The date is 19th May 2012. Chelsea have finally won the elusive Champions League trophy the club and infamous owner Roman Abramovich had always craved most of all. All is well.
The date is 21st November 2012. Only six months and 2 days have passed since the Champions League final. But Chelsea are 3rd, look set to be dumped unceremoniously out of the Champions League group stage, and Roberto di Matteo is out of a job. So what’s changed? And what does the future hold for the London club?
Having enjoyed mixed successes with Milton Keynes Dons and West Brom in his only previous managerial positions, Roberto di Matteo, aged 41 at the time and ex-Chelsea and Italy international, seemed an odd if not intriguing appointment, even if it was only on an interim basis. Andre Villas-Boas was sacked after a disappointing string of games, and having made the transition between the old and the new at a rapid rate. Di Matteo restored the Old Guard to their previous glory, and Didier Drogba was particularly instrumental in Chelsea’s trophy wins (both the FA Cup and Champions League). Under immense pressure from the always-dedicated Chelsea fans, Abramovich was almost forced to offer di Matteo a full-term contract, albeit only for two years – no Mike Ashley 8 year contract nonsense with the Russian oligarch.
In a glut of summer signings, Chelsea then brought in Cesar Azpilicueta from Marseille, Brazilian starlet Oscar, Wigan wonder Victor Moses, Belgian superstar Eden Hazard, and Werder Bremen’s Marko Marin. The season started brilliantly, as Chelsea’s fluid midfield excelled whilst both Manchester clubs faltered slightly. Although not successful, it would be very unfair to suggest the Champions League campaign has been disastrous, as Chelsea emphasised their move away from their ‘smash and grab’ style in Europe last year. However, a bad run of games, leaving Chelsea lying 3rd in the league table, and likely to fall out of the Champions League, resulted in the sacking of di Matteo, and the appointment of ex Valencia, Liverpool and Inter Milan boss, Rafael Benitez.
The immediate reaction was that of outcry. With Benitez being Chelsea’s 9th manager in 8 years, and with di Matteo having only just won the Champions League and FA Cup, and with the season only roughly a third of the way through, this was completely justified. The interim appointment of Benitez was also an unpopular one, but whether or not it will be a successful one remains to be seen.
5 Reasons why Chelsea are struggling at the moment:
- Fernando Torres – Abramovich’s £50 million pound man looks a waste of money at the moment, but at only £15 million more than Andy Carroll, maybe he was good value for money. Eden Hazard did little against Juventus to show he could play the ‘false 9′ role well, and Chelsea could really do with an in-form striker, entrenched in a bad spell of form. Torres’ bad form is even more underlined by the fact that he has Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar playing behind him. Some newspapers have even attributed di Matteo’s sacking to his lack of ‘getting the best’ out of Torres, and the appointment of Benitez could be linked to the Spanish striker.
- Roman Abramovich – this may seen contradictory because as the Russian is partly responsible for Chelsea’s ‘failings’, he’s also completely responsible for their successes. However, his endless firings and ruthless nature, are undoubtedly having a negative effect on the club. From Avram Grant to AVB, Abramovich seems to struggle to find a manager he can settle down with.
- Pep Guardiola – it is rumoured that Chelsea moved immediately to approach the ex-Barca maestro when di Matteo was sacked, and judging from the short-term contract award to Benitez, it appears that Abramovich will move for his favoured target as soon as Pep’s one-year sabbatical is completed (however, the managerial merry go-round which Chelsea seem to ride every year can’t appeal to Guardiola’s philosophy of continuity too much).
- John Terry, Gary Cahill and David Luiz – ie. Chelsea’s centre backs– With the Blues possessing two excellent full backs in Branislav Ivanovic (or even Apilicueta) and Ashley Cole, Chelsea’s centre backs are a stark contrast. With John Terry remaining slow and constantly embroiled in scandals, Gary Cahill inconsistent and David Luiz just mental, Benitez will need to act quickly to sure-up Chelsea’s leaky defence.
- John Obi Mikel – with Chelsea possessing so many attacking-minded midfielders the defensive midfield position is integral to any success Chelsea will have. Although some may disagree, in my mind, Mikel just simply isn’t up to the job, and is the weak point in the team. Hopefully for Chelsea, they will sign a top quality holding midfielder in January.
So what will the future bring for Chelsea? Will Benitez be at the club come the 1st September 2013? Probably not. Will Roman Abramovich finally get the love of his ownership-life in Pep Guardiola? Who knows? As for the short-term, Chelsea will have a very tough game this weekend against Manchester City. Di Matteo will certainly have a fantastic addition to his CV, and I’m sure he will not struggle to find a job in the near future. He might not even have to move from London, with Spurs fairly likely to have a new manager come Summer 2013. Or maybe the Italian might want to stay in Blue, and make the move to Manchester to replace a fellow Italian? Just remember, you heard it first at Play from the Back.