A question I was asked recently which led to more confusion than it should considering we are coming into the final stretch of the season. “Who is Chelsea’s best XI?” It came about due to the constant rotation employed by Roberto Di Matteo, we do have a busy schedule but that has never meant constant change of personnel every game in the past. Obviously opinions will differ from person to person, it is all dependant also on the style of play you wish to see, but if we take the question in its most basic form and look at each individual position and the talent available in that position, who would be the starting line up in the current 4-2-3-1 system?
Luckily the first selection is by far the easiest one to make of any. There is no doubting that Petr Cech is Chelsea’s number one, arguably he is still one of the best keepers in the world but whether he will be come summer time is a different debate entirely, as it stands Thibaut Courtois is on loan at Atletico Madrid and Cech faces little opposition in the forms of Hilario and Turnbull. So he gets my vote and I’m sure the vote of everyone reading.
There are three candidates for the right back role but I find it difficult to look past Branislav Ivanovic. It might have something to do with his large derriere. Jose Bosingwa tries his hardest to rule himself out of the running with all too frequent inept performances which lead everyone to question how a player could spectacularly forget the art of defending or football in general to the extent Bosingwa has shown. Paulo Ferreira is the other man in contention for the right back role and although he put in a faultless performance against Benfica, he has lost a step or two since his prime under Mourinho. Branislav Ivanovic is the right back elect.
Now onto the first of many difficult decisions, this is probably the hardest of all because unlike the other contentious positions all three players vying for the two centre back slots have played well and paired extremely well with each other. It will however come as no surprise to anyone when I select David Luiz and John Terry. In no way do I think Gary Cahill has not been great, he has far exceeded my expectation of a defender coming from Bolton, he has defended solidly and attacked with real intent but unfortunately finds himself at a club who have two brilliant centre backs. David Luiz is a star who is improving game by game, his defensive frailties seem to have been phased out, his contribution to the team going forward has never been in doubt and when partnered with John Terry they both seem at ease with each other, it would also be extremely difficult to leave Terry out on the basis that he is the club captain and the leader of the team. Their performance against Benfica and a dangerous Oscar Cardozo was magnificent.
The left back position is interesting, Ashley Cole is evidently not the same player he was a few years ago like many of the ‘Old Guard’ and Ryan Bertrand has shown that he is a very capable defender and looks perfectly poised to replace Ashley Cole. The veteran still gets the nod for me though, he has lost the pace which made him unbeatable at times but his positioning within the box is never in doubt. Always one for a goal line clearance or last minute interception Ashley Cole is what Americans would call a ‘Playmaker’ – this is not a playmaker in a footballing sense who can orchestrate attacks, but he is a player that is involved in key events. It won’t be long though before Bertrand is knocking on Cole’s door.
The position will likely raise more eyebrows than any other. The two man pivot role in midfield is an area of the field in which competition for places is fierce. Raul Meireles, Frank Lampard, Oriol Romeu, John Obi Mikel and Michael Essien all lay claim to one of the two vacancies. My selections are Oriol Romeu and Michael Essien, here is why; Romeu is a bright prospect but he’s already shown maturity beyond his age when he plays, comfortable on the ball and the ability to pick out a pass are characteristics you’d expect to find from a player that graduated from La Masia. Many have argued that Mikel is very similar in style and better but I think Romeu is a more naturally talented footballer and has more to offer. Now to explain the choice of a player who is probably the furthest away from his prime than the rest of the older players. Michael Essien is definitely not the powerhouse he was prior to his injuries, he was then in my opinion the most destructive midfielder on the planet and although he can’t perform to those levels, his explosive bursts from midfield and power are sorely missed whenever he isn’t on the field. It is not rocket science to see why the majority of managers in the past have heaped praise on the man known as “The Bison”. Against Napoli and Tottenham he was instrumental in breaking up opposition play and starting counter attacks.
The No.10 role, the player who floats just behind the striker irritating opposition defenders and midfielders with his movement and is able to create the chances when on the ball. Well it just so happens that this role is filled by our very own number 10, Juan Mata. Arguably the best player this season, he leads the premiership in key passes and that is exactly what you want from the most creative position in the team. A left foot as good as any and a bag of skills has seen Mata become one of the stars of this premiership season. Yes he can play on the left wing and would probably be the best left winger we have but it helps when you play your best player in his favoured position and that is exactly what I will do.
The wingers. Chelsea don’t have your typical winger. Well, apart from Florent Malouda whose biggest contribution came defensively against Napoli which saw his work rate and strength be put great use. With the rest of his season form being somewhere between disastrous and a pure shambles, Malouda is out of contention. Leaving Chelsea’s very own ‘roadrunner’ Ramires, Daniel Sturridge and Salomon Kalou. The nod surprisingly goes to Ramires and Salomon Kalou. Daniel Sturridge has had somewhat of a breakthrough last 12months since his loan spell at Bolton up until the recent christmas period but since then he has lost form and failed to register a goal or assist for the club. He also has the unfortunate record of being the most dispossessed player in the Chelsea team, couple that with his ever decreasing work rate and publicly visible poor attitude at times he finds himself on the bench. Kalou is statistically the best winger out the bunch having the highest goals and assists per game ratio out the four and can claim to not having featured in a losing side this season. He also showed against Benfica that he is willing to track back and help the defence, something which he is no doubt added to his game over the years and Daniel Sturridge would do well to learn the same lesson. Ramires may not be the most technically gifted player but he uses that to his advantage, I think the opposition realise that he is not your average Brazilian but his speed and lightning acceleration never fail to surprise defenders who are left chasing shadows as he sprints past them. Like Kalou he is always willing to help out with the defensive duties and is a reason as to why he gets his name on my starting eleven.
Finally, we’ve reached the last position in the team and it is the lone striker. There have definitely been times during the season where I would have nominated myself to play there but sadly I’m not on the books at Chelsea and that leaves me to decide between Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres. A player who shows up seemingly when he wants and the other a goal shy striker that cost a mere £50million. I could easily have flipped a coin and let that decide for me but I took a few factors into consideration and opted to go for Fernando Torres. The romantic in me remembers a striker that would cause defenders to have nightmares before they went toe to toe with him but it is his work rate and the consistency of it that puts him in pole position. There is no denying Drogba was monumental against Napoli, but that performance has rarely surfaced this season. Yes, Torres has not been in sparkling form but he has been committed to helping the team from the first whistle to the last, he pressures defenders, making a nuisance of himself and has drawn the applause from the fans and rightly so. He has also in recent weeks found himself not only on the scoresheet, given that it was against a Championship side against Leicester, but he has turned provider on multiple occasions and his overall contribution to the team has exceeded that of Drogba.
Yes I do realise I have left Frank Lampard out. It is not because I have an issue with the old guard. The 4-2-3-1 system means that Lampard’s best position would be in behind the striker, which happens to be the role Mata is exceedingly good at, whilst I’ve opted for more natural holding midfielders in the two man pivot, players that are strong enough to contest a midfield battle and keep the shape of the team, his exclusion was the hardest decision and probably why I’m not a football manager.
So there you have it, Chelsea’s best XI according to me: Cech; Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry, Cole; Romeu, Essien; Ramires, Mata, Kalou; Torres. I don’t expect you to agree with it. It is only my opinion but it is an interesting thought that we are nearing April and there is no definitive best XI in the Chelsea team and I don’t think the manager knows it either. Please leave your thoughts and your selections.