I have to admit that I'm not really ready for this post. My hopes were to talk about how the players fared last season, determine any improvements that need to be made, lay out probable tactics for next season and then start really looking at Chelsea's needs in the transfer market this summer. But with the Hulk and Eden Hazard rumours blowing up, I figured I should probably write this up before we actually sign one of them.
Anyway, Chelsea are in dire need of a new winger. This has been clear for most of the season - a left side of Juan Mata and Ashley Cole was impossibly bad defensively, and the obvious solution, moving Mata inside, meant that Salomon Kalou ended up as a first-choice starter for most of Chelsea's run to their FA Cup and Champions League double. That's... suboptimal, and I say this as one of Kalou's most fervent supporters.
The starter on the other flank was Ramires, who'd played almost exclusively in the centre of the midfield prior to January (although Carlo Ancelotti did play him on the right side of a 4-4-2 fairly regularly last year when we were still trying the two-striker experiment). Unlike Kalou, he's certainly good enough to continue playing on the wings, although there's an argument that he should go back to the centre of the pitch where he can be more influential. I'll expand on that subject in a later post, but for now I'm going going to say that while I think Ramires should play in a midfield three on occasion, Chelsea should plan on starting him at one of the wide positions in a 4-2-3-1 next season.
Even if they aren't, the way the club sets up their fullbacks will have a major impact on how they can play their wingers. With Ashley Cole as the left back and Branislav Ivanovic on the right, Chelsea have a major weakness on their left side if none of the wingers can defend. You'd expect Ivanovic to be able to hold his own and the pivot midfielders to cover reasonably well, but Cole would be in serious trouble on the left (see the first two thirds of the 2011/12 season). This means Chelsea either need a good two-way player in front of him or a new left back entirely - they can't reasonably buy two incredible attacking players for the flanks and expect the team to actually work.
To make a long story short, then, it looks like the club will be restricted to one of the big-name wide players rather than going for, say, both Hulk and Hazard at the same time. That means we're going to have to figure out how to decide which we'd like to buy. Here's the checklist I use for signings:
- Current ability. Pretty self explanatory, I'd have thought. How good is the player? What sort of competition has he faced? How could we reasonably expect him to play in England or Europe next season?
- Future ability. What's a reasonable projection for a player through the entire length of his contract? Should we expect big improvements or is he going to enter a decline phase?
- Finances. How much will the amortised transfer fee plus wages be? Is the player young enough for a resale or a second contract with Chelsea?
- Fit with team. Does the player fill an obvious need? Would his ability in secondary positions be helpful as well?
Eyeing up those four categories, I think Hulk has a slight edge in current ability and his fit with the team (due to his ability to play striker, something we need if Fernando Torres has another poor season), but Hazard's potential for multiple contracts or a hefty sell-on in three or four years means he beats out Hulk in the other two areas, despite Hulk's expected wages being significantly lower. At the end of the day, I think Hazard is a better option for the long-term health of the football club, but that Hulk would make a bigger impact next season, because he's currently the more dangerous player. I'm going to take the long view and go for Hazard here.
What think you?