Chelsea Running On Empty?

Strange the perception of Chelsea only really being in the top four since Roman’s arrival, particularly since we’d already ventured there a few times before he got here, and back in the 1999/2000 season, we weren’t just playing against the likes of Barcelona – we were actually getting results against them at Stamford Bridge.

So, given that old chestnut that we were shit before Abramovich, how on earth did we not just make it into the quarter finals of the Champions League but actually take on, and beat Barcelona in the first leg at Stamford Bridge? Oh and in spite of being the club in crisis this season, we’ve made the quarter finals again whilst the likes of United, City and Arsenal have fallen by the wayside. Ok, so that last point is completely irrelevant to this particular post but fuck it. It’s my blog and I’ll have a dig if I want to!

So, back to the point then – in 2000, with Gianluca at the helm (and without Abramovich’s money) we found it in us to take on Barcelona – tournament favourites – and put three goals past them in an 8 minute spell in the first half. Ok, so the second leg saw them thump us 5-1 after extra time but the point remains – if we could push the likes of Rivaldo, Kluivert and Figo to the very end then, why did we struggle to get anything at all against the likes of Modric, Bale and Adebayor this weekend?

Surprisingly – or not – the average age in our first team for that win against Barca was 28.9, the average age against Spurs this weekend 28.4, so it’s not necessarily that our players are ‘older’ now as such. In fact, if you look at the ages of some of our key players then: Desailly was 31, Wise 33, Zola 33, Petrescu 32, so not exactly spring chickens compared to the likes of Terry (31), Cole (31), Essien (29), Lampard (33) and Drogba (34) now.

No, the difference comes in what we’d already had out of those teams. Take Desailly, for example, in 2000 he’d been with us a couple of seasons, John Terry meanwhile has been a first team player for over a decade, an ever present since he took over the captaincy following Desailly’s departure over 7 years ago in fact. Frank Lampard likewise, since joining us in 2001 has notched up a similar amount of appearances to JT. Whilst Zola had been with us 3 ½ years by the time we played that Barca game, we’ve already had 7 ½ years out of Didier Drogba and without 3 significant long-term injuries taking their toll, you could bet we’d have flogged Essien to death by now as well.

Of course, you could point to Dennis Wise’s ten years with us but he’s the only fly in my particular ointment and I don’t doubt his love for the club could probably have carried him a few more seasons if the invite had been extended. But the thing is, as much as the club loves these players, there is always a time when the decision is right to move on. Of course we don’t want to see the JT’s and Lampard’s go but then we didn’t want that with Wise or Zola either and yet they did move on – and so did we, without them.

So, whilst any amount of our critics can point to Drogba, Lampard, Essien, Cole and even John Terry now and suggest their poorer performances are about ‘player power’, the fact is, the performances we’re seeing aren’t about choice. Nor are they lacking the spirit or fight they had under Jose Mourinho five or six years ago, the only thing they’re lacking now is the physical ability to repeatedly put in performances like the Napoli one.

We’ve drained them over such a prolonged period of time they need longer periods of recharging between games than our fixture list can afford them. And whilst back in 2000, we had the right mix of quality and experience (not to mention fresher legs), we’ve relied on these players so often now, bringing anyone else in to give them a break and freshen us up a bit is so ‘not tried and tested’, it’s almost a bigger risk than flogging the ‘old guard’ a bit more.

Catch 22’s a bitch!

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