Chelsea’s past marketing campaign available a telling commentary on the large stakes of modern day top-flight football and the narrowness of the margin involving achievement and perceived failure. For the Blues it was a season dominated by a typically unloved manager’s attempt to choose the team outside of wherever his adored predecessor experienced led them.
Following Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge was generally heading to be the tallest of orders but everyone other than Avram Grant, with any manager other than Roman Abramovich, would most likely have been lauded for using Chelsea so shut to treble glory. Overwhelmed in additional-time of the Carling Cup last edged out by two factors in the Premier League title race inspite of accumulating 85 factors (the very first time a team experienced collected so a lot of without the need of securing the title) and crushed in a penalty shoot-out after further-time in the Champions League remaining – Grant’s stab at footballing immortality with the Blues was heroic.
But it was failure nevertheless, and his reward – after remaining doubted, derided, and damned with faint praise – was the sack, inside of a few of days of John Terry’s kick hitting the post in the Moscow shoot-out to hand Manchester United the coveted European crown.
Chelsea experienced lost only two Leading League game titles out of 32 under Grant – his first, against United at Aged Trafford, and then versus Arsenal at Ashburton Grove. In the crucial later on phases of the season the Blues conquer equally the Gunners and United at Stamford Bridge – and indeed they stored the title race from Sir Alex Ferguson’s facet alive till the ultimate working day of the marketing campaign, which stated a lot for their resolve and regularity.
They were relentless in their pursuit of the title, overhauling Arsenal at the finish of March to go next and coming inside a whisker of overtaking the defending champions. But two dropped points in a residence attract against Wigan, for whom Emile Heskey scored a 91st minute equaliser on 14th April, proved pricey, even though United’s substantially superior purpose variance was constantly well worth an extra position if force experienced appear to shove.
That mirrored the Achilles’ heel of Grant’s aspect: they performed devoid of the attacking aptitude and panache of United or Arsenal, and in actuality scored fewest targets between the top rated 4. Even though they retained a amazing 21 clear sheets at the other finish, Abramovich had demanded ‘expansive’ soccer soon after Mourinho, but bought additional of the similar prosaic, pragmatic things underneath Grant. With out being equipped to lace that with silverware, or to get above a sceptical home group, Grant was normally on borrowed time. Speculation about his long run, which achieved fever pitch soon after the Carling Cup remaining defeat by London rivals Tottenham and an uncomfortable FA Cup quarter-ultimate defeat by Barnsley, was a continuous accompaniment to Grant’s reign.
His staff confirmed character and resilience, particularly defensively, but typically struggled for creativeness and aims, with Didier Drogba netting only 8 in the League, and January import Nicolas Anelka running only a single, even though he was generally played out of placement. Dynamic central midfielder Michael Essien also spent far too considerably time filling in at appropriate-again, though the manager unsuccessful to get anything at all like the best out of high-priced summer months purchase Florent Malouda. There was a consequent about-reliance on midfielders Frank Lampard (who experienced his have personal injury and particular complications previous period) and Michael Ballack (who emerged as the Blues’ most influential participant in the closing 3rd of the campaign). Their objectives and dynamism assisted get Chelsea so shut to the glittering prizes, though it was symptomatic that pundits and quite a few fans felt their contribution was despite rather than simply because of Grant’s leadership. That was the load the Israeli’s perceived absence of charisma saddled him with.
The managerial cleaning soap opera at Stamford Bridge was ended when Grant was unceremoniously sacked, and his successor declared all through Euro 2008 as Portugal manager Luiz Felipe Scolari. The Brazilian arrives in with every thing Grant lacked: gravitas, a hugely extraordinary CV, charisma, the authority that accompanies a name as a disciplinarian, and the regard of the players. Scolari is, just after all, a Entire world Cup winner who also received the Copa Libertadores two times.
If there are reservations because he has been out of club soccer for seven years, the risk appears to be a small one. The 59-year-previous has been there and finished it right before, and if dealing with the English tabloid press is an part of his new task that in all probability will never charm, he is not likely to obtain it much more awkward than dealing with the media in his native Brazil.
Scolari is the fourth Chelsea manager of the Abrasmovich era the previous 3 – Claudio Ranieri, Mourinho and Grant – were being all sacked inspite of offering what at most golf equipment would move for relative results. So Scolari knows what to anticipate, and what is envisioned: to recapture the Premier League title from United and to win the Champions League for the first time in Chelsea’s record. The other crucial is to obtain both as a result of an exhilarating brand name of entertaining, attacking soccer. Very simple definitely. The key concern is: can Scolari change to the calls for of club football rapidly and effectively enough to produce what’s required in his initial season back at the coal-confront?
He has acquired off to a first rate begin. Drogba and Lampard, both equally extensively tipped to be part of Mourinho at Inter Milan, are however at the Bridge and feel probable to stat for at the very least the subsequent period. Portugal whole-again Jose Bosingwa, perfectly-acknowledged to Scolari, was recruited and waiting around for him, and one more familiar facial area, the imaginative and motivated Deco, has since arrived. Speculation persists that Robinho could still join them, and that would surely bolster their attacking options and sharpen the purpose risk, in which the Blues ended up deficient final year. The fans would probably really feel happier to have an supplemental high quality striker on board, except the type of Andriy Shevchenko and Claudio Pizarro has gone through a spectacular transformation more than the summer months.
As for the departures, Claude Makelele’s return to France must be adequately lined by the emergence of John Obi Mikel in the keeping midfield job, when Steve Sidwell, superior participant nevertheless he is, was by no means truly employed so will not be skipped. Nor will the transfers of Tal Ben Haim (Manchester Metropolis) and Khalid Boulahrouz (Stuttgart) depart gaping holes in Scolari’s forces.
Pre-time has been beneficial if tiring: the goodwill trip to China and Malaysia was excellent PR but potentially of only minimal benefit to Scolari in phrases of preparation. But going on to Moscow for the Railways Cup presented a additional pertinent test and, shedding yet another shoot-out in the Russian cash apart, Chelsea can reflect on final weekend with pleasure. The emphatic 5- demolition of AC Milan will have triggered many to sit up and just take recognize, as will Anelka’s 4-intention salvo in the rout.
Scolari has said he is a lot more or less clear now in his head about what his starting off XI will be for the Premier League opener from Portsmouth, so at least a single of the primary goals of pre-season has been attained.
Analysis & Prognosis
There will be substantial fascination in how well and how swiftly Scolari matches into his new task. He will have the profit of the question, something Grant in no way enjoyed but there will nevertheless be the spectre of Mourinho, who won the Leading League and the League Cup in his 1st time at the Bridge just after arriving from Portugal. The parallels are there for direct comparison. His press conferences promise to be entertaining, but it is on the pitch where the leisure quotient will be most beneath scrutiny.
The addition of Bosingwa should increase genuine suitable-sided high quality to an presently formidable defence, powering which Petr Cech is thanks a bit of luck following a depressing spell, so Chelsea will once more be a single of the most difficult groups to score against.
And in midfield they have a veritable cornucopia of riches. With Essien restored to the centre exactly where he is at his best, Ballack in the form of variety he confirmed for the duration of the latter phases of final year and at Euro 2008, Deco’s vision incorporating a new resourceful dimension to Chelsea’s video game and Lampard fit and centered, Mikel presenting functioning electricity and muscle, plus the likes of Joe Cole, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Malouda to deliver speed and width on the flanks, Scolari’s problem will be to discover the correct blend and stability although holding all his stars delighted.
Anelka fired a warning in Moscow and Scolari might be organized to play to his strengths, by means of the center, at Drogba’s expense in a way Grant hesitated to do. The actuality that Drogba is probable to pass up the commence of the marketing campaign by means of injuries could aid that selection. Salomon Kalkou impressed previous period but too typically selected the wrong possibility with his ultimate ball, so we can count on an improvement there.
Scolari has indicated that Shevchenko will not be in the setting up line-up, at least originally, but the Ukrainian has mentioned he is established to make an effects at Chelsea and if he is fired up alternatively than diffident when coming off the bench then he’ll give his supervisor a beneficial option.
Chelsea are sure to obstacle tough for the title, and with their squad energy in depth and seemingly impregnable household file they are very likely to be in the prime handful of sites for most of the campaign. They have the taking part in assets and now, they hope, the suitable supervisor to win big honours once more. But a great deal will also depend on United, Arsenal and Liverpool, at minimum, so how Scolari reacts to the Large Four challenge, and how he plots his methods in the head-to-heads, could show decisive.
I expect the Blues to be complicated on all fronts until eventually the latter levels, and maybe amassing a cup but successful the Leading League title at Scolari’s 1st try, right after remaining out of the club sport for a extended time, may well just establish a bridge way too significantly. A major-3 finish then, but not to start with spot.
Coach: Luiz Felipe Scolari
Stadium: Stamford Bridge (42,055)
2007-08 Placement: 2nd
2007-08 Document: P-38 W-25 D-10 L-3 GF-65 GA-26 GD-39 Pts-85
Jose Bosingwa (FC Porto, £16.2m), Deco (Barcelona, £8m).
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