Jose Mourinho returns to Chelsea with England’s football landscape having undergone a remarkable transformation in the past six years.
Manchester United are still the dominant force, but Manchester City are a more powerful mover in the transfer market than Chelsea ever were, while Arsenal and Tottenham are a couple of key signings (and retentions) away from launching sustained challenges in the uncertainty of the post-Ferguson era.
The overall level of competitiveness is higher too. While the top English sides have failed to impress in the Champions League over the past few seasons, that is the absolute peak end of European competition, and the clubs behind have closed the gap.
It’s a gap that will narrow further as the enhanced TV deal gives every Premier League side the means to cherry pick talent from abroad.
Chelsea, meanwhile, did quite well to finish third under Rafael Benitez; at the front end Mourinho will find a side short on out-and-out strikers but possibly over-burdened with creativity and flair.
Any team in world football would be improved by Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Victor Moses and even veteran Frank Lampard, but ahead of them there is a clear shortage in terms of personnel: only Fernando Torres and Demba Ba are out-and-out strikers, and neither are world class.
Meanwhile, behind the fearsome attacking midfield quintet there is a relative lack of quality and depth in the more defensive midfield positions. Ramires is a smooth operator, but John Obi Mikel is not quite good enough with the ball, Oriol Romeu is still in the territory of ‘potential’, and David Luiz is likely to end up playing in defence, despite his success as a makeshift DM in the latter part of this season.
Chelsea’s bench for the Europa League final was nothing short of a disgrace for a side of their means – Ross Turnbull, Ryan Bertrand, Paulo Ferreira, Nathan Ake, Marko Marin and Yossi Benayoun are nowhere near the level required, with Nigeria pair Moses and Mikel the only subs befitting Roman Abramovich’s billions.
There are some big loan players to return. Romelu Lukaku is expected to go straight into the first team, while – provided he is not sold to Borussia Dortmund or Bayer Leverkusen – Kevin De Bruyne has been excellent at Werder Bremen and should be given a chance, although it is likely Andre Schuerrle will replace him. Michael Essien, however, is past his best, and it is hard to see Thibaut Courtois forcing Petr Cech out of the starting XI, despite the Belgian’s superb form at Atletico Madrid.
But there is a lot of work to be done, and while technical director Michael Emenalo has shown some good acumen in terms of scouting attacking players, he has been less impressive in recruiting defensively-minded players. With Ashley Cole not getting any younger, the full-back positions remain a slight weakness, while John Terry’s powers are clearly on the wane and a centre-half is needed.
At least one dominant defensive midfielder is also required, plus a striker – Lukaku is still very young and may not rise to the challenge so quickly.
There’s no doubt that this Chelsea squad has plenty of creative talent, a dose of experience and the means to fill out the glaring gaps in the squad. Around five gaps, to be more precise.
Mourinho has been shrewd in securing his future quickly, as a lot of work has to be done, and it must start as soon as possible. Even so, there are no guarantees he will bring the same level of success back to the Bridge, or even replicate Rafael Benitez’s relative boost to their fortunes. Whether he will still remain Special in fans’ eyes remains to be seen.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"People will say he has not done that well at Real Madrid, but he took an unfashionable club like Porto to winning the Champions League, and did the same thing at Inter Milan.
"If he was to come back to Chelsea again, and with one or two adjustments to the squad they will be a major force, challenging for all the major honours again next season.
"If you look defensively, they are quite sound, maybe they will be bringing in another full-back, then a midfield player and another striker or wide player, that would give Chelsea an awesome squad of players."
ED hadn't actually read these quotes at the time of writing, but Ron 'Chopper' Harris has a good handle of what Chelsea need to be doing in the market this summer.
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