After outscoring its opposition 14-0 in the first three matches of the season, its seems on the surface Chelsea is primed to stroll to its second consecutive Premiership title. But one, big problem has generally been ignored by the soccer media: Chelsea doesn’t have enough players.
Actually, saying, “Chelsea doesn’t have enough players,” is like saying “Wigan’s defense is poor,” or “Fulham struggles on the road.” The situation is so serious I believe Chelsea’s lack of bodies will probably cost the most talented team in the league the title.
The new home-grown player rule in the Premiership isn’t asking much. Teams just need to have eight players on their roster that were trained in England before they were 18. Of the 20 Premiership teams, 19 have met the requirement and most have done so easily (i.e. Manchester United has 12). But, either out of ignorance or arrogance, Chelsea has decided to practically ignore the new squad rule.
Chelsea has only four home-grown players over the age of 21 (Frank Lampard, John Terry, Ashley Cole and Ross Turnbull). Four! Still, this wouldn’t be much of a problem if Chelsea had a plethora of proven, talented 21 or under players, since they don’t count against the 25-man roster. How many of these players does Chelsea have? One, if you count Daniel Sturridge and it’s debatable if Sturridge is even an average Premiership striker. Chelsea’s next best players 21 or under (Jeffrey Bruma, Patrick van Aanholt, Gael Kakuta and Fabio Borini) have 11 Premiership appearances, combined.
So, Chelsea has a total of 17 outfield players that could be named to the first-team without someone asking, “Wow, he’s starting for Chelsea?” In comparison, Manchester United has at least 25 outfield players (which doesn’t include players like Chris Smalling or Tom Cleverly), Arsenal has 23 and Manchester City has over 25. Last year, Chelsea had 20 outfield players make at least eight appearances in league.
How big of an issue is this? Let’s look at center defense. Right now Chelsea is starting John Terry and Alex, two players you would expect to see on a Premiership title contender. But if one of them gets hurt, Branislav Ivanovic, who is really a right back, will probably fill in. And if there’s two injuries, or if someone just needs a rest, Carlo Ancelotti will probably have to go with Bruma or van Anaholt.
With Chelsea playing a 4-3-3, The Blues need to start six midfielders\attackers a game. Counting Sturridge, Chelsea has 11 such players. Which seems like a decent number, but one injury and things will get tricky quick.
For example, let’s say Nicolas Anelka gets hurt for four months. Not a huge problem since Chelsea can fill his attacking position with someone like Salomon Kalou. But one injury means Chelsea is essentially out of proven bench players. If Didier Drogba misses a match or two, suddenly Daniel Sturridge is in the starting 11; if Flourent Malouda gets suspended for three matches, Yossi Benayoun will have to perform; if Frank Lampard gets hurt, Chelsea’s probably screwed.
Predicting Chelsea is going to have injury problems isn’t exactly a bold statement. Most of its best players are pushing, or well over 30; many players played in the World Cup and will be starters in European Qualifying; its lack of depth will force key players to play nearly every match. This isn’t rocket science. The more matches you play, the more likely injuries will occur. Considering Chelsea will probably play around 55 matches — which is how many it played last year — and the same core will be named match after match, an injury plagued season is almost inevitable.
Ancelotti said there will be no more moves this summer, which I obviously think is a mistake. Chelsea should have tried to snap up a home-grown player like Stephen Ireland. Still, the transfer window will be open again in January and by then it should be painfully clear Chelsea needs more footballers and Ancelotti will probably overpay for a home-grown player like Ryan Shawcross. Therefore, it’s silly to say Chelsea has no chance at the title. But, if The Blues have the same roster on May 1 as it does on Sept. 1, someone else will be Premiership champions, probably.