Will Romelu Lukaku return to Chelsea next season?
Despite Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal defeat by Manchester City at Wembley, there is still much at stake for Chelsea this season. It might be UEFA’s secondary competition, but the Europa League trophy could well be paraded around Stamford Bridge come the end of the campaign, while there is also every chance the Blues will secure a place in next season’s Champions League by finishing in the top four in the Premier League.
Yet, while there is still much to play over the next month or so, it is inevitable the thoughts of Chelsea fans, players and club executives will also occasionally turn to next season.
Who, for example, will be the Blues’ manager next term? Will legends like Frank Lampard and John Terry—who have been synonymous with the club’s success over the past decade—still be at the club come August? And will players like Romelu Lukaku, Josh McEachran and Michael Essien, who have all spent this season on loan at other clubs, return to SW6 for the new campaign?
Without answers to these important questions it’s difficult to make any solid predictions for what might happen at the Bridge next term. Perhaps, then, with so much uncertainty in the air, it’s better to focus on what the club’s realistic goals for 2013-14 should be, regardless of who is in the manager’s dugout or out on the pitch.
And, by an amazing coincidence, that’s precisely what this article is about. So, let the slideshow reveal the Blues’ major achievable targets for the coming season.
Nathan Ake would benefit from playing in the League Cup.
Chelsea have enjoyed some great days in the League Cup in the Roman Abramovich era. The Blues won the competition in 2005 and 2007 and reached the final in 2008—but is it now time for the club to view the League Cup in a different way?
A number of other top teams, notably Arsenal, have essentially used the competition in recent years as an opportunity to blood young players in competitive games rather than a chance to add more silverware to the club’s trophy cabinet.
Should Chelsea operate a similar policy? If the Blues decided winning the League Cup—now known as the Capital One Cup—was not a top priority, they could then use the competition to give invaluable first-team experience to young players like Nathan Ake, current Watford loanee Nathaniel Chalobah and Scotland Under-21 striker Islam Feruz.
This approach would provide a number of benefits.
First, the development of those young players would be sped up—after all, it’s often said nothing beats playing in the first team in front of a big crowd at a young age.
Second, the older, established Chelsea players, who normally play in the League Cup, would get a much-needed midweek rest.
Finally, if the club announced the competition would be used primarily as a youth development tournament, it could then reduce ticket prices by a significant amount, giving all fans the chance to experience the unique matchday atmosphere at Stamford Bridge.
It would be a win-win-win situation, you might say.
Chelsea have struggled to win points with the yellow ball.
It’s hard to remember now, but Chelsea were actually leading the Premier League at the end of October, although after winning 3-2 at Stamford Bridge, Manchester United were breathing down the Blues’ necks.
Since those heady days, the Blues have trailed away so badly they are now in danger of failing to qualify for next season’s Champions League. The major casualty of that swift decline was manager Roberto Di Matteo, who was sacked as Chelsea boss in late November.
A similar sharp midseason drop in form saw manager Andre Villas Boas given the boot in February 2012, while the previous year Carlo Ancelotti only just hung onto his job until the end of the campaign after the team went through a “bad moment” that lasted four months before and after Christmas.
The Blues’ tendency to fade away in midseason has become so chronic that fans now dread the appearance of the Premier League’s yellow winter ball. Whatever the causes—a thin squad, lack of fitness, mental fatigue or whatever—it’s an issue that requires the urgent attention of the incoming Chelsea manager.
Empty seats are commonplace in the Europa League.
For a number of years Chelsea fans have observed the Europa League from afar and wondered what this strange Thursday evening competition was all about. This season they got to find out.
To state the obvious, the Europa League is not the Champions League. As Chelsea have discovered, most of the games take place in half-empty stadiums, rather than the full-to-capacity venues of UEFA’s premier competition.
Then there’s the opposition.
Forget playing the big cheeses from Italy, Spain or Germany; you’re more likely to be up against lesser-known outfits from the Czech Republic, Romania and Switzerland. And you won’t be sharing the pitch with household names like Lionel Messi, Xavi or Cristiano Ronaldo either, just a bunch of second-rate players virtually nobody in England has heard of.
That’s the Europa League. Chelsea have experienced it, and even if they win the trophy this season, they won’t be rushing back to compete in it again. That means making sure of a top-four place this season and getting through the Champions League group stage next term.
Otherwise, it’s back to Thursday night football and long trips to any number of slightly depressing backwaters in eastern Europe.
Chelsea celebrate their FA Cup success in 2012.
Chelsea’s defeat by Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinal on Sunday will have left the Blues feeling rather deflated. Wembley has become a second home for the Londoners, and it will hurt the fans that their club did not make it through to the final against Wigan to defend the trophy they won last year.
However, next season offers another opportunity for the Blues to extend their magnificent recent record in the Cup—an incredible four triumphs at the new Wembley since the final returned to the capital in 2007.
Regaining the FA Cup should be a top priority for Chelsea next season, especially as the team is still in transition and may find making a concerted challenge for the Premier League beyond them. With the club’s chances of winning a trophy in Europe also remote, the FA Cup probably represents the Blues’ best hope of silverware next term.
Will Chelsea challenge Manchester United next season?
History suggests Chelsea will do well to win the Premier League next season. In the years since the league began, the average number of points separating the champions in one year from the team winning the title the following year is just six. The Blues bucked the trend in 2004-05 when they won the league after finishing 11 points behind champion Arsenal the previous season, but they will have to come from even further behind if they are to beat champions-elect Manchester United next term.
So, if actually winning the league title is a long shot, what should be a realistic goal for the Blues? After a disappointing campaign this time around, most Chelsea fans would just be happy to see the club putting in a proper challenge for the title next year—that means being within touching distance of the leaders throughout the season, and having a genuine chance of landing the top prize even if it isn’t won.
A repeat of this season—which saw the Blues get off to a flying start before fading away badly—simply won’t be good enough, whoever is sitting in the Chelsea dugout.
Will Jose Mourinho make a dramatic return to the Bridge?
Chelsea are once again looking for a new manager. Among those being tipped to land the job are Borussia Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp, Malaga’s Manuel Pellegrini and, of course, former Blues supremo Jose Mourinho.
Whoever takes the job will know he has his work cut out to return the club to the glory days of Mourinho’s first spell with the club from 2004-07. The current Chelsea team is a work in progress, with a number of promising younger players like Oscar and Eden Hazard set to realise their full potential over the course of the next few years, during which time the last of the old stagers will be phased out.
Winning trophies while a team is in transition is one of the hardest tasks in football management, but Chelsea’s top brass are not known for their patience and understanding in this regard. Surely, though, they must realise the club can’t continue to go through a self-defeating cycle of hiring and firing managers, creating an almost permanent sense of instability for the club.
No one expects the next Chelsea boss to take up residence at the Bridge for the next quarter of a century like Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford. However, it would be a start if he could at least last the season, and not be sent packing, like most of his unfortunate predecessors.
That isn’t too much to ask from club owner Roman Abramovich, is it?