Instead of words like “Champions League,” “Radamel Falcao” and “first place,” Chelsea fans will need to get comfortable using words like “Europa League,” “Demba Ba” and “third or fourth place” over the next five months.
But it’s not the end of the world Blue bloods.
A little over halfway through the English Premier League season, and almost a week into the new calendar year, the Blues have shown both flashes of brilliance and some real pause for concern in their play in the league, as well as throughout the various tournaments.
Here are my top 17 Chelsea players—one more than former manager Roberto Di Matteo’s now famous jersey number and in reverse order for your mouse-clicking pleasure—in terms of their importance to the club now and moving forward into the immediate future.
This is not a ranking of the players’ performances on the pitch or of their statistical success, although those factors were taken into consideration in my final ranking.
(No celery stalks were harmed in the creation of this slideshow.)
Ryan Bertrand provides value to Chelsea in a number of different areas.
The 23-year-old England international is extremely versatile and can play as defender, defensive or advanced midfielder, as he did on the left wing in the Blues thrilling victory over Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League final last May.
That start was Bertrand’s first appearance in a Champions League game and only his 15th in a Chelsea shirt.
Now, slowly getting a little more experience and with youth on his side, Bertrand’s value will eventually increase, but for now he’ll have to hold down the reality of being Ashley Cole’s loyal understudy at left-back.
The decision to go after and sign César Azpilicueta this summer from Marseille is looking like a brilliant move by Chelsea management.
Like Ryan Bertrand, at age 23, the speedy Spaniard has a lot of upside and may be in the Blues back-line for many years to come.
Azpilicueta has been starting lately at his natural right-back position with the Blues usual starter at that position, Branislav Ivanović, moving to a center-back spot with John Terry out with a knee injury and David Luiz possibly making a move for good up to the defensive midfield.
Whether or not interim manager Rafael Benítez chooses to use Azpilicueta as his primary right-back and move Ivanović over to the middle remains to be seen, but it won’t be long until we find out with Terry’s return on the horizon.
The young 21-year-old Brazilian was one of Chelsea’s big summer transfer window signings and will eventually fit in with the Blues just fine.
For now, it’s appears the vaunted “Three Amigos” line of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar may not necessarily be a thing at Stamford Bridge like it looked it would be back in the fall, but with his superb dribbling skills, eye for the goal and height (5’11”), Oscar will end up being quite important in Chelsea’s future.
Getting used to the play in the rough and tumble Premier League may take some time for skinny (66.22 kilograms, 146 pounds) Oscar but once he does, Blues fans will be glad he’s one of theirs.
Ramires always brings a nice pace to the offense when he’s in the game, whether or not he’s playing in the defensive or advanced midfield.
Like Ryan Bertrand, that versatility is a valuable thing to the Blues and interim manager Rafael Benítez and the 25-year-old Ramires should be a member of the club for some time.
Part of Chelsea’s Brazilian contingent, the 5'11" Ramires also provides some much-needed height to a team which has gotten a considerably bit shorter over the last year and can be a real threat as a goal-scorer (he has five so far in all competitions).
Gary Cahill has really come into his own of late and has proven since his acquisition from Bolton Wanderers to be an incredible option for a manager to have to go to off his bench when one of his starting defenders needs to come out or is injured.
The perfect fill-in for captain John Terry, the 6'2" Cahill is starting to get used to his role for the Blues and has strutted his stuff offensively, scoring an impressive six goals in all competitions.
To me, Cesar Azpilicueta, Oscar, Ramires and Cahill are all very close in value to Chelsea, but the leadership qualities the 27-year-old Englishman provides is a very comforting thing to a club which knows that John Terry can’t play for forever.
Always important to Chelsea’s back-line with his 6'2" presence and intimidating style of play, Branislav Ivanović doesn’t crack my top 10 due to the emergence of Cesar Azpilicueta at his familiar right-back spot over the last two months.
The 28-year-old Serbian has done an admirable job filling in at center-back with John Terry out. Ivanović always provides a threat to score goals on headers as he did again on Saturday against Southampton in the FA Cup third round at St. Mary’s Stadium.
Ivanović, who was chosen as the right-back of the season on Chelsea’s 2009-10 EPL champion and FA Cup team, only fails to crack the top 11 because of the extreme closeness in perceived value between No.’s 10, 11 and 12 here and the number of extremely talented players on the Blues roster right now.
David Luiz would have been a couple notches lower for me up until seeing that brilliant free-kick goal against Aston Villa and seeing how well he has transitioned, and is playing, in the defensive midfield right now.
Because of the experience Luiz will eventually have down the line at both center-back and defensive midfielder, he will become extraordinarily valuable and with his 6'2" size and nose for the goal, should be on the Blues for a while.
Like teammates Ramires, Oscar and Lucas Piazón, the 25-year-old Luiz is also from Brazil and brings an enormous amount of energy and enthusiasm to the games when he plays.
And if this was a “Chelsea FC: Ranking the Blues Players with the Best Hair” list, well, then Luiz would win it hands, uh, follicles down. (Rinse. Repeat, Geezer.)
Probably the most underrated and most wrongly maligned player by Chelsea fans over the last two seasons in my opinion, John Obi Mikel is a box-to-box rock in the defensive midfield and provides incredible consistency with his play.
With Michael Essien out on loan to Real Madrid, Raul Meireles now playing for Fenerbahçe in Turkey, Ramires more familiar with his advanced role and Luiz brand new to the position, Nigerian international Mikel really holds it down on his spot on the pitch and will help his possibly unfamiliar teammates with their new spot in the Blues’ usual 4-2-3-1 formation.
Mikel, 25, is not at all known for his offense, but with his dependable play and so many Chelsea defenders proving they can score goals, he better serves the club in the spot he’s in and hopefully will hold it down for years to come.
If Eden Hazard is really the ninth most important player on Chelsea’s current roster, then maybe fans are right to be angry with where the Blues currently sit in the league table.
Another advanced midfield player snagged over the summer transfer period (from Lille), Hazard looked like he could very well top this list the way he played his first couple of weeks this season at Stamford Bridge.
But the adept Belgian cooled off a bit, but certainly not enough to have Oscar or Marko Marin replace him as a starter in the advanced midfield.
Hazard, who can play on a wing or in the middle, turned 22 today (Jan. 7), and like many on this list, should be around west London for fans to enjoy for years...owner willing that is.
I can almost hear you: “Victor Moses ahead of Eden Hazard”?
For now, yeah, but it’s real close between Hazard at No. 9 and the two guys I picked next at No. 7 and No. 6. Honestly, I could live with any of those four in any order through.
The reason Moses strikes as me as being so valuable right now is the way he has assimilated into the team so effortlessly.
It took awhile for former manager Roberto Di Matteo to give the 22-year-old Nigerian his shot for the Blues but when he did, the former Wigan Athletic star showed why he, like Ba, provides great value in an era of sometimes overpriced mega-contracts for some players.
Moses hasn’t statistically kicked into high gear—although he does have five goals in all competitions to date—but as Benítez gives him more playing time and as he gets accustomed to his teammates and vice versa, then we’ll see what all the fuss is all about.
What’s valuable about Moses is his energy level, his adept passing ability, his desire to score and his versatility as he can also fill in at striker if necessary.
Moses’s incredible potential was on display again on Saturday against Southampton in the FA Cup where he scored the goal that gave Chelsea the lead for good and he also worked really well and clicked with newbie Ba on the offensive attack.
Someday everybody will know about Victor Moses.
It’s hard to put the new kid so high, but I think he’s that important to Chelsea right now.
Not only did the Blues need a replacement at striker after Daniel Sturridge went to Liverpool but Fernando Torres needs a rest—and some cover—more than anyone on the squad.
With 13 goals at Newcastle United and a welcoming two in his Chelsea debut on Saturday at Southampton, the big question will ultimately be whether or not the 6'2" Senegalese international should actually start over Fernando Torres.
Well it wouldn’t be a proper week around Stamford Bridge if there weren’t some kind of controversy with the Blues brewing now would it?
Whereas the recent acquisitions of Marki Marin, Thorgan Hazard, Oscar, Cesar Azpilicueta and Victor Moses all appear to be major coups for Chelsea, signing the 27-year-old Ba—especially at his £7 million price-tag—may end up being the smartest move of them all.
And wouldn’t that be ironic if the signing of an underpriced and undervalued striker made up for the signing of an overpriced and overvalued one in the end?
It’s hard to put a player I think shouldn’t even be starting sometimes at No. 6, but I definitely understand Fernando Torres’s importance to Chelsea and how important it is for him to contribute from here on out for the team to succeed in the near future.
With a fight for a top-four finish in the Premier League and qualification for next season’s UEFA Champions League and Europa League, Capital One Cup and FA Cup all on the menu, having the bleach-blond Spaniard performing at his best now is imperative.
Now what “at his best” means—in the context of Torres—is completely another matter.
If The Striker Formerly Known As El Niño was even remotely close to the player he was in his prime at Liverpool or Atlético Madrid, then Chelsea may still be in the thick of the Premier League race and in the knockout stage of Champions League.
But he’s not and the Blues have obviously chosen to live and die with his play.
At 28, Torres may have several good years left in him and to his credit, he has been at his best since coming to Stamford Bridge and doesn’t appear to be as stressed out as he was at this point last year.
But the pace, determination, footwork and scoring skills once there all seem to have diminished and in a 4-2-3-1 formation having one striker playing every single game is just not smart football. Especially knowing how many games you’ll be involved in.
Torres—who is tied for the team lead with Juan Mata with seven goals and leads the Blues with 14 in all competitions—may still shock the world. He does have a couple of things going for him in a small sense of renewed confidence lately and the fact there are other much-bigger dramas going on with the club that have thankfully gotten him out of the spotlight.
Hopefully he enjoyed this brief respite as the Torres-Ba starter controversy will begin in 3, 2, 1...
He’s loyal, he’s still got it and he’s considered by many as the best player in the world at his position.
So who needs him? (Part 1.)
Ashley Cole has been the subject of many rumors saying the club won’t renew his contract when it’s up, but losing, or letting go of a left-back of his caliber simply borders on the absurd.
ESPNSoccernet.com reports that Ligue 1’s Paris Saint-Germain has denied reports it is planning on signing the 32-year-old Englishman from Chelsea over the winter transfer window.
Having Cole and John Terry holding down the left side of the defense and Petr Čech starting in goal is a huge reason the Blues have been so successful in recent years.
And when Chelsea is forced to play without Cole when he is injured, as he was last season, the club realizes how important his silent and steady presence is to its steady good fortunes.
If the rumors are true and management is willing to let Cole go, then there may be some real perception problems with the suits that us common fans may never come to understand or even care to try to appreciate.
He’s loyal, he scores goals as frequently as chef Gordon Ramsay makes Beef Wellington and is one of the best players at converting penalty kicks in the world.
So who needs him? (Part 2.)
Apparently there’s only one person on God’s green earth who doesn’t want Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge and, unfortunately for us all, that dude owns the club.
Critics saying Lampard has lost a step and has shown signs of aging are actually spot on, but the number of things the 34-year-old vice captain brings to the party far outweigh the regression which should be expected with age.
But Lampard—who tied Kerry Dixon for second place on the all-time Chelsea list with his 193rd goal on a penalty kick Saturday against Southampton—has proven since returning from a calf injury that he can still score the goals and that, quite simply, when he scores Chelsea usually wins.
His leadership, experience as a veteran and underrated passing ability make Lampard invaluable and despite missing so many games in the Premier League, he is still second behind Torres and Mata (seven) for the club lead with six goals.
For several weeks, most reports from the press only said that owner Roman Abramovich had no plans for Lampard and that his departure was a foregone conclusion, but Blues fans can take solace in the fact that the Daily Mail is reporting talks to retain the Chelsea legend are underway.
Who knows, but let’s hope the report is true and that management comes to its senses in this matter for the sake of everyone involved...especially those of us with freshly adorned, royal blue “Super Frankie, Chelsea Forever” tattoos on our rumps that we decided to get during a drunken whiskey haze for $20.13 on New Year’s Eve at Tattoos 'R' Us. (Hey, YOLO).
All great teams need a great leader and a player to look up to and listen to.
John Terry is that guy at Stamford Bridge and has been for some time and shows how important heart can sometimes be in determining the outcome of a sporting event.
No captain in all of professional sports embodies his team or best reflects the character of its play as John Terry does Chelsea.
At age 32, the Englishman is getting older but still hasn’t shown that slight regression former teammate Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres and Frank Lampard have.
Terry is currently recovering from a knee injury, but according to the Daily Mirror, is set to return at the end of the month. His value to the team in full fairness simply can’t be described using 10 fingers and a computer keyboard.
Much of what Terry does, on a regular basis, is simply fond memories of throwing his body at an opponent’s shot or bailing out his goalkeeper by being stealthily in the right place at the right time.
And anyone arguing that Terry should be No. 1 on this list certainly isn’t going to get an argument from me.
Simply said, John Terry is Chelsea.
The only reason I couldn’t put Juan Mata at No. 1 is because I felt my top pick was more valuable because of his position and would hurt the club more should he be out or injured for an extended period of time.
In the advanced midfield, Chelsea has a new-found embarrassment of riches in Mata, Thorgan Hazard, Oscar, Marko Marin and Victor Moses and enough depth to keep the Spaniard from claiming the top spot...for the time being most likely.
On offense and with the ball, there is no arguing that Mata is easily Chelsea’s most important player and has no doubt been for the past two years.
He currently is tied for the team lead in goals with seven, is second on team with 13 goals in all competitions and also—naturally—leads the Blues with seven assists in top flight play.
Mata is best suited as the central midfielder in the 4-2-3-1 formation—where he can direct the offense as its playmaker extraordinaire—but like the team’s other midfielders can also be deployed on a wing.
Only 24 years old, Mata will hopefully be the player the club builds around for years to come and is undoubtedly one of the best signings, by any club, in many, many years.
All hail the rule of the dorky padded helmet.
Whereas Juan Mata dominates when the Blues have the ball, Petr Čech dominates when the opponents do.
Presently out with a groin injury and being relieved by backup Ross Turnbull, the 6'5" Czech international—like Didier Drogba, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and John Terry—has been a huge part of the club’s recent success and silverware haul.
Without Čech’s brilliant performances in the Champions League and the FA Cup last season, Chelsea would have brought no trophies home to west London and wouldn’t have even qualified for the Champions League tournament it was so rudely eliminated from last month.
Čech is incredibly consistent in goal and is undoubtedly one of the six best keepers on the planet right now and has the Blues tied for allowing the least number of goals (19) with Manchester City in the Premier League.
For me, just barely, Čech is the most valuable player on the Blues roster right now.
So let me make sure I read this right.
Chelsea’s No. 1 and No. 3 players are out with injuries right now, its legendary veteran No. 4 and No. 5 players may not be wanted anymore, the No. 6 guy is constantly fighting a crisis of confidence and the No. 7, 8 and 9 selections are all new?
No wonder it’s been so darn choppy over the last couple of months at Stamford Bridge. Blues issues. Welcome to the machine brother. The King has apparently lost his mind. The Emperor has no clothes man. S.O.S. And hurry please.
Not quite making the cut here were Marko Marin, Oriol Romeu (injured), Paulo Ferreira, Lucas Piazón, Ross Turnbull and fellow backup goalkeeper Henrique Hilário, the freshly returned Yossi Benayoun and likely new Brazilian acquisition Taison.
And although Chelsea loanees like Romelu Lukaku (West Bromwich Albion), Josh McEachran (Middlesbrough), Kevin De Bruyne (Werder Bremen), Michael Essien (Real Madrid) and Thibaut Courtois (Atlético Madrid) are all Blues players, they’re not playing for the Blues right now and weren’t in consideration.
Remember, these are simply my rankings so please don’t get your panties in a bunch. And feel free to leave your own list if so inclined in the space (it’s free) provided below.
But better do it quick Bubba as we obviously have a very fluid situation with the European champions going on over at The Bridge on our hands and may have for the foreseeable future.
Follow me on Twitter: @KevinStott11