By Cameron Dickinson
Last season Chelsea finally wrestled the Premier League title out of Manchester United’s grasp to regain its place on top of the English game after three years of trying.
Entering the season the Blues expected to rival Sir Alex Ferguson’s dominant side, and that proved to be the case thanks to a number of devastating attacking displays which saw them score a record 103 goals.
Chelsea’s attacking prowess was undoubtedly the reason why it lifted its third title in six years, changing the style of the team from the efficient machine of the Jose Mourinho era in to one of the most open, exciting teams in Europe.
The FA Cup followed its league success to solidify the Blues status as the team to beat going in to the 2010-11 campaign, and things looked bright for Carlo Ancelotti’s side as he looked the build the “dynasty” that Mourinho and Roman Abramovich had talked about when the Russian owner’s rubles first became available to the club.
But the incredible progress made under the former AC Milan boss, Ancelotti, appears to have ground to a halt this summer as injuries and the club’s transfer activities (or lack of) have combined to cast a rather dark cloud over Stamford Bridge.
There has been a lot of news coming out of the London club’s press office in recent days, but very little of it has been positive for the defending champions’ fans, and some must be beginning to wonder if their club, so triumphant just two months ago, can replicate last season’s success come May 2011.
The injuries to key players seem to be racking up as the days pass. Star striker, Didier Drogba, recently added his name to the injury list for the Premier League’s opening weekend next month.
The Ivorian, who has only recently recovered from a broken arm which hampered his World Cup campaign, has been struck down with a groin injury. It is estimated that he will be out for about three weeks, after under-going “minimal invasive surgery” to correct the problem.
A club statement read: “The decision to perform the procedure after his return from the World Cup was made to optimize his rehabilitation. He is expected to return to full training in approximately three weeks.”
This means Drogba will miss the crucial final few weeks of training before the season gets under way, which could in turn affect his performances due to a lack of match practice. Drogba’s injury is a big blow for Chelsea, which will want to get its title defense off to a good start.
Drogba joins No. 1 goalkeeper Petr Cech on the sidelines as the Czech international suffered a torn calf muscle in training last week. He is expected to be out for at least a month.
To compound the Blues’ woes, both of the club’s backup goalkeepers have major question marks hanging over their heads. Henrique Hilario has failed to impress during his previous spells between the sticks, while Ross Turnbull is untried at the highest level. Turnbull also endured a nightmare during the recent friendly against Ajax, fumbling twice in a 3-1 defeat.
Everyone knows how important Cech is to Chelsea, despite his troubles in recent seasons, so any spell on the sidelines for the goalkeeper is not a welcome one.
Defensively Chelsea seems to be struggling as well as two of last season’s biggest success stories Alex and Jose Bosingwa are also unlikely to make the season opener against newly promoted West Bromwich Albion, couple this with both Ricardo Carvalho and Ashley Cole’s potential moves away from the club in the coming weeks, and Chelsea are in deep trouble at the back.
Carvalho is being courted by Mourinho, the man who brought him to Stamford Bridge, and the Portuguese international is said to be desperate to join him at Real Madrid.
The center back told The Sun: “Chelsea have a commitment with me to let me go this summer, for reasons which those responsible at the club and I know. If there was a possibility to sign with Real Madrid, I would go there right now swimming or running.
“It would be a dream to be able to play for Madrid, who I consider to be the best club in the world, and follow the orders of the best coach in history. With Mourinho I experienced two marvelous stages at Porto and Chelsea. To have the opportunity to win another Champions League [title] with him at Real Madrid would be tremendous.”
Left back Cole is also being tracked by Madrid, and it is widely believed that he is tempted to escape another fan and media backlash in England following the country’s poor showing in the World Cup and his antics in the weeks following it. In fact, Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain has claimed that “the vibe around the training ground is that the deal is done.”
Losing those four players for the opening weeks of the season is akin to losing an entire first choice back four and would be a major blow to Chelsea’s title defense.
They have already lost Joe Cole and Michael Ballack, both left the club on free transfers as it tries to downsize its massive wage bill. Both of these players, while getting on a bit, would have been very useful to the club during the long Premier League season due to their experience and ability, but both will now be plying their trade elsewhere.
It’s not all bad news for the champions however. Among all that doom and gloom is the return of Michael Essien to first team action. He will be key to his side’s hopes of retaining its crown, though he will take time to get back to his dominating best after such a long layoff.
The Ghanaian midfielder played in the friendly defeat in Amsterdam and looked determined to get back on track as soon as possible.
Of course the club will probably have brought in a few new faces by the time the start of the season arrives; if it hasn’t then it will be time to panic.
However early signs for them are not overly positive, struggling as they are with injuries to key players in key positions. This combined with only one significant new face arriving so far, Yossi Benayoun, has left an aging squad looking rather vulnerable going into an important season for the club as it tries to reassert its dominance over the Premiership.
Last time Chelsea won the title, it managed to retain it in the style the following year, don’t bet on the same happening this time around unless drastic action is taken in the coming weeks.
Cameron Dickinson is a contributing writer for The National Game. His column appears with written consent.