Chelsea's big summer prize (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
As you might have noticed, I hit a bit of a motivational snag in doing season reviews for each of the teams in the Premier League. This had a lot to do with 1) the fact that it's a long season; 2) MLS had started and I was doing really well in MLS fantasy (and still am); 3) lots of Euro2012 matches to watch and chats to host; and 4) my job has been fairly busy. That said, I did a lot of work compiling stats from last season and I'd hate for it to go to waste. What I'm going to do is take what I did and apply it in a slightly different way than I usually intended. Instead of doing an in-depth review of last season - let's face it, that's so, well, last season - I'll point the numbers toward what the team needed going into the off-season, what has happened so far, and how things are looking for the coming season. As the summer evolves and teams make major acquisitions, I'll update the posts to reflect the comings and goings.
Since we've already done Liverpool, Arsenal, and Aston Villa and Blackburn and Bolton have sunk down into the depths of the Championship, we find ourselves re-starting with the reigning Champions League and FA Cup title holders and 6th place finishers in last season's Premier League. Talk about an all-time odd set of finishes. Let's dive inside the numbers and see what they have to tell us (with the caveat about the possession time statistic presented by SBNation Soccer and We Ain't Got No History's Graham Macaree - I'm of the opinion that while Graham's analysis makes a great point, my analysis still holds up as a way to investigate where teams are strong and weak).
OK, on to the Chelsea analysis:
The quick review of Chelsea's 2011-12 attack is that it is above average across the board. The only problem is that Chelsea aspires to championships and not just being above average. To get back in the Premier League title hunt they are likely to have to get from last season's total of 65 goals to AT LEAST 80 if not closer to the 90-ish scored by Manchester United (89) and Manchester City (93). Chelsea's possession was among the best in the league so we will focus on the rest of the "funnel" as potential areas for improvement from "pretty good" to "exceptional". Chelsea's #9 issues were certainly the most well-publicized and that won't be improving with the departure of their most effective center forward in Didier Drogba. Even a great replacement for Drogba won't net Chelsea 25 more goals than last season so that points to the need for more Chances Created and more SOTs as well as an improvement in the rate of converting SOTs into goals. Who would have guessed that Champions League holders might have so much to do.
Like their attack, the Chelsea defense was definitely above average when measured by the ultimate metric (goals allowed). The problem is that, like their attack, there is a significant step to be taken before they can be considered in the same boat as the two teams from Manchester. I'd say they need to shave a MINIMUM of 10 goals off their season total from last year to climb back into title contention. Based on the numbers above, the obvious place to start looking is the Blues' worse-than-average propensity for allowing "Chances" to turn into "Shots on Target". This likely rests largely on the backs of the central defenders and the holding midfielder with some culpability also going to the outside defenders.
Activity So Far: Didier Drogba out; Solomon Kalou out; Eden Hazard in; Marko Marin in.
Biggest Gaps: A goal scoring center forward, an above average holding midfielder, and a right back.
Analysis: There is no question that between the change in managers last season, the January addition of Gary Cahill, and the addition of Europe's prized young asset in Eden Hazard that Chelsea have gotten better since the hit the depths immediately before AVB was dismissed. That isn't really in doubt. The question is really HOW much better have they gotten? Will they continue to improve? And can they close the gap on Manchester United and Manchester City?
Even if you aren't a Chelsea supporter (and I think you all know I'm not), you can't help but be impressed by the work that Roberto di Mateo did in the second half of the season. The FA Cup and Champions League titles speak for themselves. Still, I can't help but think that even the best manager in the world won't make up even half of a 35 goal difference between Chelsea's goal differential and that of the Manchester teams.
If the change in manager isn't going to make up the difference then we have to look to the changes in the line-up. Here are the key things that will be different:
- Drogba Out - Chelsea already had a "target forward" problem before Drogba left and now he's gone leaving only frequent mis-firer Fernando Torres to man the middle. This is definitely not a good thing. There is a chance that Torres rediscovers his best and more than makes up for Drogba's absence but would you make that bet given all of the other money Chelsea has spent? Me either. Maybe then the answer will be...
- Hazard In - He should be great but the question is where they play him. Is he the proverbial "False 9" in a Barca-like formation with Torres as his back-up? Does he take an attacking role along with Mata and Sturridge behind Torres? This is up in the air for me. Wherever he ends up, he'll likely make up for the difference between whatever Chelsea lost with Drogba leaving, he'll just do it differently.
- Aging - Elsewhere, key players like John Terry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Petr Cech will inevitably suffer from degrading performances unless they've discovered Paolo Maldini's Fountain of Youth. With no obvious answer behind Cole or Cech, and only OK answers as Gary Cahill's partner in central defense, Chelsea will have to be fortunate to maintain the performances they saw from these positions last season.
- Maturing - As a balance to the aging of the Mourinho core, there should be improvements from players like Sturridge, Mata, Luiz, and Ramires as they continue the normal course that young players follow. You have to expect that Mata's Euro2012 experience will have been particularly good for his development.
- More Acquisitions? - You have to think that there's more to come from Chelsea unless they think that Eden Hazard and full seasons from Roberto di Mateo and Gary Cahill will make up the difference between 6th place and 1st place in the league.
- Hazard Up - Obviously, everyone is going to be excited for the coming of Eden Hazard and, like Sergio Aguero last season, he will likely be purchased early and kept all season barring injury.
- Lampard Down - Depending on what Hazard's role is in the squad, Frank Lampard may suffer one of the following fates - playing a lot less or playing a deeper-lying role than he's used to. If either of these things is the case then he'll likely start the season priced far higher than his worth.
- Mata Up - It would be great if Mata were reclassified as a midfielder because he certainly fits that mental mold better than he does that of a forward. Regardless, he has plenty of talent and is likely to continue to improve. If Chelsea are to get closer to the goal differential of United or City the extra goals and assists will have to come from somewhere and I'd nominate Mata for an upswing more than any other player from last season's roster.
- New Right Back - It is hard to imagine Chelsea will come into the season without a new right back given that Jose Bosingwa has departed and Branislav Ivanovic is better suited as a premium reserve at both center back and right back. Oh, and I'm guessing Chelsea haven't had an epiphany that Paulo Ferreira is "the answer" after years as an after thought. Whoever the new right back is, he should be a great fantasy addition.
- Torres Wild Card - Like Lucy from the Peanuts cartoons, Fernando Torres just keeps fooling us - ironically in both cases, it is with the hope that a football will be kicked as planned with great effect. Every fantasy manager has had that Charlie Brown feeling when picking Torres on the fond remembrances of his Liverpool hey day or on the potential of Chelsea having a great match-up only to have our hopes dashed by him tripping over his own feet or hitting the crossbar or hitting the crossbar multiple times in the same sequence. Stranger things have happened than him making a huge comeback but I'm not sure what those things are. If he does return though, we should all fear Chelsea as a title contender and be very excited for all of the things that they could produce for fantasy managers even if most of the roster opens with fairly high prices.