You have to give Roberto di Matteo some credit.
He made the step up from assistant to ‘interim’ manager at the start of March and well, we all know what happened: Champions League and FA Cup success with 13 wins in his 21 games (61%) and just 3 losses.
Roman Abramovich took the view that di Matteo deserves the chance to see what he can do over a full season, but will he be that patient? Some may disagree, but clearly RDM is a temporary necessity until Roman can tempt Pep Guardiola out of his sabbatical and into the Stamford Bridge hot-seat. Few would be surprised if that switch didn’t happen before the start of next season as Roman will demand his team challenges on all fronts after a disappointing league campaign last year.
The forward four
Maybe it’s just accepted that it’s the way the club works these days but both of the Blues’ signings so far this summer were completed before RDM was officially placed ‘in charge’. How will Hazard and Marin fit in to the new-look Chelsea team, with the likes of Drogba and Kalou already departed and others likely to follow?
Hazard joins from Lille for more than £30m. You can only conclude that Roman was seduced by his stats – he scored or assisted 66 goals since 2009, 31% of Lille’s total in Ligue 1 – and believes he can produce the same in the Premier League. There are well-reported question marks over his temperament; apparently he made it a condition of the deal that he would be guaranteed the central playmaker ‘number 10’ role in the team. Both Manchester clubs were also in the running to sign him but he chose the European champions. Nice.
Despite playing less than 200 minutes of football at Euro 2012, Fernando Torres scored three goals (and vitally assisted once for Mata in injury time of the final) to secure the Golden Boot and another winner’s medal.
Apparently he’s been given assurances, by Roman of course, that he’ll be the main man at the Bridge this term. The stats don’t lie though. Last season, Torres enjoyed 2,029 minutes of Premier League action spread across 32 appearances (63 minutes per game on average), producing only 6 goals; a goal every 338 minutes. In comparison, RVP played pretty much every minute of all 38 league games, finishing as top scorer with 30; a goal every 117 minutes. A vast improvement will be expected of the Spanish striker this season.
In the pipeline
Even if the ongoing speculation around the Hulk joining the Blue evolution (or is it revolution?) are true, Nando shouldn’t lose any sleep.
At Porto, the 25-year-old Brazilian plays as an inverted forward on the right of a front three, cutting in on to his powerful left foot to good effect, scoring 52 in 96 appearances since joining from the J-League in 2008. You’d expect him to be utilised in a similar position at Chelsea with Torres up top, Mata on the left and Hazard the ‘number 10’ of a 4-2-3-1. Those three supporting Torres have the ability to play across all three positions so can interchange easily, which should result in a more fluid attacking movement. Similar to Pep’s Barcelona in many ways, then.
The Hulk release cause is €100m but should Roman be unwilling to negotiate, he can turn to a number of alternatives who have been linked with the club.
Another Brazilian and relative unknown, the 20-year-old Oscar of Internacional, Bayer Leverkusen’s 21-year-old German international, Andre Schurrle, Wigan’s 21-year-old Victor Moses and Arsenal’s Theo Walcott have all been linked with moves to the Bridge recently. Did we miss any young right wingers there?
Oscar appears to be the leading contender with deals of between £15-25m being reported in recent days. He normally plays as the ‘number 10’ at Internacional but can also play on either flank, his versatility something that should appeal to RDM. Since breaking into the first team in 2010, he has weighed in with 11 goals in 36 appearances and has been capped 6 times for the senior Brazil side, with a single goal to his name.
Marko Marin, the £6m summer signing from Werder Bremen, is a diminutive winger who can play on either side of the pitch. Not known for his scoring capabilities, with only 19 career goals in over 170 matches, his role will be to create. He takes over the number 21 shirt from Kalou and may well inherit his place on the bench.
Last season, Daniel Sturridge flourished in that right forward role under the stewardship of AVB, scoring 9 goals in 20 starts. However he fell out of favour dramatically when RDM took over in March, with only 2 in 8 up to the end of the season. His selfish tendencies and the combination of his meningitis recovery and/or Olympic duties will certainly hinder his chances to impress early this season. All of that, together with his desire to play as the central striker, may well see him move on and possibly link up once again with AVB at the Lane.
Of course, there’s also Chelsea’s most improved player of last season, Ramires, who produced some of his best performances in a blue shirt in the final few months, when under RDM, he played on the right side of the front three supporting the striker. The 24-year-old Brazilian has the energy and discipline to track back and then attack with pace on the counter, most noticeably with that beautiful goal at the Nou Camp. Surely RDM will be utilising those strengths on a more regular basis this season, but if he opts for the more creative and natural goal-scorers in those front four positions, Ramires’ versatility should ensure he makes the starting 11 on a regular basis.
One thing is for sure, we haven’t seen the last of Roman’s spending this summer.