Chelsea had a remarkable 2011-2012 season, with early problems during the tenure of Andre Villas Boas giving way to a shock Champions League victory under caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo. However, the 2012-2013 season will generate new challenges for Chelsea, as they attempt to prove that their status as European champions was not a fluke. Much of this planning will depend on whether a lengthy rebuilding process at the club will work, and whether Di Matteo can maintain momentum from the end of the last season. Moreover, Chelsea face the challenge of being able to financially compete with Manchester City if they want to stay as frontrunners for the Premier League and the Champions League for the foreseeable future.
1 – Rebuilding
Although it may seem like a strange case for the current European champions, Chelsea do have to rebuild what is an ageing squad. This was the priority for Villas Boas, before Di Matteo vindicated faith in Terry, Lampard and Drogba for their Champions League run. However, there has already been an exodus of senior players, which has included Drogba, Bosingwa and Kalou, and is likely to include Florent Malouda before the start of the new season. With Terry and Lampard likely to have a few seasons left in them, the club are focusing on refreshing the squad with younger players.
Summer signings have so far included pacy winger Mark Marin, and creative midfielder Eden Hazard, who at £32 million, will be expected to supply the spark to a newlook frontline. Chelsea fans will hope that Hazard can settle into the pace of Premiership football with the same assurance as David Silva for City. Di Matteo will also be hoping that Torres can finally pin down his form, and that a productive partnership can be made with either Sturridge, a still marginal Lukaku, and a new striker. The transfer of Hulk from Porto is still uncertain, but Chelsea remain the frontrunners. Chelsea are also expected to secure the signing of Brazillian prospect Oscar, albeit after the Olympic Games.
2 – Maintaining Momentum
The Champions League was a unique moment, but one that overshadowed a patchy league season that never saw Chelsea seriously compete with Manchester City and United for the title. Chelsea can consider themselves the third placed challenger this year, especially given the current problems at Arsenal. Di Matteo will hope that he can maintain the basic structure adapted from Mourinho of counter attacking and pace, and that his defence has the legs to stand up for a long season.
Much of this stamina will be tested by an early season that sees Chelsea compete for the Community Shield and the UEFA Super Cup. There is, however, the bonus of a favourable start to the league, with games coming up against Wigan, Reading, and Newcastle. With the UEFA Super Cup meaning that Chelsea will miss a week in late August, the club don’t face a major away trip until a visit to Arsenal on the 29th of September. Di Matteo should, therefore, be able to start strongly, and add a Super Cup win to boost the confidence of his transitioning side.
3 – Long-Term Future
Chelsea’s ability to maintain their challenge in England and Europe will depend, as ever, on the investment made by Roman Abramovich, whose goal was the Champions League. The hope will be that Chelsea can build a legacy over the next decade that will keep them toe to toe with Manchester City and other giants of the European game. However, Chelsea need to fall in line with UEFA Financial Fair Play Rules, with a new deal with Russian oil company Gazprom aiming to reduce debt. The club also have to find a new stadium plan after failing to purchase a site in Battersea.
Rob James is a Chelsea fan working in conjunction with www.soccerex.com. His earliest memories are watching them win the European Cup with his granddad in 1989.