Will he continue to be dead to us? (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Without question, the most interesting team of the first three quarters of 2012 has been Chelsea. Sure, Manchester City won their first title in ages on a last minute goal but how could that top Chelsea's 2011-12 season? They bring in a bunch of young talent and a manager they all but called "Mourinho 2.0" and for the first half of the season the "project" crashes and burns. To their credit, they scrapped the manager, got back to basics and ended the season lifting the heretofore illusive Champions League trophy as well as the FA Cup. They did all that while finishing 6th (and behind Newcastle of all things) in the Premier League standings. Throw in the John Terry - Anton Ferdinand thing-that-apparently-wasn't-a-thing and you've got a season that no scriptwriter, no matter how ballsy or drunk, would dare to write.
The summer certainly hasn't calmed things down with some high profile entries and exists and the none-too-well-disguised flirting with Pep Guardiola as a long term managerial target. Chelsea has left us with a plethora of talking points, moves to discuss, and questions left lingering and we'll try to put it all together and provide some insight on how things will work for them in 2012-13 so you know how to approach them as a fantasy manager.
Who knows how this will turn out so let's get started and see where we end up:
Quick Recap of Last Season: You could probably write a book about Chelsea's 2012-13 season - what am I saying, I'm sure they are already close to being released just in time for the Christmas buying season - so I'll try to recap quickly. They stunk early as the new manager tried to phase out the old guys and the old way of playing. The old guys won the battle and the manager was booted and reinforcements acquired. Results improved and trophies were won. Through it all, Fernando Torres managed to disappoint and caused more people to declare him "dead to them" than any fantasy player since Paul Scholes.
What Changed: Didier Drogba left for megabucks in China. Eden Hazard arrived to continue the Barca-ification of Chelsea's attack. Jose Bosingwa left with his initial promise unfulfilled. No replacement right back has been identified as of yet. Unless you believe Marco Marin is going to make an impact this season, not too much else of significance really happened. There are rumors of right backs and even a Hulk possibly arriving before the window closes but until something materializes, Chelsea will have to hope that a combination of a full season of Roberto de Mateo, improvement from a few young players, the addition of a few young players, and the *gulp* revival of Fernando Torres can make up the gap between Chelsea and City.
Real World Projection: Assuming they're closer to being the Champions League holders that ended the season than the bumbling clowns that started it then I have a hard time projecting them any lower than 3rd this season. The real question is whether they can catch either Manchester team. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that they'll catch United and finish second to City in a fairly close race (but not as close as last season).
Fantasy Production: Despite a poor early season, Chelsea were very productive from a fantasy point of view registering over 2800 fantasy points in the Yahoo format. The only thing to be wary of heading into the new season is the fact that Chelsea's midfield was remarkably UNproductive for fantasy purposes. Of their 13 highest scoring fantasy players, only 2 were midfielders (Frank Lampard and Ramires) and one of those looks to be playing significantly further back in the formation to start 2012-13 (that's Lamps if you didn't watch on Sunday).
Fantasy Gold: There are lots of guys on this team who have been great fantasy producers for years and even as some of them age and some youngsters take their places, the production is still above average. Still, ponder this briefly - no one on Chelsea team registered more points last season than Theo Walcott or Luka Modric. I'm not trying to insult either North London midfielder but neither are really considered to week-in, week-out fantasy studs. We'll see if Hazard or Torres can do the trick this season but until they prove it, you have to be a little wary of Chelsea's expensive options.
- Eden Hazard - His price is low which is nice but he certainly didn't make prospective fantasy owners drool with his performance against Manchester City on Sunday. It was only one match and he probably did enough to justify his price in fantasy but certainly not enough to justify the hype. Be a little cautious here.
- Frank Lampard - If the Community Shield match was any indicator (and I think it was) then Big Fat Frank will be doing what guys who carry that nickname tend to do as they get older - he'll be running forward less. The role that seems likely is best described as a really rich man's Charlie Adam (but without quite as high a percentage of free kicks). This isn't a bad thing but it likely means fewer goals and fantasy points. He'll still be good but it will take quite some time for his price to come down to meet the new reality.
- Branislav Ivanovic - As of this writing, he seems to be a guaranteed starter at right back. As his Community Shield sending off underscores, he isn't exactly the cleanest player but his price is very reasonable for a starting defender on a Top Four team. Oh, in case you missed it, apparently the FA changed their rules about 6 years ago to ignore cards picked up in pre-season. Hack away my friends.
- Juan Mata - Oh, if only he were listed as a midfielder. He is of undoubted quality but his fantasy production makes it hard to pick him as a forward - especially at a fairly high price to start the season. He isn't a bad value but with 12 matches where he played and scored 5 fantasy points or less, he has to make you nervous (the other side of the equation - he went over 15 6 times). Just saying.
- Ramires - There aren't too many people who make this list based on personal improvement alone but Ramires looked like a far better player on Sunday than he did last season. Consistency is one of the things he struggled with last season so I'm not ready to declare him a sure thing yet but I'm certainly optimistic that he could be the standard bearer for Chelsea's midfield for a starting price under 10.
- Fernando Torres - Yes, here we are again. Fernando Torres has it all in front of him and fantasy managers are praying for a return to the form that saw so many fall in love with him early in his days at Liverpool. Since then, he has been declared dead to us by so many of us it's hard to count. So, what do you do now - especially after he tantalized us with a goal against City? You take the chance and have a quick hook ready. With Chelsea having two matches in the first match week AND no obvious alternatives at forward AND the two matches are against fairly light competition you don't have much choice. Just be ready with a quick hook if he reminds us why we have declared him dead to us so many times before.
First Five Weeks: @Wigan, Reading, Newcastle, @QPR, Stoke - As noted above, Chelsea have two matches against likely bottom five teams in the first week of the season which means that many line-ups will be HEAVILY weighted toward the Blues. It gets slightly tougher after but we'd expect the presence of some possible values and no Top 4 competitors over the first five matches will keep people fairly heavily invested in Chelsea early. They are the defending Champions League winners after all.