The Champions League euphoria is only beginning to make way for some serious transfer activity in what will shape up to be possibly the most significant round of squad renovation, as well as an early instance of passing the baton to a new generation of the club's football. That's right, the Russian revolution, will be facing it's first evolution, and a great degree of precision, lucre, & negotiative smarts will be needed to ensure we capture the best crop of players to pick up where the current Drogba-JT-Lamps triumvirate-propelled generation is leaving off. So let's take a look at our current assets, assess their potential roles & squad significance in the coming season, before taking a look at who might be a good fit for the future, as well a glance at what the academy talent might be able to offer [Part II].
So going by squad numbers,
1. Cech: As was well noted in the recent post on grading keepers, Cech's surprisingly pleasing late season form, talking in WAGNH poll terms, turned my :-@ right into a :-D ; his late season improvement in anticipation & saving reflexes was very well needed, and to me, his penalty heroics in the CL Final eclipsed pretty much every other assured performance we've seen from him in the last couple of seasons. Sure, he may have lost the 'spectacular' in his game, [cue Stephen Hunt boos] but I'm more than happy to see the experience of age compensate for it now. He's going to be our top custodian heading into the next season, and is also the reason I won't be writing at length about Ross Tamesbull & Henpecked Hilario.
2. Ivanovic: I think Bane had a fairly solid season, picked up where he left off last year, where he was one of the few shining lights in Carlo's side, and I think he did a fair, if not wholly bombastic job at RB. Two things I wish to say about him are that one, he wasn't able to adequately fill in the shoes a wingback role demands, since pace isn't an asset he possesses, and the defensive assets he possesses appear to have been developed with a more central role in mind. Nevertheless, he wasn't a particularly faulty or wasteful crosser with the ball, and while he lacked the physical agility for a wingback role, I think he superbly made up for it in endeavor. Iva, to me seems more of a prototype-accurate fullback rather than the modern dynamic flank-rusher. The second, was the fact that I feel a lot of people look at him as a 'CB playing at RB', possibly because of the roles he played when Scolari gave him his opening into the team. His first start for us, it may be noted, was at RB, and when he was signed from Russia, he was brought in as a pure versatility option. I agree his strengths & physical imposition are closer to that of a CB, but still, Branislav Ivanovic according to me, should be considered an all-out defensive versatile man, rather than position constrained. For the new season, I'd expect him on the bench, if we've plans for a new RB, most preferably. Ah yes, his goals in crucial late season fixtures deserve mention too.
3. Ashley Cole: I think the overuse and excessive wear & tear he's endured over the season has been well documented here at the site, so I wouldn't dwell on that. When he did step out with a big game, he controlled the left flank with aplomb, at times taking on the responsibility of stretching play single-handedly. While Mata's defensive frailty exposed him more than he'd have liked, his attacking contribution was still exceptional, as it was his constant presence as a pass/cross option that allowed Mata the freedom of movement in the left area when he played there and dragged defenders out of position. Certainly retains his position on the left side of our defense for me, although it sure wouldn't hurt to rest him once in a while - his stamina reserves may not be depleting, but at this rate, his physical vitality will.
4. David Luiz!: I found it funny that, at the beginning of the year, our general idea of a good David Luiz performance was the absence or the relative lack of errors he was making on the pitch. Although the swashbuckling edge to his game might be missed by a few, the refinement in his attacking capacity that he has developed, alongwith the phenomenal long distance grounded passes he makes that I'm certain no defender in Europe can emulate, makes him, for me the most improved footballer at Chelsea across the last season. There were a gaffe strewn performance or two here and there in between, but on the whole, he is a much more solid defender than he ever was, and is one of the most important assets we have at the club today. He has been one of the most solid defenders in England in the last season, especially since the turn of the year, and having a spirited character like him in the dressing room does a world of good for the nerves of anxious & soft-spoken players in there around him. He has to be the starting RCB next season, I'd expect him to be among the people playing the most games, and hopefully his development will continue at the same rate, if not better.
5. Essien: He didn't really play a lot this season, and has looked pretty jaded since his return. It's a pity a wonderful physical marvel like him has been bogged down by the most debilitating kind of injuries at such important junctions in his career. I don't see Ess recapturing his earlier dynamism, although his stamina levels aren't bad at all even now, which leads me to believe he can still be a decent bench option as well a Cup game starter. Is it just me or has his game lost a bit of aggression since the comeback?
6. Romeu: If there was an Oscar for 'Best Performance In No-Nonsense Role' I think Oriol would win it hands down. Played his position accurate to instruction, never took a touch more than was needed, smooth and reasonably quick to release the ball, and in general showed considerably better composure than might've been expected of a youngster coming into a new team, in a new country, thrust into action. When he did screw up, occasionally, it wasn't pretty, but overall, he did his job with minimum fuss, and for me, he needs to get as many matches, IF not more, next season. I'm not sure Vilanova's appointment might mean Barca's interest in him relatively cooling, but I suppose there'd always be *someone* there keeping an eye on him, and as we've seen all too well in the Fabregas saga, contractual bind or not, if the club want him back and he wants to go, nothing will swing things, not money, not titles, not career-launching gratitude. In terms of improvement for the new season, it'd be really great if he could work a bit on using the ball better in the opposition half. When not distributing it quickly, he has looked flustered in the opposition half with the ball at his feet.
7. Ramires: Hmm, on second thought, perhaps it may be Rambo who was the most improved player for us. His energy in midfield was a breath of fresh air, missed for so long since Essien 'retreated' into decadence, and his big game temperament was second only to Drogba's. Played very important roles for us all season, was a model of consistency throughout, chipped in with useful goals every now and then, and definitely retains his spot for next season. His role, will be what would be the most intriguing question when the season starts - shall we use him as a defensive winger? Because if Lamps retains his spot in the pivot & the 4-2-3-1 is the preferred formation, I suppose it's the only position that makes sense. Would certainly provide much wanted defensive firmness the rest of our attacking band would largely lack. If preferred targets are secured, I think we might end up seeing a bit less of him next season than this.
8. Lampard: Let's be... Frank, apart from a few sporadic sparkling performances under AVB, he did less than generally expected to remind us what he still had. When he did show up under Robbie, I think his performances were among the most cultured & efficient a converted position player could've been expected to come up with. However, we can't expect him to keep pace with the league's intensity much longer, and to that effect, I'd prefer a bench role for him next season, while in knockout games, he can be started to provide an experienced, calming, influence on the pitch. He's still got the goods, so I'd expect him to be the natural replacement in the event of an injury, but other than all of that, it's time for Frank to start conserving his reserves.
9. Nando: Our Apologist can do a loads better job of describing his season, so only a quick word from me. He's got the role he was spoiling for, all eyes are on him now. It's time, Fernando. Let's do this. Put your meme-fodder days behind you once and for all.
10. Mata: Wow, how can I describe Mata's season for us. He was, for me easily the delight of our season, and his play was something we've been crying out for at Chelsea for so long. His darting runs, invention, clever use of space, excellent & reliable use of the ball, all of it made us look just so much of a glossier attacking outfit compared to earlier. Sure, he was fatigued as the season progressed and it weighed on his performances, but truly, what a player he has been for us all along. A genuine leading light up front throughout, played his parts to perfection, and at times seemed to be the only man driving us on the field. I was honestly disappointed to not see him considered for any of the important footballing honors through the course of the season, but I've no doubt in that no other playmaker could've played and performed as much for his team as he did all throughout. For the coming season, I'm very confident in his ability to remain the focal point of our attack, and while I hope he'll get more rest, the central position is where he must continue to play and flourish, and an equally good assist tally next season wouldn't be at all out of place to expect.
12. Mikel: Nobody on our roster polarizes opinion like him, and I think he had a fairly mediocre first half of the season, losing his place, poor cameos, et al, before bursting to life under RDM, and delivering unspectacular but solid performances in the middle as and when needed. His distribution doesn't seem to have gotten prettier or quicker, and frankly, I don't know if an improvement would be something worth expecting for the new season. One thing I'd like to say about him, is that any man who can step out on the pitch for his team while his father is facing potential mortal danger and his family is weeping far away in despair, possesses mental fortitude of the highest order and doesn't deserve to have his commitment and on-pitch seriousness questioned, ever.
15. Malouda: Y U NO LEA—, um, now, I don't at all feel Malouda has anything to offer on the pitch that we're presently missing, so not much in the way of playing time. Should give him ample freedom to continue his failed attempts to dethrone David Luiz's awesome bubble-perm as the Chelsea dressing room's number one hairstyle.
16. Merry-less: He had an odd season, decent jobber at times, hair-pullingly inefficient at all others, a squad role-cum cup game routine is probably best for Raul. Anything that keeps from hurting us often.
18. Lukaku: It was disappointing to not see him get time to show his veritable skills, but I imagine one full year of massively better quality training would've ensured he registered a net improvement as a striker. The agility improvement was the most noticeable among any of his attributes, but if wants to achieve the potential his immense frame suggests, he seriously needs to start working more on the rest of his physical imposition. I can see him staying at the club if he improves his aerial ability enough early in the season, else, a loan might be a good alternative, provided we're well secured in the striker department.
19. Paulo: You're a wonderful mascot, and have earned the right to decide when and where you wish to retire. If Ferreira wishes to hang around for a bit longer, I imagine he'd be mentoring the younger defenders in the side, Bertrand, and new RB, so he does have some measure of involvement over the next season if he wishes to stay, besides stepping in if a serious injury crisis comes our way, no doubt.
20. Josh: Ehh... tasked with making the basket look prettier this season. May quite possibly have a staying role to play if he impresses in pre-season, and while I'd love to see him step into a semi-prominent first team role, I can't help think the club might have a further top tier loan stint in mind before they're ready to hand him his stripes. Come to think of it, he could actually be a stupendous replacement for Lamps in the pivot, should the defensive aspect of his game toughen up, but again, he's been a player for advanced positions much of his youth career thus far, so an attacking midfield capacity is too good to subdue. Most probably a link-up play specialist if he does see himself loaned out though.
23. Sturridge: Started the season with a bang, finished it with a whimper. The early goalscoring form was very well needed too, especially in light of Torres' struggles, yes, the selfishness allegations won't be getting off his back anytime soon I presume, but yes, I note his crossing & passing abilities did not improve as expected in the early parts of the season. However, his tenacity deserves some praise, and even though he showed glimpses of class whenever he was able to get into central positions, I suppose he'll see only marginally more playing time in the coming season, but in both the centre forward as well wing role, for a change. Hopefully his improvement will continue, but since he'll be playing among better quality teammates in attack, he'll be expected to be relatively more selfless in providing, as they would be for one like him.
24. Cahill: From the ignominy of near-relegation to the ecstasy of winning Europe's top prize, if ever there was a fairytale swing in fortune, it was his! Stepped up admirably when the team needed a backup, wasn't gingerly on his feet, so a good job dealing with the pressure of playing for a big club and facing bigger oppositions, so like Romeu, deserves praise for his composure. Looked comparatively more assured lining up alongside Terry than Luiz, so all in all, next season should see him assuming the role of first choice in Cup games, unless he can continue to impress in training as he has done so far and give the manager a selection headache. I'd expect about 25 appearances or so from him the next season, hopefully keeping his impression as steady as now.
26. JT: The season caused his lack of pace to become his most acknowledged liability, or atleast be reaffirmed, but when we finally reverted to the usual defensive system, he played like he'd always done. This season also made me appreciate the commanding influence he brings with him to the backline more than ever before. Strong in the air as always, looked somehow more threatening on the set pieces than earlier seasons, and while he's still impossible to keep off the team sheet no matter what, I just hope injury recurrences don't take a toll on him next season, and he can play as often for us as possible. With a newer lineup, there might quite possibly he a certain degree of less coordination among the frontline & midfield, and so his presence will be more necessary than imaginable in attempting to help bridge communication issues in the initial months.
34. Bertrand: Starved for opportunities, certainly, but when he did get chances, he performed admirably, and while he didn't nearly do anything to suggest he could usurp Cole's spot in the lineup too soon, I certainly expect him to see more starts in the new season, given we're probably going to have a lot of matches to play, and that it'd be the best thing for his development to continue. He's still a fair bit away from his peak years, but given the physically demanding nature of the wingback role, plus considering the ridiculously high standards Ashley has set in the team, it's important for Bertrand to mature well so that he can play for us through seasons he still has his best athletic years in him.
40. Hilarious: The basket always needed someone old & experienced to tell tales and keep everyone in there entertained, so...
Right, well, now that you've reached a point where you're making a grumpy mental note to complain about the length of this post when you get down to commenting, I'd just like to thank you for reading what has been my first ever attempt at publicly expressing thoughts about the club; any feedback, constructive or not, would be welcome, ditto for a healthy discussion. In Part II of this, I'll be taking a look at ideal targets for the club over and summer, the roles guys we've already signed can play, as well as how the academy players could chip in, if needed or offered opportunities.