Chelsea’s pre-season is finally over. With a record of 1 win, 1 draw, and 3 losses (goal difference of -2) it would be impossible to say the pre-season went as planned. But honestly, it’s not the results that has Chelsea supporters concerned, it’s how the club has looked in these matches.
Looking at the roster of Chelsea the club should be even better than the Champions League winning side of last season. Gone of course are Drogba, Kalou, and Bosingwa but with additions such as Eden Hazard, Marko Marin, and Oscar there’s simply no excuse for a lack of talent. However, given the departure of Drogba and Kalou for smaller and less imposing attacking options Chelsea need to redefine who they are as a team – a task they struggled with immensely this pre-season and it’s been reflected in the results.
Playing to the strengths of the current Chelsea roster it’s easy to look and see how the blueprint for the “new” Chelsea attack is to feature quick, accurate short passes between playmakers and the striker, similar to a Barcelona/Spain style of play. Yet Chelsea continued to constantly revert back to their old ways, even when Romelu Lukaku (a good young striker who doesn’t fit this system) was on the bench.
Just look at their crossing totals from their first four pre-season matches…
|Opponent||Number of Crosses|
That’s two matches with over 20 crosses (not including the Brighton match where crossing was also prominent) with both of those matches being arguably the worst performances by Chelsea on their pre-season tour. Although the average of roughly 14 crosses a game is in-line with Barcelona, the large discrepancy of crosses attempted (from 4 to 23 after just one match) is worrying and one could conclude that when things don’t go right for Chelsea, they go back to the “old ways” regardless of personnel – hence the struggle some fans have for trying to understand the current identity of the team without the direct ways of Didier Drogba.
The attacking identity crisis has also impacted the defense, who failed to keep a clean sheet in all 5 pre-season matches and allowed an average of two goals per game. The defensive mistakes made in pre-season reminded me of when Andre Villas-Boas was in charge and tried to implement his “new” offense – there was a lack of communication in the midfield and defenders were caught out on the counter-attack. The match against Brighton today and the goal scored by Milan are perfect examples of how the defense struggled with more of a “side-to-side” style of play and compared to the direct style with Drogba. Chelsea had more possession in all of their pre-season matches (two with over 60% possession) yet allowed several easy goals in transition as deeper midfield players pushed forward to reinforce possession and defenders failed to close down opponents.
It is only pre-season so it’s difficult to draw concrete conclusions from the past three weeks but it’s clear Chelsea are having issues figuring out who they are without Didier Drogba and the direct style of play that accompanies him. We saw this last season under Andre Villas-Boas at times and it’s already starting to loom before this season starts. Fans can hope Juan Mata and Oscar will help solidify the short passing style which best suits the attacking personnel of Chelsea, however what effect this style has on the same defense as last season (which failed Villas-Boas who attempted to use similar tactics) remains to be seen. Rival fans and pundits have mocked the direct style which Chelsea won the Champions League with but it takes a club with an identity and a purpose to win such an esteemed trophy – right now I’m not sure Chelsea has either of those.