Chelsea have a huge to-do list for next season
Chelsea’s trainwreck of a season will come off the rails once and for all if Everton beat them in tonight’s hotly anticipated FA Cup quarter final. Out of every competition, the defending Premier League champions’ season would effectively be over. Ahead of that pivotal Goodison Park clash, Adrian Clarke (email@example.com) analyses what needs to be done “in transition” to bring the glory days back to Stamford Bridge
Guus Hiddink deserves a pat on the back for saving a combustible dressing room from self-implosion, and for calmly steering them away from the choppy waters of a relegation battle. A wise people person, the 69-year-old has been a safe pair of hands.
Yet they are not the Dutchman’s only legacies.
Unlike any of his recent predecessors at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea’s interim head coach has also had the courage to blood a number of youngsters — usually with tangible success — and that is the key change in outlook that needs to be carried over into the new regime.
Although raw, Kurt Zouma, Bertrand Traore, Kenedy and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have all been blessed with game time, and each has made valuable contributions in the process. Their speed, enthusiasm and fast developing talent have helped lift flagging Chelsea’s spirits during the second half of the campaign.
Playing a team full of ready-made superstars is fine on paper, but the life and energy that enthusiastic youngsters bring to the table should never be underestimated.
Moving forward, the Blues need to trust their emerging players, like Hiddink has.
Long before Jose Mourinho was told to clear his desk, Diego Costa had lost interest in providing a bead of sweat for the manager that signed him. Like many of his team-mates, the Spanish bulldog was done with him and his mood-swinging ways.
Since the far more likeable Hiddink took the helm, Costa has been a player reborn, and based on his performance levels in a sparkling run that has seen him net 11 goals in his past 15 appearances, Chelsea must continue to keep their centre-forward happy.
When scoring in a 2-1 defeat to Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) on Thursday morning, he was outstanding, and by dismantling Thiago Silva in the manner he did, Costa proved he is still a force at the very highest level of European football.
When Hiddink is replaced this summer, it is imperative the new boss makes his star striker feel like he is the man Chelsea’s future will be built around. A spot of sweet-talking might just convince him that one season out of the Champions League is a sacrifice worth tolerating.
One thing is for sure; unless the Blues spend a gargantuan amount of money, they are not going to attract a better front man to lead their line next season. Players of Costa’s ilk will have attractive options elsewhere.
A BRUTAL CULL
He used to be sensational, but the Blues must cut their losses on Eden Hazard and let him leave at the earliest opportunity.
He will become good again elsewhere but the preoccupied Belgian is going through the motions, having clocked out when Mourinho lost the plot in pre-season. His mind and heart no longer seem to belong to Stamford Bridge. The sooner they get shot of the winger, the better.
Who else goes? I would have a serious think about letting Cesc Fabregas move on too.
The playmaker is a wonderful passer, but for the money the club invests in him each week, he does not offer enough goals or defensive application. Fabregas is becoming a luxury they cannot afford. Right now, Chelsea are not good enough to beat the best teams with a two-man midfield that features a Spaniard who does not want to track back.
Oscar, Baba Rahman, Branislav Ivanovic, Radamel Falcao and Loic Remy also need to go. Space has to be made for hungrier (and better) new arrivals.
For the record, I would do everything possible to persuade John Terry to sign on for one more year.
Post-Petr Cech, Joe Cole, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, Chelsea no longer have high-level senior players to carry the club to success on their own. Man for man they are on a par with plenty of other big European clubs, but compared with Barcelona, Bayern and Real Madrid, like all the English clubs, their squad is strictly second tier.
To climb back into the elite bunch, a new team must be built with a proper framework in place.
If, as is widely reported, Antonio Conte takes over, the Italian must be clear on his philosophy and bring in the right men to fit that system.
Without Champions League football to offer (and therefore many targets out of reach), the word “team” will take on greater significance at the Bridge.
Collecting stellar names will not cut it. By creating a freshened up XI that is young, determined and most of all united in the group’s cause, they will have the most realistic chance of achieving a bounce back season.
If that means ditching 4-2-3-1 and going with 3-5-2 or something else that is radically different, there must be no hesitation.
It is time to construct a brand new Chelsea, with a modern identity.
While in-game discipline has improved since Hiddink won the players over, they are still unusually loose compared with Chelsea teams of the past. Conte is a strict taskmaster who does not tolerate shirkers, so his management style would suit.
If wingers do not want to defend, strikers will not close down, midfielders do not provide a screen, and fullbacks do not do their jobs properly, the new boss has to be ruthless. Until the Blues become harder to score against, they will not make the top four.
Where do you strengthen such an imbalanced squad?
Two new strikers must come in to provide cover for Costa, and a dynamic box-to-box midfielder is also a must.
A proper left back, who is experienced and comfortable in the role is urgently required, as is a quality central defender happy to be playing out from the back. If Hazard goes, the recruitment of a goal scoring wide man would also help greatly.
To get back where Chelsea belong, major changes have to be made.