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Preview of Chelsea’s 08-09 Season
Chelsea’s recent campaign offered a stark commentary on the high stakes of modern football and the narrow margins between success and perceived failure. For the Blues, it has been a season dominated by the universally loved manager’s attempt to take the team from where his beloved predecessor had led them.
Ever since Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge, anyone other than Avram Grant, with any manager other than Roman Abramovich, would probably have been praised for bringing Chelsea closer to treble glory. Lost Carling Cup final in extra time; in the championship race of the Premier League despite collecting 85 points (for the first time the team collected so many that did not win the championship title); and beaten on penalties after extra time in the Champions League final – Cordy Grant was heroic in immortal football with the Blues.
It was a failure, however, and his reward – after doubt, mockery and damnation with scant praise – was the sack that hit the post after John Terry’s shot in the Moscow shootout and won Manchester United. European crown.
Chelsea have lost just two of Grant’s 32 Premier League games – first against United at Old Trafford and then against Arsenal at Ashburton Grove. In the crucial stages of the post-season, the Blues beat both the Gunners and United at Stamford Bridge – and indeed they kept the title race alive against Sir Alex Ferguson until the final day of the campaign, which spoke volumes for their determination and resilience.
They were relentless in their pursuit of the title and by the end of March they had overhauled Arsenal to finish second, narrowly overtaking the reigning champions. But the two points at home to Wigan, where Emile Heskey equalized in the 91st minute on April 14, proved costly, although United’s vastly superior goal difference was always worth an extra point if the pressure was on.
This reflected Grant’s Achilles heel: they played without the attack and transparency of United or Arsenal and actually scored the fewest goals in the top four. Although they kept an unbeaten 21 games at the other end, Abramovich demanded “extensive” football after Mourinho, but got the same prosaic and pragmatic stuff under Grant. Without having to settle for silverware or win over a skeptical home crowd, Grant was always on loan. Speculation over his future, which reached fever pitch after the Carling Cup final defeat to London rivals Tottenham and the embarrassing FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Barnsley, has been a constant companion of Grant’s reign.
His team showed character and resilience, particularly in defence, but often struggled for creativity and goals, with Didier Drogba scoring just eight goals in the league and Nicolas Anelka managing just one in January, although he was mostly out of position. was playing Dynamic central midfielder Michael Essien has also spent too much time filling in at right-back, while the manager has failed to land anything like expensive summer sensation Florent Malouda. As a result, midfielders Frank Lampard (who had his own injury and personal problems last season) and Michael Ballack (who emerged as the Blues’ most influential player in the final third of the campaign) were over-relied. Their goals and dynamism helped Chelsea come close to the glittering awards, although it was a sign that pundits and many fans felt their contribution was in spite of Grant’s leadership. It was a heavy burden that Israel’s inadequacy brought upon him.
The managerial soap opera at Stamford Bridge ended when Grant was unceremoniously sacked and his successor announced at Euro 2008 as Portugal boss Luiz Felipe Scolari. The Brazilian comes with everything Grant lacked: gravitas, an impressive resume, charisma, the clout that accompanies a disciplined reputation, and the respect of players. After all, Scolari is a World Cup winner who has also won the Copa Libertadores twice.
If there are reservations, given that he has been out of club football for seven years, the risk seems small. The 59-year-old has been there and done that before, and if dealing with the English tabloid press is an aspect of his new job that he’s unlikely to be interested in, he’s unlikely to find it more uncomfortable than dealing with the mainstream media. . His homeland is Brazil.
Scolari is Chelsea’s fourth coach under Abramovich; The previous three – Claudio Ranieri, Mourinho and Grant – have all been sacked despite going on for relative success at most clubs. So Scolari knows what to expect and what to expect: to reclaim the Premier League title from United and win the Champions League for the first time in Chelsea’s history. Another requirement is to achieve both through an exciting brand of entertaining and attacking football. Really simple. The big question is: Can Scolari adapt to the demands of club football quickly and sufficiently in what will be his first season back on the coals?
He started to do well. Drogba and Lampard, who are both widely expected to join Mourinho at Inter Milan, are still at the Bridge and look set to keep stats for at least next season. Portuguese defender Jose Bosingwa, known to Scolari, was recruited and awaited, and another familiar face, the creative and motivating Decoy, has since arrived. Speculation continues that Robinho could still join them and that would certainly bolster their attacking options and intensify the goal threat that the Blues lacked last season. Fans will probably feel happier to have an extra quality striker, provided Andriy Shevchenko and Claudio Pizarro’s form doesn’t change dramatically in the summer.
As for departures, Claude Makelele’s return to France should be well covered by the emergence of John Obi Mikel in a midfield role, while Steve Sidwell, good player though he is, was never really used, so miss out. does not give Also, the transfers of Tal Ben Haim (Manchester City) and Khaled Bulahruz (Stuttgart) do not leave empty holes in Scolari’s forces.
The previous season was useful in terms of fatigue: the goodwill tour to China and Malaysia was excellent PR, but probably only of limited importance to Scolari in terms of preparation. But the trip to Moscow for the Railways Cup offered a more fitting test, and with another shootout in the Russian capital, Chelsea can look back on last weekend with satisfaction. An emphatic 5-0 drubbing of AC Milan will have many sitting up and taking notice, as will Anelka’s four-goal haul in defeat.
Scolari said he now has more or less clear in his head what his starting line-up will be for the Premier League opener against Portsmouth, so at least one of the main pre-season targets has been met.
Analysis and forecasting
There will be a lot of interest in how well and how quickly Scolari adapts to his new job. He will enjoy what Grant never enjoyed; but it will remain a dream for Mourinho, who won the Premier League and the League Cup in his first season at the Bridge after arriving from Portugal. There are parallels for direct comparison. His press conferences promise to be entertaining, but it’s on the field where the amount of entertainment is most under control.
The addition of Bosingwa should add real quality on the right to an otherwise unremarkable defense with Petr Cech looking a bit unlucky behind him after a miserable spell, so Chelsea will again be one of the hardest teams to score against.
And in midfield they have real wealth. By restoring Essien to the center where he is best, Ballack in the form he showed in the latter stages of last season and at Euro 2008, Deco’s vision has added a new creative dimension to Chelsea’s play, with Lampard fit and focused. , Mikel offering running power and muscle, as well as the likes of Joe Cole, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Malouda for pace and width on the flanks, Scolari’s challenge is to find the right mix and balance while keeping all his stars happy.
Anelka sounded the alarm in Moscow and Scolari may be willing to play to his strengths, above average, at the expense of Drogba, as Grant hesitated. The fact that Drogba is likely to miss the start of the campaign due to injury may have contributed to the decision. Salomon Kalkou impressed last season, but often chose the wrong option with his final ball, so we can expect improvement.
Scolari pointed out that Shevchenko will not be in the starting line-up, at least not initially, but the Ukrainian has said that he is determined to make an impact at Chelsea and if he is indifferent when coming off an injury, then he is. gives your manager a useful option.
Chelsea are certainly in contention for the title and with the strength of their squad in depth and a seemingly improbable record at home they are likely to be in the top few spots for most of the campaign. They have the resources to play and now, they hope, the right manager to win the big prizes once again. But much also depends on United, Arsenal and Liverpool, at the very least, so how Scolari approaches the challenges of the big four and how he designs his head-to-head tactics could be crucial.
I expect the Blues to struggle on all fronts until the latter stages and possibly collect a trophy; but winning the Premier League title in Scolari’s first attempt after a long spell away from the club game may just be a bridge too far. After the top three, but no first place.
Head coach: Luis Felipe Scolari
Stadium: Stamford Bridge (42,055)
2007-08 Position: 2nd
2007-08 Record: P-38 W-25 D-10 L-3 GF-65 GA-26 GD-39 Pts-85
Jose Bosingwa (Porto, 16.2 million pounds), Deku (Barcelona, 8 million pounds).
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