Earlier this week, I asked you guys to give me some questions for Graham from SBN's Chelsea blog, We Ain't Got No History. You certainly failed to disappoint...thanks a bunch, we'll keep doing this with the other SB Nation blogs and maybe with some from outside the network.
Grab some popcorn and something to drink...this is a long one:
Tui11BRoy3 comes up with some great questions again this week...here's what he wants to know:
General thoughts on Josh McEachran? The kid seemed to play very solidly vs Marseille.
Graham: He's good, but needs a little work. Chelsea's youngsters, for some reason, have a tackling problem - they can't seem to take the ball off their opponents and also forget that their opponents can take it off them. McEachran's been guilty of losing the ball in stupid places (most notably in the last minute of the 0-0 draw against Aston Villa, which gave Nigel Reo-Coker a free run at Petr Cech), and his attempts at challenging for the ball have been pretty laughable sometimes. But really, that's all that's wrong with him. With Lampard injury, he's Chelsea's best passer, which is really high praise considering he's 17 years old. He's composed, intelligent, and has the ability to pick people out. Really impressive so far.
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Also, general thoughts on the future of Chelsea? The core (Drogba, Anelka, Essien, Lampard, Terry, etc) are aging and SAF had some headline thoughts this week on their integration of young players. United have concerns as well (Giggs, Scholes, Rio) but the integration of some of the younger players appear to be going smoother. I’m just curious to know the mindset of Chelsea supporters on the future.
Graham: I think there'll be a tough transition period for Chelsea sometime soon, but things aren't all bad. Essien is 28, so he'll be around for a while, and Mikel's done a great job coming into the side. I'm impressed with some of Chelsea's young talent, but SAF does have a point when he says they're not being integrated with the team very well. It's a worry, but the youth system should be good enough that a few players (McEachran and Patrick van Aanholt) will be knocking at the door very soon. To top it off, Chelsea's transfer policy has shifted towards targeting much younger players than they used to (Neymar, David Luiz, etc). I'm optimistic that we have the talent to compete in the long run, but I'm not sure about the process of moving that talent into the first team. For me, 2011/12 is going to be the key season when a lot of the kids are ready to compete, so we'll see how well Chelsea fare then.
Please tell me Lampard still isn’t practicing penalties and that Drogba is the man to take them again?
Graham: I believe that Lampard will be taking the penalties if one is given. Even if Droggles sulks about it. But then again, Lampard's missed like three pens in a row (although he took one of them while hobbling around on a torn groin).
Sweet science also had some good questions:
How much of a factor was Ray Wilkins dismissal to your recent terrible form? Do you still have faith in Ancelotti?
Graham: I don't think Ray Wilkins had anything to do with the recent dip in form, which I'd be more inclined to chalk up to Essien being injured/suspended and Drogba contracting malaria. I just don't understand attributing our on-field problems to the departure of the assistant manager when it was clear that the squad was being decimated by injuries and disease. It's not like Wilkins really did much anyway. I still have a lot of faith in Ancelotti. I disagree with him about a couple of things, but there's not much he could have done about the midfield unless he'd killed Ramires and taken his place or something. Anyway, I try not to get too angry at a manager who won the Double like seven months ago.
Do you think it is over now (ed: the poor run of form over the last month) after a more spirited display against Spurs?
Graham: I'd certainly hope so. As a fan, I don't worry about results so much as performance, and Chelsea were much better against Spurs than they had been. It really had been some dire stuff they'd been playing - we were outplayed by Everton, for goodness sake, so going to White Hart Lane and coming out as the better side is a big step in the right direction. But it's a step, that's all. If they come out flat against United on Sunday, it's crisis time again.
How do you see this season going for you? I give your best chance in Europe or maybe the cup.
Graham: I think there's still a shot at the league - none of the top four have run away with it yet, so that's still a target. An FA cup run will depend on how well the European campaign goes. I don't see Ancelotti taking it too seriously seriously if he's having to juggle cup matches with a Champions League semifinal. If I had to guess, I'd say we finish second in the league, make the quarterfinals of the CL, and probably the semifinals of the FA Cup. However, if we get lucky in any of those competitions, there's no reason Chelsea can't win them.
Following up on Q’s about the future, How much do Chelsea typically develop promising young players, vs. open up the checkbook for established superstars? Is this strategy as viable as it used to be?
Graham: Chelsea used to be pretty silly about transfers, just throwing money around willy-nilly. Over the past few years they've changed that strategy around somewhat and have basically grown a youth team from scratch, the first products of which are moving into the first team. A couple of the kids have impressed me, some haven't, but overall it's a whole lot better than mailing Andriy Shevchenko a suitcase full of £50 notes to not do anything.
If you can't tell, I don't really like the 'buy overpriced superstars in their prime' strategy. United's development of young superstars has been excellent, and your team is certainly a model of how to properly build a dynasty.
Here's a couple from me, since most of mine were already taken:
I guess in a follow up to the Ancelotti question: Following Jose Mourinho's exit early in the 07-08 season, it seems to be a revolving door of managers: Avram Grant, Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink and now Ancelotti. how much patience will Roman Abromovich have with him, if the dip in form continues? (ed: Hiddink was never a replacement, he was only there to finish out the season, though rumors at the time had Chelsea wanting him to sign on as the replacement.)
Graham: Reading Roman Abramovich's mind is hard, because he appears to be crazy. There's a chance he's reasonable, and a chance he isn't, but I'm hoping that Ancelotti gets a lot more leeway than Scolari or Grant did - he's a better manager than both of them and has already won major silverware with us.
Talk about your strike options beyond Didier Drogba. I know you've got Nocolas Anelka as a first team regular, but he's only scored 3 league goals this year and is aging. Who do you have waiting in the wings that can give Drogba the support he needs, or is that something that you think Chelsea will address in the transfer window?
Graham: Anelka's three league goals don't really tell the whole story. I think he's actually our top scorer in all competitions, and he does a good job leading the line when Drogba is out. However, he is indeed fairly old, and our backup options are Salomon Kalou and Daniel Sturridge, neither of whom inspire that much confidence. Chelsea might think that they have it covered, but I disagree with them. I'm hoping that they make a move for a good right-footed forward in the transfer window.
Chelsea have recently been exploring their options as far as either building a new stadium at Earl's Court (a few blocks north of Stamford Bridge) or possibly trying to redevelop the Bridge for a larger capacity. What do you think their best option is?
Graham: I think they should move. They're at a clear financial disadvantage in their current sport thanks to the lack of seating, to the point where they might have to bring in extra revenue through a corporate renaming of Stamford Bridge. Expansion at the current site is out of the question, I believe, thanks to public safety/egress laws. Really, if they're going to have to rename the Bridge, they might as well just build a new stadium somewhere close by.
We've discussed this privately in the past, but Abromovich isn't spending, spending, spending like he did when he first arrived...it's expected that the club support itself. With your new-ish training facilities in Cobham (built in 2006), how much emphasis is now placed on the youth set-up? (ed: I realized a little later that this was a redundant question, but Graham answered it anyhow)
Graham: I touched on this earlier, but Chelsea have had a big focus on the youth academy over the past five years or so that's only just now bearing fruit. I think there's a disconnect between the executives and the on-field staff about how important integrating the youth talent into the first squad is, but to be honest most of them aren't good enough to play just yet. Chelsea are going to focus on buying young and building stars, and it's not just because of the financial fair play laws.
Saving this for last, Tui11BRoy3 wanted to know your predicted starting XI Sunday and I'm wondering what your prediction for the final scoreline will be?
Graham: Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Cole, Terry, Ivanovic, Ferreira; Mikel, Lampard, Essien; Malouda, Drogba, Anelka.
Prediction: I'd expect a draw, but I'd have Chelsea as slight favourites overall thanks to playing at home.
(The image of Chelsea's training facility is via the BBC. You can see the full slide show here.)