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Five Star Chelsea

Evidently, I’m pretty pleased with Chelsea’s most recent performances. Following a 4-0 victory over Atlético Madrid in midweek, Chelsea put 5 past a poor Blackburn Rovers side. I’m by no means getting complacent, and realise that Atlético are a club in turmoil, and Blackburn have shown no real form away from home, but I am happy to see that we are now showing a ruthlessness in front of goal, that has perhaps evaded us in the past. We’ve shown glimpses: Under Mourinho we did enjoy the odd goal fest, but an efficient, controlled display was often preferred, while Scolari’s Chelsea showed much flair against the smaller teams, but lacked an incisiveness when confronted by a well organised team, and a ‘big 4’ team in particular.

Now that we are roughly 10 games into the season, I think I’ll use this opportunity to primarily look at Chelsea’s season so far, and also to make any other observations regarding the Premiership and the Champions League.

As I hinted, Chelsea have retained their typical efficiency, which was restored by Guus Hiddink during his temporary tenure last season, whilst implementing the kind of flair that is sure to please Roman Abramovich. So what has the most recent manager of Chelsea, Carlo Ancelotti, done right? It’s easy to look back on Scolari’s reign and simply compare it with Ancelotti’s, but I think it’s more subtle than that. I think the crucial difference here is much more than just a change in formation or mentality. I’m obviously just speculating, but it seems that the situation behind the scenes is much more settled now than before. Ancelotti, the former boss of an ageing AC Milan side, has a wealth of experience working with veteran footballers and big personalities. He appears quite happy to take the back seat at times, but despite that, the players know that he is the man in charge. I don’t know what exactly Scolari did wrong, but he obviously lost the backing of some influential players, which was the beginning of the end for him.

Carlo Ancelotti following his move to Chelsea FC

Chelsea’s season has seen 8 wins and 2 defeats in the league, 3 wins from 3 in the Champions League and a place in the 4th round of the League Cup. Uncharacteristically Chelsea have by their standards struggled away from home this season, which is contrary to their form last season, in which Chelsea’s failings generally came at Stamford Bridge. I believe that the Wigan defeat was a one-off, although last week’s defeat to Aston Villa was a different story. A lot has been made of Chelsea’s defending of set pieces, much of which is simply hot air to fill the back pages. Yes, Chelsea were punished for making mistakes in defending corners, but they were individual errors, and won’t occur every week. Villa have scored the majority of their goals this season from set pieces, which is also notable.

As much as these defeats are disappointing, they are more than compensated by the victories over Liverpool and Tottenham. Continuing in the vain set by Hiddink, Chelsea are once again getting the better of their biggest rivals, which was our main downfall under Scolari. However, Chelsea fans shouldn’t get carried away. Spurs aren’t quite good enough to be labelled as a huge rival, and Liverpool are going through such a rough patch, that you can’t allow yourself to get too carried away by victory over a team lacking in confidence and direction.

All that said, Chelsea are in a very strong position, but the next 6 weeks could be crucial in the making (or breaking) of Chelsea’s Premiership season. With fixtures against Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City, Chelsea will certainly have to maintain this form and get some positive results against their main title contenders. Beyond these 6 weeks, it’s hard to say what will happen. The African players will be missing for 4 or 5 league games in the new year, and it’s unknown as yet whether Chelsea will actually be permitted to do any business in the transfer market come January. I personally think that Chelsea could cope for 4 or 5 games without their African players, providing the rest of the players remain injury-free. The main concern will be the Defensive Midfield and Centre Forward positions. Ballack or Belletti will have to do a job in the holding role, while I am hopeful that Franco Di Santo’s time on loan will give him the experience he needs to effectively partner Nicolas Anelka up front. Of course we shouldn’t forget Daniel Sturridge neither.

Apart from Liverpool’s notable tribulations, the Premier League Table is shaping up as expected. The only other notable surprise is to see Stoke are flying high in 9th, while West Ham struggle to get out of the relegation zone, though I doubt this will be the case come 9th May 2010.

Turning attention to the Champions League, the outcome of the group stages never usually springs any real surprises, and I feel that this year will be no different. However, we have already had some real shock results: AC Milan 0-1 FC Zurich, Atlético Madrid 0-0 APOEL Nicosia,  Inter Milan 2-2 Dynamo Kiev etc. But none of these results are quite as unlikely as FC Barcelona 1-2 Rubin Kazan. I still cannot believe the current Spanish and European Champions lost at home to anyone, nevermind a team like Rubin. That isn’t to say that the Russian Champions have no pedigree, but many people probably hadn’t even heard of them before this season’s Champions League draw, and yet they accomplished something that absolutely nobody could have predicted.

Aleksandr Ryazantsev celebrates Rubin Kazan's opener at the Nou Camp

We are already around a quarter of the way through the 09/10 football season, but it certainly looks like living up to all the expectation. I’ve barely mentioned the big spenders of this Summer, Manchester City and Real Madrid, but I think we’re yet to see the best (or worst) of them. Who knows what will happen next in the world of football, all I know is that I, along with many other football fans, can’t wait to find out.

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