As I switched on my TV last weekend for the much-awaited Chelsea vs Manchester United clash, I saw the Super Sunday programme going on, with the pundits flashing the official starting line-ups. I focused carefully on the Chelsea line-up, and noticed something unusual. On observing carefully, I finally figured out what was unusual. It must have been common this season, but it was the first time I noticed it – Chelsea FC were starting the game without any of their prominent veterans. With Drogba having left for Chinese outfit Shanghai Shenhua in the summer, the remaining two were Lampard and Terry. Both were unavailable, as Terry was serving a four-match ban after being found guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, while Lampard was out for two weeks due to a calf injury. It was very unusual as a few seasons ago, for Chelsea to start a game without any of these three legends was not a possibility.
Big spending Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich spent big once again this summer and added to the squad strength with the purchases of Belgian playmaker Eden Hazard and Brazilian wonderkid Oscar Dos Santos. These two youngsters, combined with Spanish magician Juan Mata, have been providing that extra depth and extra magic to the Chelsea midfield, due to which even an out-of-form striker like Fernando Torres has been scoring goals.
Thus, with such inclusions to the squad, Chelsea are slowly beginning to trust their young guns to fire, and fortunately for them, the decision has not back-fired as of now.
Last season, former Chelsea and current Tottenham boss Andre-Villas-Boas tried to deploy the same tactics used by RDM this season. However, his ploys resulted in a major failure. It resulted in Chelsea losing more than half of the matches under his management, and also triggered aggression from the old guards, who were not happy with the efforts to have them benched.
This season has been totally different however, with Chelsea bringing massive changes to their playing style. They have shown more aggression in attack and have moved on from the “parking the bus” strategy used by them for major matches in the Champions League last term. These changes have been possible only due to the overall transition to their squad and the reduction in the average age of the Chelsea squad. They have begun to trust the youngsters more, and that is a major plus point for the future of the club. This transition has already seen the legendary midfielder Frank Lampard getting benched for numerous matches, with the England international not starting as regularly as he is used to. He has been handed the role of a super-sub now. Terry still remains an influential figure, but the recent racism allegations have also seen rumours build over a possible transfer to Valencia for Terry as early as January.
Despite playing with more youngsters and only a few aged players, Chelsea’s performances this season have been praiseworthy, leading to them being regarded as “title contendors” along with the two Manchester clubs.
So does this mean that the time is up for the veteran legends ? Should they just hang up their boots? Or shift to a quieter league like the MLS just as David Beckham and Theirry Henry did? Or should they continue to be happy with the “super-sub” roles offered to them and play as long as they are fit enough to? Many questions remain unanswered, but all I can say is that Chelsea this season are the “team to beat” with or without their veteran legends. However, if they ever decide to leave, then they need to be shown the utmost respect, as their contributions for the club are much more than one can praise about!