What will Rafael Benitez's successor inherit at Chelsea?
Briefing notes for the next Blues boss
Yesterday's defeat has killed off any lingering prospect of Rafa Benitez staying on at Stamford Bridge. But what will his successor inherit?
1. The Premier League title must, and can, be won The bare minimum for a Chelsea manager is the title, fail to win that and history suggests you will be fired. That however, ought not cause too many sleepless nights as with a few additions (see below) you have been bequeathed a squad which is very capable of winning the Championship.
What this semi-final confirmed is that Manchester United have been allowed to walk away with a title that should have been put beyond them. Man-for-man it is clear Chelsea and Manchester City have better squads than the leaders – which is hardly surprising considering the cash which has been lavished upon them.
Moreover, United have been without Nemanja Vidic, usually their best defender, for much of the season. United will win the title because they have been more consistent and more ruthless against weaker opposition while Chelsea have suffered from managerial instability and City from a title-winning hangover. Neither should apply next season.
Encouragingly, not only is this a very talented squad, but it is also capable of playing the attractive football demanded by Roman Abramovich. The three amigos, Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata, can be a delight to watch, fizzing the ball around in the tight triangles and one-twos Barcelona have made de rigueur for owners with pretensions.
2 Luiz can be Chelsea's Touré The most urgent addition required is a deep-lying midfielder. John Obi Mikel is a perfectly decent holding midfielder but the game has moved on. For a team of Chelsea's ambition it is no longer enough to be Claude Makélélé, winning the ball and giving it to the play-making team-mate, the deep midfielder must be able to initiate attacks as well as break them up. That requires a greater range of passing than Mikel or Ramires appear to possess, and increased mobility. For City's second goal Samir Nasri ran past both Chelsea midfielders far too easily.
The exemplar was in light blue. Yaya Touré was the game's dominant force, creating City's first goal with a driving run, winning the free-kick which led to their second in similar fashion. Even in the 90th minute he made an 80-yard counter-attack to set up a chance for Sergio Aguero.
There are not many players like the Ivorian around, even for someone armed with Abramovich's cheque book, but the answer may already be at Stamford Bridge. David Luiz has improved as a defender, but his gifts are wasted in a destructive role. Like Touré, Luiz is adept at carrying the ball, breaking into space with pace and purpose. He has a decent passing range and is good in the tackle. Benitez deployed him in that role earlier in the season with success while Mikel was at the African Nations Cup but he was returned to defence when Mikel came back.
3 The old guard are gone Chelsea's dressing room used to be one of the most powerful in the game, strong enough to see off unpopular managers such as Luis Felipe Scolari and Andre Villa-Boas. But Roberto Di Matteo, Benitez and, especially, Old Father Time, have continued the process begun by Villas-Boas with considerable success. Didier Drogba is in Turkey, Frank Lampard headed for the USA and John Terry is more likely to be found on the bench or in the treatment room than on the pitch. The Chelsea manager, even one saddled with the title "interim head coach", can now manage. The team are younger, more malleable and less in thrall to the sacred memory of Jose Mourinho.
The team still, however, possess the indefatigable, defiant spirit Mourinho embedded. The second-half comeback at Old Trafford and the second half here – despite recent exertions from Manchester to Moscow – underlined that.
4 Dare to give youth a chance Only one of the players used by Benitez yesterday, Ryan Bertrand, is a product of Chelsea's expensive youth system. Nathan Ake, the teenage Dutch midfielder, was on the bench having started in Moscow in midweek. Others are on loan at a range of clubs, from Middlesbrough to Malaga, though like most of Chelsea's young players Lucas Piazon, who is at the latter, was acquired for a fee in his late teens. With Uefa's Financial Fair Play rules in place these players are surely worth consideration, though given the pressures on Chelsea managers that will require bravery.
City, incidentally, did not have a single youth product though in Gareth Barry and James Milner they had twice as many Englishmen on the pitch. That was an aspect of the afternoon which provided concrete evidence of the watching Roy Hodgson's midweek lament at the lack of English-qualified players in the Premier League. That, however, is one problem a Chelsea manager doesn't have to worry about.
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