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Three areas Chelsea need to improve to launch a Champions League push


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The 2014/15 season was, for many Blues supporters, the perfect tonic for a disappointing couple of years since Chelsea lifted the UEFA Champions League title in 2012.

After that fateful night in Munich where Didier Drogba stepped up to catapult the Blues into Europe's elite, Chelsea had seen more managers come and go than pieces of silverware being won.

Hazards.jpgA Europa League title, secured under the tutelage of Rafa Benitez in 2013 thanks to a last-minute Branislav Ivanovic header, barely made amends for the Blues' spectacular failure that campaign. With hopes high after signing some of the world's premium young talent in Eden Hazard, Cesar Azpilicueta and Oscar, the defending European champions became the first Champions League winners to exit the competition at the group stage.

Elsewhere, a commanding lead at the top of the Premier League was blown, with Chelsea ultimately just about managing to cling on for a mediocre third-placed finish; semi-final defeats in both domestic cup competitions, most notably to Swansea in the League Cup, only led to further disappointment; and defeats in both the Community Shield and the UEFA Super Cup, though hardly critical, nonetheless dealt a psychological blow on both the domestic and continental fronts. Added to the ignominy of losing the FIFA Club World Cup final to Corinthians, regardless of whatever positive spin you could contrive to apply to it, that season was, ultimately, as disappointing as they get for a club of Chelsea's renewed trophy-chasing stature.

Even the return of José Mourinho in 2013 failed to bring about an immediate reversal in fortunes. Whilst Chelsea's power waned, the blue moon in Manchester continued to soar, and despite Mourinho's claims to the contrary, Chelsea were in the reckoning for the Premier League title and, having beaten the eventual champions and runners-up both home and away, upon reflection it seems inconceivable that the West London outfit should again fall short on all fronts.

Last season, however, proved the perfect tonic. Fittingly, in mirroring the first season of Mourinho's first spell in charge, Chelsea won the League Cup and romped to the league title by going unbeaten at Stamford Bridge and, in the process, set a new record for the most days spent in succession at the top of the Premier League by any one team.

Chelsea were dominant in the title race from the moment Andre Schurrle got on the end of the pass of the season from Cesc Fabregas to see the side come from behind to take the lead at Turf Moor on the opening weekend and, if truth be told, the eight-point margin by which the Blues outperformed defending champions Manchester City doesn't offer a truthful reflection of the degree of superiority exhibited by Mourinho's charges from start to finish.

Yes, the Premier League was the foremost item on the agenda in 2014/15 - but failure in Europe nevertheless left a bitter taste.

Even with the likes of Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Willian spearheading a ferocious attack, and John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Cesar Azpilicueta all imperious in front of the world's greatest young goalkeeping talent in Thibaut Courtois, the Blues are still short in some regards in comparison to eventual European champions Barcelona.

Like so many other British teams, it was a disappointing European campaign for Chelsea in 2014/15, and here we look at several key areas where the Blues need to improve to launch an assault on the greatest prize in club football.

Central Midfield

Without Nemanja Matic, Chelsea struggled at times last season. The Serbian powerhouse, who has been a revelation since his return to the club after a spell in Portuguese football, was a noticeable absentee in the Blues' first defeat of the season, up at Newcastle. Burdened by the strain of needing to play game after game, Matic noticeably tired over the duration of the season, and Chelsea have looked short in that department despite youngster Kurt Zouma proving a makeshift alternative in the League Cup final defeat of Tottenham in March.

With John Mikel Obi rumoured to be making a swift Stamford Bridge exit - with Internazionale the latest side linked with the Nigerian - and Ramires enduring a nightmare season because of injury and suffering, somewhat unusually for a professional athlete, from kidney stones, Mourinho is frightfully short of midfield cover. Youngster Ruben Loftus-Cheek earned his stripes with a couple of positive cameo appearances towards the end of the season, but the elegant young Blues midfielder may be heading on loan to Stoke as part of the pending Asmir Begovic transfer saga.

paul-pogba-juventus.jpgTottenham's Moussa Dembele is a surprise candidate to replace the outgoing Mikel, who seems to have outlived his usefulness at Stamford Bridge, but a potential move for Atletico Madrid's Koke is dead in the water after the Spaniard confirmed he would honour his contract with Diego Simeone's side. Similarly unlikely is a move for want-away Zenit St-Petersburg star Axel Witsel - rumours surfaced regarding a move for the Belgian being instigated by Mourinho, but those rumours were put to bed as soon as they emerged.

Paul Pogba is without doubt the most coveted player in the game at present, but with Juventus demanding in excess of £70 million for the France international, in order to abide by financial regulations, Chelsea would surely need to sell before being able to table a bid the bianconeri would be able to consider with any degree of seriousness.

Whoever Chelsea ultimately approach, with Cesc Fabregas increasingly trialled in a more offensive position as part of the three attacking players behind the striker as the season progressed, despite putting in his best performances in a deeper role, it goes without saying that Chelsea need to address the gaping hole at the centre of the midfield.


Contrary to popular belief, Chelsea don't actually need to invest in a full-back. Rumours of a big-money move for Augsburg's Ghana intertional Baba Rahman may be circulating on the internet at present, and a homegrown option in West Ham's Aaron Cresswell has also been touted, but should Filipe Luis opt to see out the remaining two years on his Blues deal, Chelsea are suitably stocked on wide defenders thanks to the versatility of Azpilicueta and young Nathan Aké.

A £14 million price tag has reportedly been put on Luis, with Mourinho supposedly underwhelmed by the Brazilian's impact this season, but those rumours remain exactly that - rumours. Should present company be retained ahead of next season, Chelsea have more than enough talent in the full-back role, with Branislav Ivanovic's tactical importance at right-back and his efficient working relationship with Willian pivotal to the Blues' style of play.

It is rather at the centre of Chelsea's defence where the greatest attention is required.

Gary Cahill's indifferent form for most of last season saw him somehow worm his way into the Premier League's team of the season, despite being dropped for young Zouma for crucial matches over the course of the winter, most noticeably against Manchester City at Stamford Bridge. Okay, maybe that's a little harsh - Cahill's form noticeably improved after Christmas - but with John Terry, despite his imperious form all campaign, in the twilight of his career, a move for another centre-back may well be on the cards, at least for the long-term.

Zouma is one of the most talented young defenders in the world, and is a shoe-in to replace either of Cahill or Terry in the foreseeable future. Already a semi-established talent, monster performances against Liverpool and Tottenham in the League Cup underlined his budding potential. It is another of the Frenchman's compatriots, though, who is rumoured to be interested in a move to Chelsea, with Raphael Varane of Real Madrid seemingly disillusioned by being second-choice to the thuggish Portuguese defender Pepe by their former manager Carlo Ancelotti for much of the Italian's two years at the capital club.

With those two young defenders waiting in the wings, Chelsea would be adding to an already impressive defensive unit by boasting the two most exciting defensive talents in the European circuit.

Wide Midfield

The biggest single regret José Mourinho will have of the 2014/15 campaign is the decision to replace World Cup winner Andre Schurrle with Juan Cuadrado.

Cuadrado, who has been told can leave the club after a turgid first few months in the English game, has failed to make any impact whatsoever, and seems unable to cope with the Premier League's combination of rough-and-tumble defending and the lack of protection offered by referees, and has been linked with a return to Serie A in the past week.

Though Schurrle was at times inconsistent, he was a terrific impact player and with his reputation burgeoning after starring for Germany in Brazil, his sale to Wolfsburg seems to have been a poor move for all concerned, with the Blues missing his invention and his new German club unimpressed by his transition into Bundesliga football.

With another of the Blues' wide players in Mo Salah likely to move on, replacements are required in wide areas - and ideally options that are a step up on the current personnel available to Mourinho.

antoine-griezmann-atletico-madrid.jpgThat is not to be dismissive of Willian, of whom I am a massive fan. The Brazilian is somewhat wasted out wide, often seeing his attacking instincts curtailed in order to act as a defensive foil for the marauding Branislav Ivanovic. Mourinho will argue that, tactically, it works as a set-up, but the functional, almost mechanical Willian in Chelsea blue is a far cry from the Willian of Shakhtar Donetsk, who tore Chelsea to pieces both home and away in the side's Champions League clashes in 2012.

An obvious candidate is Antoine Griezmann of Atletico Madrid, who has been linked with a mega-money move to the Premier League champions for some time. Gareth Bale is an outside shot, but with Real Madrid likely to expect a figure close to the €100 million they paid Tottenham for the Welshman's services in 2013, it is no surprise that rumours linking Bale to Stamford Bridge have never really taken off.

Excitement grew in January of a deal with Borussia Dortmund for Marco Reus, but those claims died down after the arrival of Cuadrado and the suggestion that Reus, heralded as one of football's most loyal stars, is content to stay with his hometown club. Despite signing a new contract with the European champions, Pedro is also supposedly interested in a switch to the Premier League, but it is another La Liga star - and team-mate of the aforementioned Griezmann - who is most likely to bolster the ranks at Chelsea.

Chelsea and Barcelona have been left to battle it out for Atletico Madrid midfielder Arda Turan, with the Turkish international called to join by his former Atletico team-mate Diego Costa. The acquisition of either Griezmann or Turan from Atletico would give the Blues a significant increase in their attacking output.
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