The last twelve months in the life of Chelsea FC can be called many things, but boring is certainly not one of them.
After ushering in the Andre Villas-Boas era, Chelsea struggled out of the gate, frustrating supporters with a slow start, and often times tactics that left more than a handful of people shaking their heads.
However, one doesn’t need to remind Chelsea supporters of just how the season ended.
In a domestic season in which their seemed no reason for optimism, Chelsea was somehow able to end an otherwise lost year with an ever impressive double, the FA Cup and of course the triumph in the Champions League. The weeks and months following the victory of Bayern Munich have brought excitement, optimism, and enthusiasm surrounding the club.
A 100 million euro spending spree, including the transfer for the highly coveted Eden Hazard, and Chelsea appeared to be reloaded for the 2012-2013 EPL season.
So far, it’s fair to say that launch into the campaign has been somewhat uneven.
They started the exhibition schedule off with a bit of a thud, struggling on their tour of the United States. They were also undone in the Community Shield by Manchester City.
However, when the time came for business, and the Premier League opened for another year, Chelsea was more than ready. In fact, it took them all of six minutes to find the back of the net twice in their opening game, and while the rest of the game wasn’t overwhelmingly positive, it was more than enough to see them to their first three points of the year.
They followed that up with a less than convincing effort at Stamford Bridge against newly promoted Reading. Though they controlled the run of play for the majority of the first half, they found themselves down 2-1 after the opening 45 minutes. They were able to fight back in the second half, and after a controversial goal from Fernando Torres, were on their way to a 4-2 victory. It was a victory, however, that once again didn’t see Chelsea at their best.
Their third game of the campaign saw them get the better of Newcastle 2-0, and while the effort was by far their best of the year, there were still areas where you felt they could have been better, and questions about Newcastle’s fitness after playing only 48 hours earlier didn’t help to silence critics.
After grabbing two unconvincing wins over two average teams, and getting the better of a possibly tired Newcastle squad, Chelsea faced their stiffest competition of the season, taking on Atletico Madrid in the Super Cup Final.
The result? Well, to say it wasn’t Chelsea’s finest hour would be an understatement.
Never in the game from the opening kick-off, Chelsea were shredded on the counter attack Falcao, and found themselves down 3-0 at halftime, in a game where they were on the back foot from the word go. The entire team seemed disinterested, unable to make even the simplest of passes, let alone manufacture a threat on goal.
They eventually lost the game, and the cup, 4-1.
So, after performances that ranged from slightly above average to downright awful, exactly what can we expect from this Chelsea squad?
I’d like to think this is a case where this old saying applies; “you’re never as good as your best game, nor as bad as your worst.”
It’s been hard for fans and pundits alike to get a grasp on exactly what this Chelsea team is capable of, for a number of reasons.
First of all, can Eden Hazard continue producing at this torrid pace? Hazard has been phenomenal through his first three domestic games with Chelsea. His pace has been fantastic, his skill is always on display, and he has changed the way Chelsea approach the game, with most every play for the club going through him.
There’s no question he is a superbly talented player who has all the skills necessary to be an impact player every game, but can he continue at this pace, or is he merely enjoying beginners success?
And what of Fernando Torres? The spanish striker, who enjoyed a fantastic Euro 2012 campaign with Spain, appears to have his goal scoring touch and confidence back. Still, even though supporters have always been behind Torres, the question still has to lurk in the back of their minds as to whether or not he can be a consistent scoring threat for Chelsea.
And while the offense for Chelsea has been good, it certainly hasn’t helped that Juan Mata and Ramires are not exactly playing up to par right now. One would be fair to assume that the key to Fernando Torres scoring consistently, and the key to Chelsea filling the back of the net on pace with the top teams in the league, is scoring by committee, and right now Mata and Ramires are struggling to make an impact on the game.
As for the back four, the loss of John Terry for a few games (be it through injury or suspension) has made it difficult to gauge just how good the back line is. With Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry, and Cole back there, they have looked (for the most part) organized and comfortable playing in their own end.
However, taking Terry out of the equation has led to below average results.
While Gary Cahill and David Luiz are both good players and capable defenders, pairing them together in the centre role on defense doesn’t appear to be a formula for success.
Pairing either of them with Terry allows them to come forward a little bit more, and commit to offense. Surely the veteran leadership of JT also has a calming effect on the two.
Petr Cech, for his part, has looked rather solid in net when tested, although his howler against Reading certainly changed the complexity of the match.
So exactly what Chelsea should supporters expect?
At the end of the day, I think it is simply too early to say we have seen the “real Chelsea.” In a perfect world, Mata and Ramires will shake their early season slumber, and the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Victor Moses will also make an impact on the scoresheet for the club, helping to share the workload.
Although the results have been mixed through the early fixtures, I think it’s easy to see that Chelsea have a team that, when on the top of their game, are organized on the back line, and have the speed and pace in the midfield and forward positions to stretch any team in the Premier League.
Whether or not they can put it all together and begin to deliver more consistent efforts remains to be seen.