2012 even though his manager decided to play without a striker in lieu of playing him on multiple occasions. He's closer to joining Francis Jeffers and Andriy Shevchenko on "Worst Ever Transfers" lists than he is to living up to his £50m price tag, and he'll have to change that if Chelsea are going to do anything of note this season. He notched 11 goals in 49 games last season, and anything less than double that, at the very least, is going to be seen as a failure.
Chelsea's lack of depth at striker is alarming. The only other center forward on the roster is Daniel Sturridge, and he didn't play any center forward last season. If Torres either gets injured or really stinks, two things that he's done a lot of since 2010, Chelsea are probably going to be a very mediocre team. Otherwise, they're pretty decent.
John Obi Mikel and Frank Lampard don't offer much in the way of athleticism in the center of midfield, and Mikel pulls off a spectacular giveaway that makes you scream 'GAAAAAAAH WHAT THE F--K?!?' at your television once every other game, but they're pretty good at keeping their positions and distributing the ball. Barcelona had a heck of a time trying to get through them last year in the Champions League, and they're excellent at springing counter-attacks from deep areas.
In the back, things are rock solid. Obviously Terry is still really good, even though he's slow and a colossal piece of work. Petr Cech, Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic are good players. Ryan Bertrand and Paulo Ferreira are decent enough backups. Gary Cahill has been better than advertised. David Luiz's hair is sexy.
Those are the things, good and bad, that make sense about Chelsea. They're all pretty black and white and not really up for debate. What's interesting about the team is the band of three ahead of the midfielders and behind the strikers in Di Matteo's 4-2-3-1. There are entirely too many good attacking midfielders in Chelsea's squad for them to fit all of their best players on the same pitch, though most people would consider this a good problem. Their depth is excellent, but who buys Juan Mata one year, then goes and buys a couple more of them the next year?
Eden Hazard is going to start, along with Mata and Ramires in Chelsea's first XI to start the year. Oscar and Marko Marin are bench players, along with Yossi Benayoun. Kakuta doesn't have a hope in hell of getting into the team, while Sturridge and Bertrand can play on the wings if need be as well. They have a dozen players who could potentially fill three spots, which is a lot different than when they were doing stupid things like playing Torres as a right winger.
Chelsea look like a team with some small holes, and they're probably a couple of injuries away from trouble. They have the talent to compete for a title, but it's tough to see them actually doing it. Then again, they were much better than Manchester City for 45 minutes on Sunday, so who knows?
Last Year: 6th; 18W, 10D, 10L
This Year: 3rd; But hey, maybe United's awful midfield finally catches up with them?
Key Player: Fernando Torres. If he doesn't perform, there's no Drogba to bail Chelsea out. We know how everyone else is going to perform, roughly. Torres could score 0 or 40 goals and no one would be shocked.
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