Fellow Champions of Europe and non-Champions of Europe, are you having a Champion of Europe day today?
Too much? OK, sorry — I shall not go all Istanbul on you.
That said I am still wrapped in the warm afterglow of winning the Champions League — a season that looked as though it was meandering into a cul-de-sac of ignominy and the Europa League ending in the most dramatic and unbelievable fashion.
It was almost as if all those dubious decisions over the Champions League years — the epic matches against Barcelona, Drogba being the villain of Moscow, Terry’s slip — were all just part of the story that led us eventually to Munich and to that penalty shoot out and that Drogba moment of destiny. It was the perfect moment. For two months after the event I watched that penalty shoot out every night, sometimes twice... don’t worry Arsenal fans, one day you too may experience such elation.
So onto the season ahead — we cannot rely on another Champions League miracle and can’t really afford another mediocre season.
As pleased as I am with the new signings, the midfield wasn’t really the area most in need of attention — we desperately need another striker. With Drogba gone, Kalou gone (yes I know), Lukaku out on loan, Sturridge barely having any sort of pre-season due to illness we seem to be putting all our eggs in one Spanish basket which is more than a little risky, let’s hope we are not making Spanish omelette all season....
That said, Torres has looked determined, feisty and up for it in pre-season; perhaps he feels that with Drogba gone he can have more of the ball and be more dominant on the pitch. I certainly hope so; as much as he is a team player and generally plays well, he was bought to score goals and this season he has to deliver.
I would have also liked to have seen at least one right back — despite Paulo Ferreria having evidently discovered the fountain of youth. We are apparently some way down the line in negotiations with Marseilles to sign the Spanish U21 international Azpilicueta (there is never any consideration for the fans who try and make songs up for these guys!)
It’s also time that we got some real competition for Cech at the club — he is far too safe in the knowledge that Turnbull and Hilario would never be considered regular first team players, and healthy competition is essential. We of course have an excellent keeper on our books — Thibaut Courtois, who is in no hurry to come back and sit on the Stamford Bridge bench when he is first choice at Atletico Madrid.
So what of our new signings? As someone who doesn’t watch that much football outside of the Premier League I can only judge on what I have seen so far. Hazard looks lively — very reminiscent of Joe Cole in his prime — theoretically he should help Torres in his quest for goals but he seems to have an eye for goal himself and Torres may be cursed with yet another team mate who will look to score in the first instance rather than pass to him.
Oscar’s performance in the Olympics seems to have caused a bit of a stir although the club are hinting that he will be used sparingly because of his age. I am not a great advocate of this way of thinking — if he’s good enough, he’s old enough. In my opinion we have lost far too many decent youngsters through a reticence of giving them enough first-team football. On this subject I will be very interested to see how Borini fares at Liverpool. I was a big fan of his and thought he could have really made the grade if he had been given some more game time.
Kakuta too is publicly voicing his frustrations regarding his stalled career — you’d have thought given what Chelsea went through to secure this kid, that more would have been done to ensure that he could advance with us.
So what does the season hold? On one hand, I think the team looks pretty good bar a few tweaks — but a couple of key injuries and we would struggle. Where I am not so confident is in Di Matteo’s ability. He did well when he stepped into the breach but that situation is very different to planning a season from scratch. Most of us believe he is there as a stop gap while Roman waits for his long-time paramour Guardiola, but a lot of damage can be done while Pep finds himself. And who says the Barca boy can do it anyway? Handed a collection of the best footballers in the world, I could make a reasonable fist of it — new unfamiliar league, a different style of play, different culture when it comes to football, players not quite at Messi and Iniesta’s level — steep learning curve all round methinks.
So let battle commence — hope renewed and more clubs in the mix than ever — it’s good to be back!
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