Like all teams in sports, Chelsea is definitely a work in process and will be for the foreseeable future.
A bouillabaisse of veterans, pricey acquisitions and some homegrown young talent, the Blues are now looking for that proper balance of all of the above in order to help the west London club evolve into a that ball-control, tiki-taka type of club owner Roman Abramovich and Blues management have envisioned.
With so many new parts it will surely take some time for Chelsea to start clicking as a unit but if Sunday’s 8-0 dismantling of Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge was any indication of how deep and how good this team can someday be, then Blues fans have good reason to be optimistic.
And with the current English Premier League season almost halfway over and the calendar year down to its last eight days, now is the perfect time to predict which Blues’ prospects—players 23 years old or younger who are new to the team this season—will likely shine the brightest in 2013.
Chelsea acquired a plethora of talented advanced midfielders over the summer transfer window, including Belgian sensation Eden Hazard.
Eden Hazard actually made those writers’ overused and idiotic comparisons to Lionel Messi look like they just might be true in his first three matches for Chelsea as he was involved in seven of the club’s first eight goals this season.
And for that brief moment in time, the 21-year-old Belgian international actually looked like he could be one of the best players in the EPL and could have possibly supplanted or joined Juan Mata, Ashley Cole, John Terry and Petr Čech as one of the most-important players on the team.
But most Blues fans know how dangerous hype and lofty expectations can be as that expensive bottle-blond striker the club signed from Liverpool two years ago has proven.
After that meteoric start, Hazard came quickly back down to earth and the talented and pricey midfielder—who chose Chelsea over Manchester United and Manchester City this summer—suddenly seemed really human.
Whether or not it was just a byproduct of a really hot start or adapting to the physical rigors of the EPL, the 5-foot-7-inch Hazard has almost been on hold statistically since that torrid start with three goals and six assists in league play heading into Wednesday’s date with Norwich City at Carrow Road.
But if Sunday’s wonderful goal against the Lions was any indication, Hazard—a two-time Ligue 1 Player of the Year at Lille—has an immense amount of upside and should have a fantastic 2013 once he understands his role and gets used to his new teammates.
Hazard, whose little brother Thorgan was also acquired by Chelsea and is now on a seasonlong loan to Belgian Pro League club Zulte Waregem, will be just fine once he gets adjusted and settles in for the Blues.
And with the amount of attention and energy he demands from the opposition with his tremendous footwork and dribbling abilities, Hazard definitely deserves his starting spot alongside maestro Juan Mata in the advanced midfield.
If a Barcelona-type team is what Abramovich is building, then getting Hazard was a stroke of genius as he has already improved Chelsea's midfield build play quite a bit in his first five months at Stamford Bridge.
Once he realizes it’s just as important to be fed as it is to feed on the attack and that guys like Mata and Oscar and Victor Moses can help him score more goals, then Hazard will start to evolve into that well-rounded player Chelsea needs him to be.
And that should start to happen this winter and spring so just sit back, watch and enjoy as this baby bluebird—who will turn 22 on January 7—slowly earns his wings.
Oscar scored his first English Premier League goal on Sunday against Aston Villa on this penalty kick he earned.
Like Hazard, much-hyped summer acquisition Oscar seemed to be pegged in his first three weeks with his new club.
Many, including then-manager Roberto Di Matteo, thought Oscar and fellow advanced midfielders Mata and Hazard fit and worked so well together that they would definitely be the Blues attacking line of the future, so much so that some dubbed them “The Three Musketeers” or “The Three Amigos.”
But like Hazard, reality quickly crept into the 21-year-old Brazilian’s life and soon it was obvious that Oscar wouldn’t necessarily be starting all the time for Chelsea.
Although he was fabulous in UEFA Champions League play and may be better suited to the flowing international style of play more so than the rugged EPL, the skinny kid acquired from Internacional sometimes seems to disappear in league games.
Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benítez is now, for the time being at least, the guy who gets to pick the Blues' starting XI and with Moses playing so well, Oscar has pretty much been relegated primarily to a reserve role of late.
Oscar publicly expressed his frustrations at his cameo role after Chelsea’s 1-0 loss to Corinthians in the Club World Cup but Benítez was quick to quell the situation.
"Oscar is a new player in the Premier League and we are trying to manage these players because we have a lot like [Juan] Mata, [Eden] Hazard to do the same job,” Benítez said in a recent interview via ESPNSoccernet.com.
“It's good for me to have this. No issues, no problems. He will have lots of minutes. I'm sure he will have a great future at this club."
So it’s no great surprise here that the 52-year-old man has much more wisdom than the 21-year-old boy.
A highly touted youngster from Brazil signs a big contract to play with Chelsea, gets to start alongside Mata and Hazard, is dubbed one of “The Three Amigos” and has some real success in the Champions League.
Why shouldn’t he have thought he should be a regular starter?
But Benítez has been pretty good lately with his selection of starters and use of substitutes—as he really showed against Aston Villa—and the more he manages, the more he understands what he’s truly working with.
And in games that really matter—and most all of them will from this point on—starting Mata, Hazard and Moses in the advanced midfield seems like the obvious thing to do no matter how much potential Oscar or fellow summer acquisition Marko Marin may have.
Once Oscar understands his current role on the club and realizes he’s a supersub of sorts and is valuable because of his versatility in the midfield—on the attack or as a defender—the more confident he will eventually become.
Providing assists, scoring goals—as he did on a penalty kick for his first EPL score on Sunday—and playing solid defense is something Oscar can bring to the party and if the club is really serious about letting Frank Lampard go this summer, then who better to eventually try to fill the vice captain’s big cleats in that spot on the pitch than Oscar?
With Daniel Sturridge possibly heading to Liverpool and Romelu Lukaku still out on loan to West Bromwich Albion, 18-year-old Lucas Piazon may get his chance to shine for Chelsea this year.
If Hazard and Oscar are really young at age 21, what does that make 18-year-old Lucas Piazón?
The baby Brazilian finally got his first taste of the Premier League on Sunday and just one minute into his debut threaded a perfect assist to fellow countryman Ramires with the best pass of the match.
Piazón was also fouled in the box and took the penalty kick with a chance to nab both an assist and a goal in his first EPL appearance for Chelsea, but Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan guessed correctly and limited the kid’s highlights for the day to one.
How long Piazón will stay up with the big club is a question but with Daniel Sturridge allegedly on his way to Liverpool over the winter transfer window and Romelu Lukaku likely to stay on loan with West Bromwich Albion for the duration of this season, the striker/winger may just get his chance as a reserve now.
And the way he looked on Sunday as well as his willingness to lash out at his teammates as he did for their uninspired play in the Club World Cup final loss makes it quite obvious that this kid has a huge upside, the desire to win and a great future for the European champions.
Toss in a couple of really talented Brazilian teammates like David Luiz, Ramires and Oscar, and it looks like 2013 could finally be the breakout year for this Blues’ prodigy.
Cesar Azpilicueta has been as good as advertised since finally getting his chance to play on Chelsea's back line.
It took some time for César Azpilicueta to finally get some playing time at Chelsea this fall but once the 23-year-old Spaniard got in, management, teammates and fans could quickly see what all the fuss was all about.
A heady player with excellent footwork, strong passing skills, great field awareness and a lot of speed, Azpilicueta is so good he may even threaten veteran starter Branislav Ivanović for the starting right-back spot once Terry returns from his injury and Ivanović can theoretically move back to his normal spot.
Acquired from Marseille over the summer for £7 million, Azpilicueta provides a nice player to build the defense around for the future as Terry (32 years old), Cole (32) and Ivanović (28) enter the twilight of their careers.
And although some Blues fans stumble over the pronunciation of his last name (Az-pee-lee-kwe-tah or Ath-pilly-kweta) and prefer to just call him "Dave," knowing this guy will be in the fold for Chelsea for years to come is a very comforting thought.
Azpilicueta could be a breakout star for the Blues in 2013 and once he scores a couple of goals and shows his creative side, the whole league will find out what many of us already know—that this “Dave” guy is really something special.
Victor Moses did his best Didier Drogba impression with this last-second, game-winning header against Shakhtar Donetsk at Stamford Bridge in the UEFA Champions League group stage.
If there is any player currently on Chelsea’s roster who effectively can fill the massive void left by legend Didier Drogba’s departure over the summer, it is Victor Moses.
Bought from Wigan Athletic in a £10 million deal this summer, the Nigerian midfielder’s game is a lot like Drogba’s as is his body type and hairstyle.
But much like Drogba, the most valuable component the 5-foot-10-inch, 22-year-old brings to the party is his incredible energy level.
Now that Benítez has decided to start Moses as much as possible, Chelsea’s flow seems much better and the number of shots on target has drastically increased.
With four goals and three assists in all competitions in just 10 starts for the Blues to date, Moses has proven he can be productive offensively and also showed, like Drogba, he can come through in the clutch as he did with his last-second, game-winning goal over Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League.
Besides all Moses’s physical attributes, he is also very versatile and can play on both the left and right wing or even fill in at the striker position if needed.
And like the other four players on this slideshow and a couple of others now on the team’s roster, once Moses gets more experience and more time getting used to his new teammates, his star will only rise. It’s not a stretch to expect Moses to be at least a 12-goal/12-assist guy every season in the EPL if he continues to get the starts.
If there is one player on Chelsea’s current roster who could shock the masses in 2013 with his productivity and contributions to the club’s success, it will most likely be Moses.
Romelu Lukaku (left), Eden Hazard (middle) and Marko Marin (right) are among a number of talented prospects likely to shine at Chelsea over the next decade.
Tabbing prospects “most likely to shine in 2013” is probably easier to do with Chelsea than many other clubs due to the massive summer spending spree that saw four of the five players on this list simply be bought off other clubs due to the gaudy amounts of money offered by its filthy-rich billionaire Russian owner.
Many talented footballers dream of someday playing for a renowned team like the Blues and that reality combined with Abramovich’s plethora of cash makes Stamford Bridge a choice destination for high-profile, skilled players.
Can you hear me, Radamel Falcao? How about you, Marouane Fellaini?
Anyway, the club does have a number of other prospects like Marin and WBA loanee Lukaku who also may shine in the coming calendar year.
But with so much money invested in all these new players, so many talented veterans like Terry, Lampard, Cole, Čech and Torres still having years left in them and a number of Blues out on loan, it’s hard to say if future prospects like Nathan Ake, Kevin de Bruyne, Josh McEachran, Todd Kane and George Saville, among others, will ever really get their chance to strut their stuff in west London.
So for now, let’s just enjoy what we have and be our club has an owner rich enough to go out and get all these young stars—many just barely out of their teens and some still actually in them.
And no matter how rough the waters may get, remember this: It’s always pretty good to be a Chelsea fan.
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