Chelsea: 5 Improvements the Blues Can Make to Be Crowned Champions Next Season
It's been three years since Chelsea last lifted the Premier League trophy, and with its rivals growing ever stronger since that time, the club faces a tough task if it's to renamed England's No. 1 club in 2013-14.
On the back of lifting the Champions League last term, the Blues would have hoped to put together a more sustained title challenge this year, but from early season pace setters, it was they who were soon playing catch up on the teams above them as their title challenge faded.
But do not be fooled, this current Chelsea side is one packed full of talent. With some minor tweaks, there's no doubt the Blues will be well placed for an assault on the Premier League crown come the start of the new season.
We haven't yet finished the 2012-13 season of course, but looking ahead to what promises to be another busy summer at Stamford Bridge, Bleacher Report highlights some key areas where the Blues can make all the difference.
Sign Jack Wilshere
When a club is looking for a quick fix to a problem, the natural response is often throwing money at it.
Football is littered with failed attempts of teams trying to buy their way out of trouble, but acquiring the services of Jack Wilshere would surely see Chelsea fall outside of that scenario.
The Arsenal man has long stated his commitment to the club, yet with the Gunners struggling for fourth spot in the league and enduring another trophyless season, could a significant offer from Chelsea tempt him?
It would be a major task, involving Roman Abramovich signing a cheque not far off what he paid Liverpool for Fernando Torres in January 2011. However, for what Wilshere would bring Chelsea, it could very well be worth it.
In terms of their offensive qualities, Chelsea are at its most clinical with the "Three Amigos"—Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar—on the pitch. It means the Blues are more vulnerable in defence, though, and this season has seen them caught out more than once.
Playing Wilshere alongside John Mikel Obi in defensive midfield could prove the perfect antidote. Current incumbents Ramires and Frank Lampard are too eager to join Chelsea's attacks, while the jury is very much out on Oriol Romeu.
Wilshere would bring the bite required for that role, but with his vision and talent, would prove influential in building attacks also, much like Xavi at Barcelona.
Indeed, the Englishman has shown how disciplined he can be and with Mata, Hazard and Oscar being served by Wilshere from deep, the Blues would look an incredibly strong outfit.
If Chelsea are eager to spend cash this summer, it could do far worse than attempt to sign Wilshere.
Bring Back Jose Mourinho
It can be deemed somewhat lazy to analyze Chelsea's current predicament and conclude that Jose Mourinho is the answer, but with rumors of his return to Stamford Bridge (via Daily Express) showing little sign of abating, he cannot be overlooked.
Not many Chelsea fans will like hearing it, but as the season develops, the Blues are beginning to look stronger under Rafa Benitez. The Spaniard has already said he will be leaving come the summer, however. So, with a new manager needed, Mourinho is certainly a man more than qualified to bring the title back to West London.
Where the Portuguese is concerned, success is all but guaranteed. His track record speaks for itself and with memories of what he achieved during his first stint in charge at Stamford Bridge, the feel-good factor will no doubt return to the club.
What appointing Mourinho would also bring Chelsea is that valuable commodity—time. Chants of "You don't know what you're doing," along with booing of performances, will vanish from the terraces quicker than you can say "Special One." The fans will be willing to back the manager as the team continues its development, regardless of whether silverware is instantly forthcoming or not.
The crowd has proved a hindrance for the Blues this term, and with the Portuguese in charge, they would be back on board in an instant.
Play the Three Amigos
Chelsea's best performances this season have come with Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar in its lineup.
What they have lacked is a solid unit behind them to ensure the Blues are just as effective at the back as they are going forward.
Bringing in a world class defensive midfielder to play alongside John Mikel Obi would be one solution to Chelsea improving on its performance this term (see Slide 1), and it would allow for the attacking trio to excel, too.
The "Three Amigos" have already ripped through Manchester United twice this term, with Chelsea losing at home due to some questionable refereeing decisions and drawing at Old Trafford in the FA Cup thanks to David de Gea's heroics.
Of late, they have come into their own. Hazard's performance in particular against West Ham United at the weekend a fine example of attacking play, and he looks devastating.
The Belgian's link-up play with Mata and Oscar gets better with every game, and the thought of all three consistently lining up for the Blues must keep opposition managers awake at night.
Just as the Damien Duff and Arjen Robben combination was lethal for Chelsea in 2005 and 2006's league successes, so too would the "Three Amigos" be.
Chelsea will win more matches with them than they will without.
Do Not Act Upon Sentiment
Chelsea allowed Didier Drogba to leave last summer after he had just won them the Champions League, and if the moment is right for footballing reasons, it should do the same this summer with the club's other veterans who have valiantly served the club.
The biggest casualty could be Frank Lampard. The 34-year-old's contract will expire in June, and while the will-he-won't-he saga continues, Chelsea shouldn't offer an extension unless it's right for the club moving forward.
If Lampard can accept he is no longer the first name on the manager's team sheet and also understands his role in the team must change, then it would be an act of folly to allow his departure to go ahead.
He sits two goals behind Bobby Tambling's all-time record of 202 for the club, but the days of the England international scoring 20 a season are gone. Lampard needs to adapt his game to allow Chelsea's more dynamic players to express themselves, and if the goals dry up as a result, then so be it.
That said, he has already shown he is more than capable of doing just that. His form in the latter stages of the season—playing in a deeper position alongside another more defensive midfielder—has been excellent, with his eye for a pass splitting defences.
He remains a class act, and similar to Ryan Giggs at Manchester United, his experience at the club is a priceless asset for the next generation coming through.
It will be a sad day for every Blues fan when the likes of Lampard do leave, but the Blues need to make their decisions this summer based on what lies ahead, not what has been.
Give Youth a Chance
In some ways, Chelsea's desire to win every competition it has competed in this term has also been its downfall.
The Blues have often fielded strong teams in the FA Cup and Capital One Cup in a bid to bring even more silverware to Stamford Bridge, but at what cost?
If Chelsea are serious about targeting the Premier League next term, it will need to prioritise its commitments somewhat.
The FA Cup and Capital One Cup are major competitions, but the Blues should consider giving their talented youngsters an opportunity in the earlier rounds before they reach the business end.
It will mean less games for the star players, but will also give the likes of Nathan Ake and Lucas Piazon an opportunity to establish themselves.
It's a story that has long been told, and while Arsenal's approach may have changed in recent years, the Gunners nurtured the talents of Cesc Fabregas and the like in the FA Cup and League Cup. Many of those players have gone on to become stars in their own right, and Chelsea should perhaps look to do the same.
In the process of nurturing their young stars, it will keep their team fresh for the real business of targeting the Premier League crown.