Chelsea Football Club enters the Andre Villas-Boas era amidst a climate of change. Last season was a trophy-less season for Chelsea and after a hot start, Chelsea fell into a tailspin as the team's schedule became more demanding during November and December. The team looked tired, punchless and perhaps old.
Roman Abramovich brought in Villas-Boas after his prolific season at FC Porto and seems willing to give the young Portuguese coach freedom in personnel moves that no Chelsea coach has enjoyed since Jose Mourinho.
Thus, as Villas-Boas looks to build his squad for the 2011-12 season and beyond, many regular starters from Chelsea's recent roster will see their roles reduced, either through limited playing time or an outright sale from the club.
With that in mind, here are 5 players who will have a reduced role for the Stamford Bridge-side this upcoming season.
Didier Drogba has scored 144 goals across all competitions for Chelsea since arriving from Marseille in 2004 and has twice won the Premiership Golden Boot. But the Ivorian centre forward is 33, has had recent problems with fitness and has been labeled selfish. He also appears to be the odd-man out in Villas-Boas’ front-line attack this season.
Chelsea already has Fernando Torres to play forward and he is on the roster as Abramovich spent a great deal to bring Torres to London. Critics may detract after Torres’ poor initial showing with Chelsea, but this is unlikely to affect his place on the team as this was Abramovich’s move.
The move that looks to bump Drogba from the starting XI though seems to be the rumoured purchase of Porto striker and Colombian international Radamel Falcao. Villas-Boas obviously is partial to his Porto squad and would like to make Falcao one of his featured players.
Rumours have already connected Drogba to a move back to Marseille or to Turkish club Galatasaray as he is unhappy being considered a second team option. Chelsea may not end up selling Drogba but he won’t be vital to Villas Boas’ plan for 2011-12.
Michael Essien is the world’s best box-to-box midfielder…if he is healthy. The conditional clause of the previous statement is why Andre Villas-Boas will be forced to look at other options in solidifying the central midfield.
During recent preseason training, Essien ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus, knee injuries that will keep the midfielder out at least 6 months. This will be the third year in the last four that Essien will miss significant time.
Vilas-Boas would love to have a healthy Essien in the lineup; every coach would. But dealing with the Ghanaian’s frequent injuries will lead Chelsea to explore other options in central midfield, both from currently on the roster and in the transfer market.
Chelsea already has two young central midfielders, John Mikel Obi and Ramires, who have shown ability at times to fill Essien’s place. Further, insiders have reported Chelsea having interest in Palermo’s Javier Pastore, Roma's Daniele De Rossi, Tottenham Hotspur’s Luka Modric and another of Villas-Boas’ Porto squad, Joao Moutinho.
Frank Lampard has been the most iconic Chelsea player of the Abramovich era, which might be precisely why Villas-Boas is interested in pursuing other midfield options. For as great as Lampard has been in the past for Chelsea, the 33-year-old may be entering a period of his career when he is more known for lack of fitness and his petulance than for his talismanic moments in midfield.
As stated earlier while discussing Michael Essien, Chelsea is rumoured to be interested in Tottenham’s Luka Modric. Modric, the 25-year-old Croat, may have been Hotspur’s best player this season, a high compliment considering the form of Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart. His ability to pass and create in midfield might make him Villas-Boas' choice to supplant Lampard.
Keeping with the trend of phasing out older players whose selfish reputations now outweigh their on-field ability, Nicholas Anelka has likely seen his most meaningful moments at Chelsea pass him by. Anelka formed a potent strike force with Drogba when first joining Chelsea but the aforementioned acquisition of Fernando Torres has made the French striker obsolete for Andre Villas-Boas. If any of the rumoured transfers for Falcao or Neymar from Santos of Brazil go through, Chelsea will look to sell off Anelka for nickels on the dollar.
Anelka could find a home somewhere in Europe if he so chooses but has stated an interested in playing in MLS alongside countryman Thierry Henry at New York Red Bulls. Where ever Anelka plays in 2011-12, it is unlikely to be at Stamford Bridge, at least for home games.
Alex looks to be on his way out at Chelsea because ownership and management have decided to go in other directions at central defense. His recent form has been passable, but last season’s acquisition of David Luiz and Villas-Boas' desire to bring on central defenders that better fit his system might displace Alex. Villas-Boas has been rumored to be interested in Bolton’s Gary Cahill, Birmingham’s Scott Dann and Inter Milan’s Lucio to bolster central defense.
Unlike some of Alex’s peers losing their place at Chelsea, the Brazilian center back is likely to end up on another top side after leaving London. Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are both supposedly interested in Alex, meaning that the Champions League could be the next time Alex plays at Stamford Bridge.