By, Aldemaro Narvaez


We all do it.  We all feed the irrational fear of chance and circumstance every time we sidestep walking under a ladder or avoid opening an umbrella indoors. It doesn’t hurt anything to knock on wood or wear those lucky socks to keep bad juju away. But what happens when bad luck is more than some minor “disturbance in the Force”, and we are staring down the deep, dark eyes of what can only be described as a full-blown curse?

Sports fans are some of the most superstitious people on Earth. From the Curse of the Bambino, famously named after the 86-year championship drought of the Boston Red Sox that coincided with the sale of “Babe” Ruth to their New York Yankee rivals, to the old 1970 Socceroos who managed to reverse jinx themselves by bringing in a witch doctor to cast a hex on their World Cup qualifier opponent of Rhodesia (present day Zimbabwe) and then did not pay the priest his fee of £1,000, sports curses seem like a very real thing.

Chelsea are not immune to this phenomenon, and, although we do not have former boss Avram Grant clothed like a Shaman in the Shed End stands hurling evil looks at opponents, the irrational and coincidental circumstances that follow are sometimes whispered and bemoaned as Chelsea curses.

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The Curse of the FA Cup at Wembley

Six Chelsea managers have managed to lift the FA Cup high above their heads at Wembley, and all six of their heads rolled off the chopping block the following year.  Ruud Gullit in 1997, Gianlunca Vialli in 2000, Jose Mourinho in 2007, Guus Hiddink in 2009 (Guus Hiddink was only caretaker manager and was set to leave in 2009 to continue as Russia National Football Team coach), Carlo Ancelotti in 2011, and Roberto Di Matteo in 2012 all failed to finish the season in charge of the club after their FA Cup victory at Wembley.  If two is an anomaly and three is a trend, are six occurrences a curse?  There’s your silver lining on last term’s FA Cup loss to Arsenal, Antonio Conte.

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The Curse of the Chelsea Red Kit

Chelsea have splashed red in several of their blue kits over the years; a total of fifteen times. In each of those years, including the year of “palpable discord” where red accents were present in the sleeves and collar, the club did not cover itself in glory.  Only once, in 2009/10, did Chelsea play with a kit tainted in red and managed to lift a trophy, but that kit was only worn for the FA Cup Final against Portsmouth. The club used that red-cursed kit for the 2010/11 season in which we went trophy-less.  In that January transfer window, we spent £50 million on Fernando Torres. Yup…red.

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The Curse of the no. 9 Shirt

We all know this one.  When Jose arrived for his first successful spell at Chelsea, he purchased Mateja Kezman from PSV to carry on scoring as many goals as there are Dutch tulips.  However, Kezman went from the height of expectations to forgotten obscurity in less than a season while wearing the Blues’ No.9 shirt. Kezman only found the back of the net four times in 25 appearances while in London; alternatively, he scored 105 goals in 122 appearances at Eindhoven.

Jose was once again in need of a striker to push Drogba and he remembered that he exiled Hernan Crespo to Milan ahead of buying Kezman. Crespo’s time on the red side of Milan yielded a respectable 7 goals in 18 loan appearances, but he returned to the No.9 shirt at Chelsea and never seemed to settle at the Bridge. Several loan spells to AC Milan and Inter served as Crespo’s parole from the No.9 shirt.

Like a cursed monkey paw, the No.9 shirt found its way to Khalid “The Cannibal” Boulahrouz.  Even the attempt to circumvent the Curse by giving the shirt to a defender, who doesn’t need to score many goals, crashed and burned as Boulahrouz hopscotched from knee to shoulder problems and never lived up to his Jeffrey Dahmer-ish moniker.

The next unlucky recipient was Steve Sidwell.  You know…Steve Sidwell.  Anyone remember Steve Sidwell?  No? That’s the power of the No.9 shirt Curse, we all completely forgot a full-grown person.

Franco Di Santo never knew what hit him.  Youth can at times serve as the great equalizer to cursed odds, but the Argentinian kid with great reserve team promise only managed guest appearances while wearing No.9. Loan spells followed until he departed Chelsea to Wigan Athletic on a three-year deal.  Some of the Curse must have rubbed off on Di Santo as Wigan began the fall from the Premiership to the Championship to League One after Di Santo was purchased.  The Curse is strong.

Two words: Fernando Torres.

One word: Falcao.

CURSED!!

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Hopefully our new No.9 goal-scoring threat, Morata, can break the curse.  To help him in this crusade he has a good set of players around him and one of the best managers in the world.  Which brings me to…

The Curse of Conte Cup Finals

Champions League, FA Cup, League cup, coffee cup, protective athletic cup, Cup-O-Noodles…all seem a bridge too far for Don Antonio.  Also known as “The Curse of Copa Italia”, this nugget of unexplainable misfortune has already managed to rear its ugly head last term in the FA Cup final against Arsenal.  As stated before, I guess this cancelled out The Curse of the FA Cup at Wembley.  However, with plenty of competitions on the way for 2017/18, something has got to give for Conte since Abramovich has not been the most understanding person when it comes to reasons that keep the club from Europe’s elite; superstitious or otherwise.

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I wonder how much it would cost to purify Stamford Bridge by Witch Doctor Avram Grant? I’ll start the pot at $20.

 

Thumbnail image courtesy of: Gianluca Fabrizio/Vetta/Getty Images

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By, Jordan Harbin


As the final true Bastion of Chelsea slowly paces through the corridors and dons the claret and blue, we look back at the generation that was and those who have risen to take their place.

Some called them the “Golden Generation”, and boasted that their shoes would never be truly filled. Are we then left to hang our heads on the mediocracy that is current footballing? Or can we see a new generation taking their rightful place? As current football supporters and fans we are observing a massive shift in the footballing world. This forward movement is not without it’s growing pains, but is steadily bringing progress towards a new generation.

Most players currently are being described as the “next Messi”, the “next Drogba”, and the like. However, these players are consistently breaking these molds. It is almost as entirely pointless as Tottenham’s title chances next season to assume that these players will simply fit into these castes of former icons. Restricting current players to the type and shape of those who have played before them is limiting and self-defeating. No one is stopping to explore the possibilities of something greater than this hallowed generation, something even better than we’ve seen before. With our eyes constantly glued to our screens, we are becoming witnesses to change.

Year after year, major clubs dominated the leagues. Even within those clubs, club figures dominated the line up sheets. These players carried, in Chelsea’s case, their club to great heights. The Blues were making the history that we historically lacked. A top four without Chelsea in it was something no one dreamed of. However, I watched on as Chelsea achingly waved another club legend goodbye, thinking, “I don’t know if we will ever see football like this again”. Even at the mention of their names we felt pride and glory. But all good things must come to an end as they say….

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…or do they?

Chelsea’s apparent decision to push the self-destruct button (but it was just so shiny!) last season started to create voices in the Blues faithful’s heads. Could this be it? A head-forward plunge into nothingness? Surely not! As the sky drew across itself a dark black, then he came, that beautiful Italian. Breathing life into a club who had wandered from greatness, getting lost in it’s own light. He made us believe again. He gave us hope. Sweet hope. He ushered us into this new glory. He made players into club legends. He took those who were not cut out to wipe the dirt off the golden generation’s boots, and he made them into Champions! He saw the potential in those that were left in the wake of the great ones, and saw that all was not lost.

This new project, this is something special.

Conte is shaping and molding these men into something truly spectacular. The long drawn out transfer sagas and clandestine tweets linking us to every player who’s ever breathed will be worth it. Conte is the next generation, just as much as these new players are. This manager is just as important to the Blues as the eleven who will line up together on August the twelfth against Burnley. Thrashing the Arsenal 3-0 is just the beginning. With the ageless wisdom of the great Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson.

We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield

-Ulysses

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COME ON YOU BLUES!!!!!!!

 

Thumbnail Image Courtesy of: Photobucket (Che-Cheh)

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By, Aldemaro Narvaez


The start of the new Premier League term is literally weeks away, and while the club is expanding its “brand” in Asia and side-stepping questionable delicacies found only in the Arsenal buffet line, the squad is still very much a work in progress.  Some players have departed the club looking for their big chance (Chalobah and Solanke), some found their next opportunity (Ake, Begovic, Cuadrado), and some kept hacking at the problem until they managed to find a way out like the football version of James Franco in 127 Hours…while bleeding and celebrating all over an Atletico shirt.

The transfer window still hangs open and deals—along with some inexplicably long medicals—will be worked out all the way to deadline day.  It is inevitable the squad will continue to change, and the fabric, buttons, and stitching of the suit will once again need to be exquisitely tailored by Antonio Conte and his backroom staff.  Although the ultimate components of the squad, like Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest, remain a mystery, the cut of the suit—or tactics—that will be deployed by Conte are beginning to take shape.  This is the Italian’s first full summer transfer window at Chelsea and, price gouging aside, the type of targets the Blues are tracking say a lot about what we will be doing on the pitch, the modes of attack, and the shape of the defense that will be used to repel the chasing pack.

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In the words of “Iron” Mike Tyson, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” So, what are our plans, how will we punch, and how are we likely to counterattack if the punches come our way? To me, Conte is apt to switch formations at least once in each game, and the players in the squad will need to adapt to their morphing responsibilities without missing a beat (or face the wrath of an Italian’s words and hand gestures).

Spiegheremo le formazioni! Onward to the formation breakdown!

3-4-3 (Or 3-4-2-1): Our Current Significant Other

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Chelsea hobbled with a 4-3-3 for the first few match days of 2016 until the first half of that faithful September 24, 2016 Arsenal defeat.  Midway through the 3-0 loss and with Gooners elated at what they were seeing on the pitch, Conte switched to three at the back and threw caution to the wind. The gamble amassed 27 wins out of 32 games; punctuated by a 13-game winning streak using the 3-4-3.

Most successfully implemented in the 1970s by Ajax, the 3-4-3 focuses on a strong attack and a strong defensive control in the center of the pitch.  This formation benefits tremendously from having a good pair of central defenders (Kante and Bakayoko) and a forward (Morata) that drags defenders into the box to open the flanks for the two wingers (Hazard/Pedro/Willian/Musonda).  The 3-4-3 also requires the fullbacks (Alonso/Moses/hopefully someone else…please…pretty please?) to push up and wide and pin opposition defenders in their half of the so they’re unable to easily bring the ball out and/or cause turnovers.  This formation does require the central midfielders to recover quickly and transition from attack to defense, which is something that Bakayoko may be well suited to perform with the security blanket that Kante provides to the three center-backs.

With regard to the Chelsea back line in the 3-4-3, the three central defenders tend to have good knowledge and feel for the space between them and will plug the center of the pitch in the event a counter comes at the heart of the line.  The CBs may at times spread or shift their defense to adjust to the incoming threats with the knowledge that the wingbacks can provide additional numbers along the flanks. However, as we learned in several games last term, not all is perfect with this formation. With the wingbacks up raiding the edges of the pitch like pirates and privateers, they can leave the back three open for the counter along the wings.  This is even more of an issue if one of the CMs gets caught upfield with his hand in the cookie jar.  Man City had a field day with this during our first meeting last year.  They used De Bruyne and Silva to great effect to carve out our back line, and the game may have turned out a lot differently if the goalpost gods were not on our side that day.

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Outside of tactical concerns, the main issue with using the 3-4-3 again this year will be the fact that several of the main title challengers managed to neutralize the formation by either mimicking, man-marking, or exploiting the weaknesses with their high-quality players during our second meetings.  Still, of all the formations to discuss, there is already familiarity in the 3-4-3 and a high degree of effectiveness utilizing this formation all the way to a championship.  If I was a betting man, I would venture a guess that we will line up in the 3-4-3 on August 12 at Burnley. I would also bet that we will stop relying and drop this formation in the early days of this term.

4-2-4: The Sexy Ex

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Conte likes the 4-2-4. Like, confidently ask for a date, take her to a fine tapas restaurant while flamenco dancers stomp on stage, and then make a move in the cab kind of “Likes”.  It has been rumored that this is what Conte wanted to play at Chelsea all along, and even tried out the formation during preseason in 2016.  Conte has had 4-2-4 success with Juventus and some of his other early charges, and with more of “Conte players” coming in this window, he is likely to be tempted into full deployment of this formation—castanets would be optional for our Spanish contingency.

The success of this formation lies in the fact that most people have played this system.  Don’t believe me?  Sure, when you play with the ball and are attacking the opposition, the 4-2-4 looks to overwhelm defenses with width and speed along the sidelines and strength along the center with two forwards; however, when not holding the ball, the wings race back to the center of the pitch and play your basic 4-4-2.

While in defense, the 4-2-4 looks to take up space in the midfield to win and keep possession, but the intent once the ball is won is to cover space through good passing and move the attack forward (instead of tiki-taka ball possession).  There is some flexibility in how to use central defenders in this formation.  For example, Kante could set as a more deep-lying defender to shield the back line, and allow Fabregas to play to his strength and provide outlet passes to the attack (resembling more of a 4-1-4-1 in some cases).

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A word of caution to the use of 4-2-4 or 4-4-2, Jose had a tough time getting Hazard to track back and keep shape along the left side in that disastrous 10th place finish season when we played a 4-3-3.  It is likely that we may revert to expecting more from Eden than he is willing to give—although he is fully capable of playing in this formation as is evident by Hazard’s contributions when he won the PFA Player of the Year Award in 2015.  I would be slightly worried with getting a player like Hazard to chip in defensively on a regular basis.  A leopard don’t change his spots.

Also, these formations can be beat by a good team playing a 4-3-3 as there would be an extra midfielder in opposition to win and keep possession and move the attack along.  Own-goals aside, you can’t score if you don’t have the ball.

3-5-2: Adventurously Bringing in an Extra Friend

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There’s always that one friend.  Sure, it may be a limited time thing and getting permission might be a tall order, but when it’s on…IT’S ON. I can imagine Cesc waiting on the bench and making advances and suggestive innuendoes.  All jokes aside, having that third midfielder in the center of the pitch could yield significant results.

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With two CFs and three midfielders, there would be limited chances of getting overrun in the center of the pitch by the opposition. Great against the 4-4-2 (and the bottom half of the table that tends to turtle in its protective shell), the 3-5-2 neutralizes strikers and wingers alike and allows for a certain passing maestro to wreak havoc along the wings or through the center.  Positional awareness is key to keep the three central defenders as a unit as bombing wingers and false 9 strikers can cause confusion and open spaces by splitting defenders.

For Chelsea, Hazard is likely to play off Morata at the front, and would require a lot of running from our wingbacks (of which we have limited stock), to provide width and balance in attack and defense.  In the midfield, we may be able to open more options with Cesc, Bakayoko, Kante, and potentially Luiz as a CB/CDM hybrid that could drop into the back line to provide numbers in a pinch or distribute the ball out of the back.  It’s an intriguing proposition and one that can look attractive.  Hopefully things don’t get weird afterward.

4-3-3: The Friend With Benefits

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We know this one from the days of Ancelotti (using the more classic version), Hiddink, and Mourinho. It’s the old standby. You can call upon it anytime since it’s always waiting by the phone. Conte tried it. It was too needy. Conte changed it.

On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with this formation as it requires a defensive Colossus in midfield (Kante) with and a couple of attacking cohorts (Bakayoko and Fabregas) to transition from defense to offense.  This jumping in from the attacking midfields along with the wingers and forward, can overwhelm defenses as crosses, shots, and goals seem to come from everywhere.

We have seen a variant of this (4-5-1) during Mourinho’s return and title win in 2014/15 when Cesc was peppering passes to Costa and the Blues steamrolled the league.

The main issue with the 4-3-3 is that the right players are needed.  Hazard cannot be walking back to the center line while the opposition run past him (remember Azpilicueta getting marooned and exploited by multiple attackers on a weekly basis?).  The fullbacks are equally as important on offense as defense.  My concern along the right, if Azpilicueta is manning the station, I that we’d be limited offensively, and along the left, that Alonso—who provides decent offensive and defensive contributions—will be caught out of position or hung out to dry by Hazard.

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The faults, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves

So…Bachelorette Number 1, Number 2, Number 3, or Number 4?

For me, I think a 3-5-2 or a variant of that formation will be the chosen one. Recent rumors that Cesc will have an increased role in the side just nudges me in this direction.  This also would diminish the roles of the wingers, which we have not been chasing. I have not heard us trying to bring in a Berardi or a Bernardeschi. We have had a very public courtship of Sandro and to a lesser degree Danilo.  All signs point to more emphasis on a solid back line and wingbacks that can move.  In this formation, I would like to see Rudiger, Azpi/Luiz, and Christensen at the back.  I think it is critical for us to get bigger, stronger, and much better at passing from all CB positions.

In any case, I think Conte will also look to switch the tactics of his side as each game wears on. Switching from wingers to midfielders to wingbacks will keep the opposition guessing.  One thing is certain, we won’t remain the same.  In the wise words of “Iron” Mike Tyson, “I ain’t the same person I was when I bit that guy’s ear off” and neither should we.

 

Formations created using: buildlineup.com

Thumbnail image courtesy of: HBO

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By, Navaneeth Ravichandran (Twitter: @navrav28)


It’s officially done, Alvaro Morata is now a Chelsea player. Although a transfer fee (club record 70 million pounds) with Real Madrid was officially reached last week, personal terms still had to be agreed upon. With that process now over, we can now proudly say Morata is a Chelsea player. My colleague, Lukonde Jr., penned an article on the transfer saga surrounding Morata (which you can find here). This article takes a closer look at the actual aspects of Morata’s game, and how exactly he benefits the blues.

Goals, Goals, and more Goals!

Morata is a proven, consistent scorer. He has played for two major European clubs, Juventus and his parent club Real Madrid, and he managed to find the back of the net on a regular basis despite irregular playing time. Last season was a particular achievement, as Morata scored 15 league goals, just second on Madrid behind Ronaldo, despite the fact that he only played 26 games, and only started 14 of them. As the following tweet shows, Morata can score with the best of the best.

All-Around Skill

Lukaku is a clinical finisher, Aubemeyang has incredible pace, Lewandowski is arguably the world’s best poacher; when it comes to strikers some of the world’s best have skills they are known for. It’s the first thing about their game that jumps out, and the first thing that opposing managers try to negate. With Morata, there is no single one skill that jumps out, because he can quite literally do it all. He can play the target man role, holding up the ball and battling in the air. He can play the through man, using his excellent movement and pace to get behind backlines. He rarely gets tired, even with his above average work rate. Morata is an extremely versatile striker, and at 24 years old will likely only get better.

Winning Mentality

Playing the game of football at the highest level isn’t just about having the physical skill to do it. Do be a winner, you have to have a winning mentality. When the game is late, and it’s crunch time, players must have the mental fortitude to not break down. Morata? He’s a proven winner. For a team like Chelsea that have just won the league, and will be looking to make a deep run in Champion’s League as well, Morata will have the opportunity to be a leader on the pitch.

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Ambassador for the Community

A team like Chelsea shouldn’t just be focused on winning trophies, some effort has to be made to be great community ambassadors as well. Millions around the world look up to the team and its players as role models, and in Morata, Chelsea will be getting a fantastic role model. In 2014, Morata shaved his head completely bald, so children with cancer undergoing chemotherapy would be able to brag that they had the same hairstyle as their Real Madrid ideal. It may only be a small gesture, but such moves convey class and integrity.

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Final Thoughts

What I find incredibly ironic is that Morata was actually Conte’s second choice striker. Romelu Lukaku was his first choice. Mourinho, the man who ended up getting Lukaku, admitted that Morata would have been his first choice, not Lukaku. Such is the way football can play out. The battle between Morata and Lukaku to see who will score more goals will be heavily publicized this season, and I have complete confidence in our Spanish striker.

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Thumbnail image courtesy of: Chelsea FC

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By: Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @Aryhorblueblood)


Venues: China & Singapore

Dates: 22-29th July, 2017

The Chelsea team headed to Asia on Tuesday for the International Champions Cup tournament where they will be up against Arsenal, Bayern and Inter Milan in first China and then Singapore. Although not a lot will be riding on these fixtures, apart from the trophy at the end of course, the players know that now is the time to impress the coach ahead of the start of the new season. The quartet of Diego Costa, Nemanja Matic, Eden Hazard and new boy, Timoue Bakayoko are missing from the party to Asia because both Costa and Matic are most certainly on their out of the club while Hazard and Bakayoko are on the road back to full fitness. A number of academy products made the team to China, hopefully some of them can join the first team for next season since the trio of Rueben Loftus-Cheeks, Ola Aina and Nathaniel Chalobah have moved on (loans for LC and Aina, Permanent transfer for Chalobah).

In the 2016 edition of the International Champions Cup we played three high profile teams; drawing the first game against eventual Champions PSG, beating Italian giants AC Milan and losing to Spanish heavyweights Real Madrid. It’s the same story for this year’s edition having been drawn against Arsenal, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan.

Chelsea vs. Arsenal

Bird’s Nest Stadium, China/July 22, 2017

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Any match Chelsea plays against Arsenal will always be taken seriously whether it be in the league, cup or even if it comes in a preseason tournament with little or nothing at stake. So, I expect this to be a high intensity encounter even though both teams is likely to be a player or two (Or four in our case) short of their first eleven. Arsenal has a slight edge going into this game in that they already have three highly competitive preseason games under their belts, the last of which came against Bayern in their ICC opener on Wednesday afternoon while the Chelsea players have only being involved in a solitary behind-closed-doors friendly against Fulham at Cobham. I expect the Arsenal players to be a lot sharper and fitter than our boys, a point proven by their injury time equalizer against Bayern on Wednesday, but I trust our team to give them a run for their money.

Team Breakdowns

Chelsea

With this match being a somewhat friendly game I expect a lot of our academy products to get a run out, and hopefully some of them will provide Conte with headaches before the start of the season. However the usual suspects will most likely dominate the lineup with the debate likely to be who will lead the line between Batshuayi and the probably soon-to-be former Chelsea player Loic Remy. I’m excited to see what the likes of Andreas Christensen and Lewis Baker can do in a real Chelsea set up having played the last two seasons in Germany and Holland respectively.

Arsenal

Arsenal are well into their preseason program as they have every of their players available except for contract rebel Alexis Sanchez, and the injured Jack Wilshere. But that hasn’t stopped Wenger handing game time to some of his youngsters and I expect that trend to continue on Saturday. Against Bayern on Wednesday, he played quite a number of his academy graduates and they still came up with the win, albeit through penalty shootouts, though on the balance of play Bayern should have been out of sight by halftime, but that’s football. Alexander Lacazette hasn’t set the the net alight with goals as expected, but this is another opportunity to convince the Gunners faithful he is the real deal.

Conclusion

This will likely be viewed by both coaches as a dress rehearsal for the Community Shield, which is also between these two London clubs, hence this is likely going to be cagey for the first half hour or thereabout, but in all I expect to see an interesting game of football.

Chelsea vs. Bayern Munich

National Stadium, Singapore/July 25, 2017

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The last time we faced Bayern in a competitive game was the 2013 UEFA Super cup when we lost following a penalty shootout. This match might not be as important as that night in Monte Carlo but that’s not to say those lucky enough to be at the stadium will regret attending if Bayern’s display against the Gunners is anything to go by. I expect our players to be in a better shape than in the Arsenal game with three extra days of conditioning under their belt. I’m excited to see how a Conte-led Chelsea will fair against one of Europe’s heavyweights in readiness for the possibility of facing them in the latter stages of the UCL.

Team Breakdowns

Chelsea

Although the Arsenal game might come too early for new striker Alvaro Morata, this game is surely a possibility for his first game in a Chelsea shirt, and what a game it’d be to take your bow. Antonio Rudiger will also be joining up with the team after the Arsenal game on Saturday and will likely also make his Chelsea debut against familiar foes. Depending on how the Arsenal game plays out, the team to take to the pitch against Bayern in Singapore should take a semblance of the team to face Arsenal in the Community Shield in August. I’m as curious as every Chelsea fans out there to find out if Signor Conte will keep faith with the 3-4-3 formation that served him so well last season or if there’s going to be yet another evolution and if he does continue if he’ll keep the trident of Cahill, Azpilicueta and David Luiz, or if he’s going to bring in either the returning Christensen or new boy Rudiger. I guess we will have to wait and see how it unfolds.

Bayern Munich

Against Arsenal, Bayern named a strong lineup and I expect Ancelotti will do the same against Chelsea because his team, unlike ours, is already taking shape. They lost two club veterans, Phillip Lahm and Xabi Alonso, at the end of last season but they seemed to have replaced them both with Joshua Kimmich, who’s yet to join up with the team having been part of the Germany team that won the Confederations Cup last month, and new boy Corentin Tollisso whose impending partnership with Arturo Vidal will surely be terrifying. Marquee signing James Rodriguez had a good game against Arsenal and should pose enough trouble for our defenders.

Conclusion

Regardless of the final score line, this match is going to be an entertaining one to watch for the neutrals that’s for sure, with Bayern having much of the possession of the ball and Chelsea looking to hit them on the counter. With the kind of attacking talents in both teams, it’ll be a huge surprise if this game finished scoreless. There will definitely be goals in this one. Kante and whoever gets to be his partner in the middle of the pack will certainly have their hands full containing Bayern in midfield. In all, this should be fun to watch and I personally cannot wait.

Chelsea vs. Inter Milan

National Stadium, Singapore/July 29, 2017

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As far as history goes, we don’t have that many to look back on when we talk about this fixture. I only have a memory of us playing against Inter when they won the Champions’ League in 2010 with Mourinho at the helm, and as far as preseason friendlies are concerned I remembered we played them on our preseason tour of the United States back in 2005. Both teams are sure to be a lot different from the last time we squared up in the 2nd leg of our quarter final match in the UCL at Stamford Bridge back in 2010.  For one, both coaches have since moved on and replaced with Antonio Conte and Luciano Spaletti respectively, Spaletti having taken the job when Conte turned it down. The squads have also undergone various degrees of upgrades over the years with both Inter and Chelsea optimistic ahead of the new season.

Team Breakdowns

Chelsea

With this game coming so close to the Community Shield, I expect to see the exact same team to face Arsenal start this game. The likes of Rudiger and Morata would have gotten at least a week’s training under their belts and they are almost a certainty to start this game. Moses, Willian, Fabregas, Pedro and all the major players in the run to the title last season will certainly fancy their chances. What will be interesting to see is how Conte intends to use both Morata and Batshuayi. Of all the games on the tour of Asia, this is the one I can say we have the best chance of winning owing to the fact that the team will be at its best in terms of their physical and mental shape.

Inter Milan

Inter Milan has gradually fizzled into European obscurity since their unexpected treble in 2010, but their new owners seemed determined to return them back to the glory days which was why they were hell bent on prizing Conte away from Stamford Bridge before eventually settling for Luciano Spaletti, who himself is a very good coach if what he did since returning to Roma is an indication. For this game, they are likely to be without Manchester-bound Ivan Perisic, but other than that they should have all their key players ready for this big one. If they want to be taken seriously again then this is the sort of game they need to be winning so it should be another entertaining game for the Singaporean public.

Conclusion

With Arsenal having started preseason a week before Chelsea, and are also likely to return to England a couple of days before us, Antonio Conte might be tempted to give rest to some of the senior players in the latter stages of this game, so I’m predicting a very youthful Chelsea team finishing this game. This way the more established stars will be refreshed ahead of what is sure to be another thrilling and exciting and hopefully a rewarding season of football. Thanks for taking the time to read and remember to Keep The Blue Flag Flying High!

 

Thumbnail Image Courtesy of the International Champions Cup

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By: Lukonde Jr. Davies (Twitter: @lukonde_jr)


In its formative days, the summer transfer window did look like a Chinese fire drill for the fans; City’s early assault on the market and the thought of the club repeating the same attitude/posture that has ensured every title winning campaign got to the hearts of many fans. The supposed ‘1st July’ cipher didn’t help either. In fact, the signing on that much raved about date was a free agent from our rivals, Manchester City, Willy Caballero.

After missing out on Romelu Lukaku, the club has expedited their transfer dealings with German defender Antonio Rudiger, and a standout in last season’s Monaco’s odyssey in Champions’ League and French Ligue 1, Tiemoue Bakayoko, both added to the roster. Latest in line to add to the new arrivals is Real Madrid’s Alvaro Morata. The move is expected to smash the club record fee  paid to Liverpool for Fernando Torres in January 2011 thanks partly to the inflated market and lack of options after United gazumped us to the Lukaku deal. So, have we got the best man?

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Best man for the job or a Conte frontier move? This should be the main question about this transfer.

There is no doubt whatsoever that Morata’s bromance with Conte is one that borders on mutual admiration, and the Italian’s belief in the talents of a player who he once signed without coaching him. In the past, and just recently after Madrid and Chelsea agreed terms for the striker, the Spaniard, 24, did allude to the confidence that Conte has in him and the length at which the club under Conte’s reign have gone to chase for his signature. As far back as February, the Spaniard did predict that he would play for Conte sooner or later.

Solely on that account, the Zeitgeist is that finally, the Italian has gotten his man after the club flirted with the idea of bringing him to the club last summer. And a sign of relief for some of the Chelsea votaries who thought the deal was going to slip through especially after United; Chelsea’s fate-mate this summer received some ludicrous demands from Madrid when they tried alluring the 24 year old.

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What does he bring to the club?

In Morata’s rollercoaster career where he has already played for two of best performing European teams, he’s not exalted himself as a talisman or the fulcrum of a team in that time. His best goal return up to now has been the 15 goals last season that aw him finish as Madrid’s second top-scorer behind Ronaldo in a season where Morata was sparingly used.

But its Morata’s other side of the game that should enthral the fans more. Unlike Diego, Morata is the technical striker the club has been looking for to complement the technicians behind him and take the club to the next level. Yes his goals have not come with the same volume as the leading strikers or forwards, but if last season is to go by, we are getting a player who’s only improved with time and more likely to improve further.

Thumbnail image courtesy of: The Metro

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By, Jordan Harbin


BREAKING: Former Chelsea Loanee finds permanent deal elsewhere…with no buyback clause attached!!!! (Eeeeeek!)

Loans…who needs ‘em? Am I right? I feel a large consensus of Chelsea supporters postulating this weighty conundrum throughout their frontal lobes. With the influx of Chelsea click-bait tagging “Sold Chelsea XI: What Could Have Been”, what is even the point of having an academy/loanee army one may ask? Most of them get sold to the clubs they were loaned to anyways, right? Wrong.

Chelsea’s dubbed “Loan Army” are just that. Trained militants with a blue purpose. A purpose which has been lost by some of it’s defectors, however, it is a purpose nonetheless. These boys are brought into the club as pimple-faced noobs but leave as broad-shouldered warriors poised for action at a moments notice. The long unheard cry (which albeit feels more like a faint whimper) of “let the kids play!” seems even outright ignored at times. So, why is it important to have an army waiting in the wings? Because armies are cool….duh…

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More importantly though, it is because Chelsea understands the importance of youth. Obviously, the application of this understanding can seem to be presently lacking, but the club comprehends their value. Our youth team has won the FA Youth Cup the last four consecutive years and a total of six times since 2009. These kids are good. So, it goes without saying that they would get noticed by clubs throughout Europe and abroad to test their metal and prove their worth to the Great Italian General. It is this very next step from Chelsea’s youth academy to prospective loans where the real action takes place. The long training sessions, the countless numbers of “keepie uppies”, and the endless snapchat stories all pay off. Blue militants take to the battlefields and fight to spread sweet, sweet Chelsea glory to all lands and peoples. Keep your wits about you though, not all who take this perilous journey are successful! It takes patience, strength, and adaptability to adjust to playing styles in a few weeks time. It should be stated that a majority of these soldiers are victorious in their conquests, and some even more victorious than they should be! So why can’t they cut it back in the Motherland? Risk.

The calculated risking of elite clubs to balance new and young players with those who have already proven their worthiness. Some tempt this fate with fielding all youth, others with none. Chelsea find themselves, somewhere in the faint middle with a heavy lean to the latter. Are there youth present in the Chelsea squad? Yes. Do they receive a lot of playing time? No. This balance is important though. This point was clearly seen in the stylish yet starkly out-classed Monaco versus Juventus of this years Champions League semi-final. The sheer experience and know-how that Juventus displayed (which notably did not carry over into the final) proved that it was Men vs boys. Does that mean that youth are to never be played at the expense of experience? Simply no. After watching countless reports of young former Blue soldiers being sold into slavery….I mean…other clubs. It pangs deeply into the heart of a concerned Chelsea supporter. These boys now men have by in large far exceeded expectations at their loan clubs and still cannot find themselves featuring in the ranks at The Bridge. So why then do we even loan players? Because these trained militants are itching for a fight and gnawing at the chance to show their value, and when they return….they return as men. They return prepared to face the truth, because yes, they can handle the truth! With every somberly written Instagram post to the Club that taught them everything, shows a true love that could be but for now just isn’t. These men, now returning from their study abroad programs have decisions to make. Some choose the lonely path less trod to profess their undying love to the club that made them who they are, others choose to fan the brief yet hot flame they had with their foreign flings.

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It is to this point though that I draw my conclusion. Chelsea creates men from boys, trained militia from tiny tykes, and gives them opportunities. Opportunities that no other club could give the way that Chelsea gives, and we dare not withhold that beautiful gift from those who are worthy of that task. From those who will always secretly wear Chelsea pajamas to bed, get Chelsea crest tattoos in unforeseen locations, and carry their Chelsea approved lunch boxes to work!!! So, take courage Chelsea faithful and embrace the Blue Way!! KTBFFH

Thumbnail Image courtesy of: The Building Academy

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By, Navaneeth Ravichandran (Twitter: @navrav28)

The most drawn out saga of this summer’s transfer window has finally come to a conclusion, as Chelsea have confirmed the signing of French midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko from Monaco for a fee believed to be around 40 million pounds. Bakayoko has signed a 5 year deal with the club, and should step right into the starting lineup besides fellow Frenchman N’golo Kante. Here is a scouting report on the 22-year old that many are comparing to a young Yaya Toure.

Defensive Ability

Interceptions and tackles, that is Bakayoko’s bread and butter. His tackle success rate was an astounding 81% in the French top tier last year. Kante, the reigning PFA player of the year and well known tackle machine, had a 69% success rate. Clearly, Bakayoko is extremely capable of disrupting possession in the midfield. He also recording 56 interceptions last season, displaying the ability to break up passing plays with relative ease. Seeing Bakayoko and Kante team up in the Chelsea midfield will be an indubitable nightmare for opposing teams.

Support Man

In the Monaco setup last season, Bakayoko teamed up with Fabinho in the center of the midfield. Bakayoko played a little more forward, while Fabinho would act as the man directly in front of the center-backs, essentially playing as a sweeping midfielder picking up the remains of any balls Bakayoko may have missed up front. This positioning not only worked wonders for Jardim’s side, but it gave Bakayoko license to head up the pitch if he desires. This meant the Frenchmen was a key linkup man, providing support with weighted balls through to the likes of Bernardo Silva, Mbappe, and Falcao. Bakayoko registered 7 assists last season, which for a player whom is known for his defence first is a very good number. If Conte chooses to play his two midfielders the same way, with Kante acting as a Fabinho, then Bakayoko will have license to play the support man that he has proven he can.

Athleticism

Like I mentioned earlier, Bakayoko is a very good support man. This is not only because of his technical skills, but because of his physical assets as well. Like fellow Chelsea signing Antonio Rudiger, Bakayoko is extremely physical, and surprisingly fast as well for a supposed defensive midfielder. Whether he’s sprinting to support the attack or tracking back to shore up the defence, Bakayoko can get there using his physical ability. The following video encapsulates his ability as a support man, utilizing both technical and physical aspects of the game.

Flexibility for Conte

Adding a player of Bakayoko’s skillset means Antonio Conte has a little more depth and room to experiment. Of course, Bakayoko can be immediately plugged into the current 3-4-3 formation without any issues. However, should Conte choose to adopt a 3-5-2, Bakayoko can fit right into that as well. The latter midfield would conceivable include the French duo in Kante and Bakayoko, and will likely include Cesc Fabregas as a creator. This way Fabregas will not have any defensive duties whatsoever, and will only have to focus on the long balls he is so well known for. Another formation, although it may be a bit of a stretch, is a 4-2-4. This setup relies heavily on the two in midfield, but if there are any two midfielders in Europe that can make that formation work, it’s Kante and Bakayoko.

Final Thoughts

One of the reasons I love being a Chelsea fan is because of how they conduct their business. Although their signings are not the most expensive, they are almost always smart and improve the team immensely. We saw that last year with the additions of Luiz, Alonso, and Kante. I believe the trend will continue this year with Rudiger and Bakayoko. We don’t need a world record Paul Pogba, what we need is a talented box-to-box midfielder that complements Kante in the midfield, and Bakayoko fits the bill perfectly.

Cover photo courtesy of: Express Sport

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By, Navaneeth Ravichandran (Twitter: @navrav28)


Chelsea recently announced today the signing of 24-year old German defender Antonio Rudiger from Serie A side AS Roma. There are discrepancies in the fee depending on which outlet you choose to believe, but it is believed to be around 30 million pounds, plus an additional 4 million pounds in performance related add-ons. This represents Chelsea’s second signing of the summer transfer window, succeeding Willy Caballero’s arrival. Rudiger spent the past two seasons with the Italian club, and just a few weeks ago won the Confederations Cup with the German National team. After watching him in that tournament and doing some research, here is a scouting report I have compiled on the brand new Chelsea defender.

Versatility

The main strength that Rudiger possesses is his versatility. Antonio Conte’s preferred formation includes 3 central defenders, and Rudiger can play in all three positions (his preferred location is left center back, currently occupied by Gary Cahill). Not only that, but he can also be deployed as a right wing back, giving Victor Moses some healthy competition at that position. With European football again on the schedule, depth and versatility are both key assets for a successful squad, and Rudiger will help make Conte’s decisions easier.

Above Average Passing Ability

Chelsea fans last season grew accustomed to watching David Luiz nail forwards with pinpoint long balls from the back. Should he ever need a rest, we don’t have to worry about those long balls disappearing. In Serie A competition last year, Rudiger completed 185 long ball completions. That was the most out of any qualified defender in Italy. The following video showcases Rudiger’s capability. His passing ability is highlighted from 3:54 onwards. Take a look at some of the balls he plays, and the locations on the pitch he plays them from. No matter where the gaffer chooses to play him whether it’s in the center of the pitch, the left, or the right, Rudiger manages to find his man almost every time.

Limited Goalscoring Ability

In 35 games across all competitions last season with Roma, Rudiger failed to score a single goal. Obviously, scoring goals isn’t a significant job requirement for a central defender, but secondary scoring is a welcome resource to have at times. Don’t look to Rudiger to provide that scoring.

Athleticism

For a central defender, Rudiger possesses outstanding speed and power. With him at the back, Roma had the freedom to play a high backline, owing to the fact that if any balls were to make it behind the defence, Rudiger would be quick to catch up. Oh, and as the following instagram post from Roma shows, Rudiger is built like a tank. He’ll definitely be able to make the transition from manhandling Serie A strikers to manhandling Premier League strikers.

Final Thoughts

There are some on social media who aren’t completely happy with the signing. It may even be you, reading this article. Just know that when it comes to transfers, the ultimate indicator of whether a transfer was a smart move or not is time. When David Luiz came back to Chelsea last season, many scoffed at that piece of business, calling it a panic buy. A similar sentiment was echoed with Marcos Alonso. He wasn’t seen as a player that should be playing for a big club like Chelsea. And yet, both of those two are now integral parts of the Chelsea fabric. Rudiger may not be the big money signing like a Van Dijk, a Bonucci, or god forbid a Lukaku. But Manchester United showed us last year that spending a lot of money on a player doesn’t always translate to success. I personally love this transfer. Rudiger is the perfect player for an Antonio Conte system and mentality. I look forward to cheering him in blue.

 

Thumbnail image courtesy of: The Guardian

 

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