Over the years, Chelsea have prided themselves on being solid and miserly at the back, not giving a freeway ticket for any team to go through. They have attracted a lot of unfair attention as being a defensive team, while only just being defensively solid. Back in the day, any team visiting Stamford Bridge knew that chances to score a goal would be few and far between. That is, until recently.
Last season, the Blues shipped an incredible 53 goals, succumbing to a 10th placed finish. Even in their title-winning season previous to that, they conceded 32. That figure may not seem very high, but there are some very interesting numbers to consider here. The last time Chelsea let in less than 25 goals in a Premier League campaign was way back in the 2008/09 season. In the 4 years previous to that though, they accomplished that feat thrice, conceding 26 in the fourth. There is a clear decline in the solidarity and authority at the back we’ve seen over the years.
Talking about the upcoming season though, there are cracks all over the back 4. Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill and John Terry were all very very ordinary last season, and are all set to start the first game against West Ham United next Monday. Cesar Azpilicueta is the only member of the backline who can be trusted to put in solid performances on a consistent basis.
Not assertive enough in the transfer window
Everton’s John Stones was a major target for Chelsea last summer, with Jose Mourinho hell-bent on bringing the then 21 year-old to Stamford Bridge. The Blues though, weren’t willing to pay the asking the price and had four bids rejected by the Toffees. Fast forward one year, and Manchester City have paid £47.5 million and signed Stones. The once-ruthless, “we’ll get who we want”-style of negotiation seen at Chelsea has now completely disappeared. In the end, they ended up with Papy Djilobodjy, who only play 1 minute in all competitions last season before being sold to Sunderland this summer.
This time around as well, we’ve seen several names linked with a move to West London, including Leonardo Bonucci, Kalidou Koulibaly and Shkodran Mustafi. With less than a week to go before the season starts though, no in-roads have been made yet on any of those players apart from Koulibaly, for whom Napoli seem to be holding out for a larger fee.
It is also very surprising how the Blues aren’t being linked to a full-back. Ivanovic has been on the decline for a while now and was ripped apart for fun by teams last year. Azpilicueta may be very good, but he is afterall a right-footed player playing on the left. Shifting the Spaniard to the right and getting a new left-back should be on the club’s agenda.
A clear weakness
Kurt Zouma is set to be fit in September, but the Frenchman needs a solid partner alongside him. Neither Terry nor Cahill have the pace to be able to deal with quick strikers who keep running in behind. Chelsea have, in the recent years, struggled against strikers like these, with Sergio Aguero, Fernando Torres and Theo Walcott being prominent examples. Another major problem is the right hand-side, where Ivanovic has been getting caught out and exposed time and time again in the last two years.
With Conte looking to slowly but surely switch to either a 4-4-2 or a 3-5-2 formation, the Blues will also need their centre-backs to play much higher up the pitch. Andre Vilas-Boas tried that with Terry and David Luiz, and failed miserably. Chelsea need two centre-backs who are both strong and quick, and are also technically good on the ball. In Zouma, they undoubtedly have one. If they don’t find a second though, the defensive vulnerability is set to continue in the 2016/17 season and beyond.