Chelsea Corner: What the Final Squad for 2012-13 Would Look Like If I Were RDM
It's been a busy summer on the football front now, hasn't it? The European season only concluded towards the end of May. Before we knew it, some players were shifting base within the continent to link up with their compatriots at the pre-Euro national camps, whilst others were headed for well-deserved breaks.
The action has been coming thick and fast. And that's not changing anytime soon. The European Championships have come and gone; the Olympics are getting underway. Clubs across the continent have, nonetheless, kick-started preparations for the next campaign.
London is buzzing with life right now, and yet a large chunk of the first team men at Chelsea Football Club find themselves so far away from the city, from the familiar settings at Cobham, and of course, from the frenzy preceding the biggest sporting extravaganza there is.
And as a dedicated follower of the Blues, it is only natural that I find myself wondering what our grand man Roberto Di Matteo is thinking right now.
Having etched his name in the history books only a couple of months back, RDM has the Chelsea job permanently now, and, with it of course, a paid trip to the United States too.
Jokes apart, the man has some serious work to take care of this summer. We are looking at Roberto to stamp his mark on the club, to create a model for sustained success.
Time really flies, doesn’t it? There he was in Munich just a little while back, celebrating the historic triumph in the Champions League final, and now he finds himself preparing his troops for a pre-season friendly against the Seattle Sounders.
With the Blues getting back to football matters, I started wondering what things would look like if I woke up to find myself in RDM's shoes.There would be some pressing issues I'd have to look into.
The transfer window is still open, and while some big talents have been recruited, a few key decisions remain to be made. The biggest of them all would involve taking a call on the final squad to work with for the first half of the 2012-13 season.
Here's something I'd have to consider: What would the 25 man squad for the Premier League season look like come September 1? I have given my verdict on that, amongst other things, in the slides that follow.
RDM’s Preferred Formation
I think we know RDM’s preferred formation all too well. The 4-2-3-1 landed Chelsea an unprecedented FA Cup and Champions League double.
Persisting with this system would be a good idea, one feels. That way, you are assured of a strong defensive foundation, especially with the presence of two men playing deep in the middle to clean up and redistribute. It would allow the manager to field four out-and-out attackers.
A conservative approach, some may say, but I happen to find it a balanced one. Keeping in mind Chelsea’s summer acquisitions, width is not going to be a problem. Put three creative brains behind an explosive frontman, and you’ve got yourself a great formula.
The club has proven results with this formation, and that must be kept in mind. The back four under this system look really comfortable, and the quartet up front can play a liberated game.
Of course, I’m not saying it’s a good idea to stick to this for every game. When the likes of Stoke City, Fulham and Everton visit the Bridge, Chelsea would be better off deploying just one man in the holding midfield position, and reverting to a more offensive arrangement like a 4-1-4-1. The Blues cannot afford to let visiting mid-table opposition grind out draws as has often been the case over the past season or two.
What My First-Choice XI Would Look Like, with the Present Resources
If I were RDM, I’d have my team lined up as follows in a 4-2-3-1:
Ivanovic Cahill Terry Cole
Ramires Mata Hazard
This one looks good on paper. Petr Cech is now a living legend, and only one who can feel absolutely certain of a spot. The four at the back have flourished as a unit. Paulo Ferreira, Sam Hutchinson and Ryan Bertrand are solid back-ups for Brana and Ashley. I’d be happy to see a more mature David Luiz this season. If we see him play as well as he did in the last three months of the previous campaign, he might just be able to tie down a permanent spot in defense.
Lampard and Mikel have forged a great partnership in the centre of midfield, and I wouldn’t fiddle with that. After Di Matteo took over and paired them, Mikel’s performances turned from sluggish to efficient. He had someone sitting right next to him to pass to, and that made him a whole lot more comfortable.
The presence of Raul Meireles, Michael Essien and Oriol Romeu ensures that there is depth in this department.
The trio behind Torres look really good. Mata and Hazard are both magicians on the ball, and adept at running at defenses. Ramires is a great all-round individual, with bundles of energy. We have seen him thrive in more attacking roles on the flanks towards the end of last season, and I’d look forward to more of the same. I don’t think there’s any way he can be left out of starting line-up, irrespective of where he plays. Marko Marin and Kevin De Bruyne are excellent alternatives for the wide positions, and I’d be surprised if Roberto were not to shuffle his pack regularly.
Up front, you’d expect Fernando Torres to finally start firing. He was an assist machine last year, but the fact of the matter is that he has a lot more to give. A blend of bad luck and hesitation prevented Torres from reaching the 20 goal mark last time around.
All in all, he has had a good past 12 months, winning big trophies on both club and international level, while also picking up an individual gong in the form of the Euro 2012 Golden Boot. With even better supply lines now, he will have a serious opportunity to show he can replace Didier Drogba as the face of the Chelsea attack.
If I were the manager, I’d keep Daniel Sturridge. He can share goalscoring duties with El Nino. His selfish traits might actually play to his advantage if he gets his chance as centre forward. Romelu Lukaku, meanwhile, should seek a loan move to a mid-table club. Fulham are one of the interested parties.
Three familiar faces have already departed, and there could well be another one or two headed out of West London.
For me, Florent Malouda has to leave. He was integral part of the team under the tenures of Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti, but his purple patch lasted no more than two years. At present, he is 32 years old and has little to offer, so it is best for him and the club to part company.
Michael Essien, meanwhile, has long been a fan favourite at Stamford Bridge. But having suffered from three major injuries over the past few years, the Bison may never be the formidable force he once was. Still, at 29, he’d make a great squad player, and I’d like him to stay. A lot depends, though, on the status of Oriol Romeu, who has again stressed that he’d fancy a move back to Barcelona someday. The club must seek some clarification from Romeu on this, and then take a call on Essien.
Yossi Benayoun’s future is unclear, although he is presently at the pre-season camp in the United States. A decent season at Arsenal shows he’s still got what it takes. I can see the fellow fill in for Juan Mata or Eden Hazard when needed, so he should be kept.
People have often cited Paulo Ferreira as a player who must move on. But he has been a reliable deputy for Ivanovic and Bosingwa for a few years already. He can easily fill in at left back too, and is quite happy to wait for the occasional opportunity. He’s a great servant of the club, and I wouldn’t let him leave.
Hulk, Oscar, Stevan Jovetic, Luka Modric and Theo Walcott have all been linked to the Blues in recent weeks, but none of them are really what RDM needs. Hulk would be very expensive, and although versatile, his arrival would likely deprive Danny Sturridge of the chance the Englishman is due. Oscar is supposedly close to joining, but I feel he’d be surplus to requirements. I know many of you readers will disagree on this, but I would say the same for Luka Modric
The centre forward position is the one Chelsea and Di Matteo should be scanning the market for. I wouldn’t go for a Cavani or a Higuain; instead for a striker who accepts he won’t play all the time. This is just my honest opinion, so don’t crucify me for it: Dimitar Berbatov would be just the man Chelsea needs. I can’t, for the life of me, make myself believe that having just two strikers in Torres and Sturridge looks sufficient.
At 31, he would be a temporary arrangement. But I’d be happy to have a man of his calibre till Romelu Lukaku is ready to carve out a place with the Pensioners.
Reinforcements at right back are the need of the hour. Some supposed Chelsea targets include Mathieu Debuchy and Lukasz Piszczek, but the one I’d reach out for if I were Roberto would be Maicon. That way, Branislav Ivanovic remains the best right-back at the manager’s disposal, and yet there is a worthy alternative when he is out or playing centrally.
The Brazilian may not be the player he once was, but has been linked with a move to West London. He’d be an asset in the short term. His age will ensure that we don’t end up hindering the growth of the promising duo of Sam Hutchinson and Todd Kane.
Berbatov at £5 million and Maicon at £6 million would be more than enough, as I see it.
It is more likely than not that Romelu Lukaku will be sent out on loan. I think even Josh McEachran will benefit from a short stint at a mid-table Premier League club, provided he gets regular football.
Gael Kakuta needs to clock more minutes in English football, and I don't think he's done enough just yet to expect regular involvement at Chelsea.
Lucas Piazon is one young player who merits a chance with the first team. The prodigy made a name for himself at Sao Paulo, and has thrived with the reserves team. Patrick Bamford is another who can be granted the occasional cameo.
Kevin De Bruyne should stay, because he offers genuine width and pace. Salomon Kalou has departed, and Florent Malouda could be off soon, so it is with good reason that I say I can see him being involved.
The Final Squad
As I have stressed, Chelsea don't need to add midfielders. My fellow columnist on Bleacher Report, Vince Siu has brought it to my attention that the Blues have 14 recognized first teamers competing for the midfield slots.
A striker and wing back would be just what the doctor ordered. In this space, I will be assuming that the desired signings have been made, coupled with a few departures.
Note that players falling below the age of 21 as of January 1, 2012, do not need to be included (that means Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne too, for those of you trying to find their names below). A maximum of 17 non-homegrown players can be placed in the list, and the total doesn't have to be of 25. Here's a complete guide to the rules.
If I were in the manager's shoes, this is the final 23 man squad I would name:
Ross Turnbull (HG)
Samuel Hutchinson (HG)
John Terry (HG)
Gary Cahill (HG)
Ashley Cole (HG)
Ryan Bertrand (HG)
John Obi Mikel
Frank Lampard (HG)
Daniel Sturridge (HG)
Purchases: Maicon, Berbatov
Loan out: McEachran, Lukaku, Kakuta
Well, I have told you lot what I happen to envisage. It may prove to be a far cry from what actually occurs. But it may just as easily be what Roberto Di Matteo has in mind. What do you think? What would your final roster look like if you were the manager of the champions of Europe?