A dominant Chelsea side secured a Premier League and Capital One Cup double in the second season of Jose Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge, but how can they improve for the 2015/16 campaign?
If you aren’t moving forward each and every year, you risk stagnating and being caught and overtaken by your rivals, a lesson that Manchester City would do well to heed. So this is how Chelsea can avoid a similar fate to that which the men in sky blue endured this season and continue to win titles:
1. Add another striker
Suprisingly, veteran striker Didier Drogba, aslo in his second spell at the club, made more appearances for Chelsea than star man Diego Costa. Although Costa’s 20 goals in 26 appearances were key to Chelsea’s title triumph, the hamstring injury that he picked up whilst still in Madrid continued to trouble him with further injuries to Loic Remy forcing Mourinho to rely on the 37-year-old Drogba far more than he would have liked. This showed itself in the statistics, with Chelsea’s goal tally of 73 falling short of the average 80.45 needed to secure the title since the 1995/6 campaign.
Didier Drogba has already confirmed that he will again be leaving Chelsea in the summer, a wise decision, as the Ivorian legend was clearly struggling towards the end of the season, netting just once in his final 16 league appearances for the Blues. Remy showed he was capable notching 7 times in his 19 league appearances, but he is certainly not on the level of Costa, and he too has been plagued with injuries throughout the season, leaving Mourinho needing to add top quality up top.
So, who could Chelsea target? Mauro Icardi of Inter Milan is one option. The Argentine has scored 29 goals in 57 Serie A games over the last two seasons, finishing as joint top scorer in the league with 22 this season, ahead of the likes of Carlos Tévez and Gonzalo Higuaín. At only 22 years of age, there would be plenty of time for development in London. Elsewhere, Alexandre Lacazette’s tally of 29 goals for Lyon in 2014/15, a tally bettered in Europe’s top five leagues by only Messi and Ronaldo, is unlikely to have gone unnoticed. Unsurprisingly, he has been linked with almost all of the top clubs, meaning Chelsea would have to fight off stiff competition to secure his signature. The French international is just a year older than Icardi, but also has the versatility to play in the role of a winger. Mourinho certainly should look to replicate his success in the most recent transfer window this summer.
2. Add squad depth
Chelsea lack depth in other areas, too, most notably in defence. Their back five of Thibaut Courtois, Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, John Terry and Cesar Azpilicueta is a formidable unit, but they are short on numbers beyond that. Petr Cech will need replacing has been heavily linked with a move away after being ousted by Courtois, Kurt Zouma is still just 20 and Atletico Madrid are thought to be keen on re-signing Filipe Luis. Chelsea were lucky to avoid too many defensive injuries this season, but Terry will turn 35 later this year and another centre-back should be a priority.
Mourinho has never been one for heavy rotation, only starting 20 different players prior to wrapping up the title against Crystal Palace on May 3. He admits Chelsea were forced to adopt a “less artistic” approach in the second half of the season, rather than the exciting style they used in the earlier stages, but greater depth would have allowed him to conserve his key players’ energy and cope better when injuries and suspensions began to bite. Had it not been for their defensive grit and the sublime talents of Eden Hazard, their title march may have been ended in a haze of injuries in the final few months of the season.
Another position to add to is defensive midfield, where they lack cover for the brilliant Nemanja Matic, who was hugely influential in the grinding out of results that Chelsea became renowned for in the latter half of the season. Zouma has shown promise in the position, but John Obi Mikel and Ramires have fallen out of favour at Stamford Bridge, and are no longer considered good enough for first team duties. A high-quality addition in that role could fill in for Matic in the case of injury or suspension, and could also be deployed alongside the Serb in big European and domestic games should be the type of player that Mourinho searches for. The name that immediately springs to mind is Saint’s midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin, who has impressed over the last two seasons at St. Marys and has been strongly linked with following many of his old team mates inleaving Southampton.
3. Promote youth
Mourinho could solve his squad depth issues by promoting the talented crop of young players at his disposal, rather than condemning them to join the army of players out on loan. Chelsea have won four of the last six FA Youth Cups and their U19s are UEFA Youth League champions. Although youth development is not something that Mourinho is known for, he was clear enough about his intentions at the start of last season. “My conscience is simple. If, in a few years, (Lewis) Baker, (Isaiah) Brown and (Dominic) Solanke are not national team players, I should blame myself,” he said in July.
In fact, it is Ruben Loftus-Cheek who has shown the most first team promise having impressed on when handed his first start in the clash with against Liverpool in May. Brown, Solanke, Andreas Christensen and Nathan Ake have also made a handful of appearances, while Patrick Bamford could return to the fold following his impressive loan spell at Middlesbrough. Perhaps it is Bamford that Mourinho could turn to in order to address his issues up top, rather than forcing the young striker out by buying an expensive player from the continent.
4. Cut the complacency
Mourinho spent a lot of the 2013/14 season lamenting his side’s inability to “kill” opponents as they fell short of winning the title, and, although they romped to the league title, it remains a worry. In the Premier League this season, only West Ham, Swansea, Leicester, Sunderland and Everton have lost more points from winning positions than Chelsea (15). By contrast, runners-up Manchester City lost just nine points from similar positions.
However, the most notable examples came in the cup competitions. Chelsea were two goals up at home to league one outfit Bradford City in the FA Cup fourth round but conceded four goals without reply as the Bantams recorded one of the biggest cup upsets in history. Then there was their Champions League elimination by Paris Saint-Germain, as yet another English team floundered in Europe. Mourinho’s men failed to make the extra man count following Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s early sending off, and the French side equalised twice to go through on away goals.
"It was not good enough,” Mourinho said after the game. “The game was in our hands twice. They coped better with the pressure of the game. Maybe with 10 men we felt even more pressure to win. They had nothing to lose. They were just playing that game. We felt that extra pressure and couldn't cope.” Chelsea did, however, show true grit to battle their way through the final months of the Premier League season. They will need more of the same next year.