Cleaning House: Three Players Chelsea Should Consider Parting Ways With This Summer
by 20 March 2016, 10:35 AM
Chelsea have been terrible by their standards, and clearly need to do some serious roster adjustments. But whom should they let go?
The 2015-16 Premier League season is just two months from its conclusion, and the title race has captured everyone’s attention. Leicester City’s miracle run grows more inspiring by the week, and their victory over Crystal Palace on Saturday has them eight points clear of second-place Tottenham Hotspur, pending the result of Tottenham’s Sunday matchup with Bournemouth. Right now, the title is surely Leicester’s to lose.
However, despite all the drama and excitement surrounding this season’s trophy hunt, something is missing. Or rather, some team is missing. That team is Chelsea. Under manager José Mourinho last season, The Blues coasted to an eight-point title win with a record of 26-9-3 (W-D-L), dominating their Premier League opposition practically wire-to-wire. After such a convincing season-long display, an organizational collapse was the last thing anyone expected.
Yet, as the 2015-16 season got underway, Chelsea were just plain dreadful. They went 1-1-3 in their first five matches, and their tailspin continued throughout the first half of the campaign. When the London club finally fired Mourinho on the 17th of December, they sat 16th in the table with a record of 4-3-9. At the time, Chelsea’s performance was being widely described as one of the worst title-defenses in league history.
Temporary manager Guus Hiddink has righted the ship relatively well in the few months since, as Chelsea now are 10-11-9 and have moved all the way up to 10th place (pending Sunday’s games). However, going from title-winners to 10th place is never a good thing. This season undoubtedly will still be viewed as a failure within the club and the fan-base. As such, Chelsea management will be looking to shake up the club’s roster this summer in an effort to rediscover their winning ways.
So, who should Chelsea let go? Looking at player performance this season, as well as age and potential transfer value, the three players Chelsea should consider parting ways with are Radamel Falcao, Branislav Ivanović, and Eden Hazard.
Radamel Falcao, Striker
Radamel Falcao’s loan spell at Chelsea has been unfruitful / Scott Heppell — AP
Once considered one of the best strikers in Europe, Radamel Falcao has been in terrible form since coming to England. Fresh off of a failed loan stint at Manchester United last season in which he tallied a sub-par total of four goals in 26 EPL appearances, there was still some optimism when he made the switch to Chelsea before this campaign. Chelsea needed a reliable backup for their main striker Diego Costa and Falcao needed a chance to redeem himself.
Unfortunately for both parties, Falcao’s Chelsea career has been as bad as his United one was, if not even worse. Not only has he netted just one goal in nine Premier League appearances for The Blues, he is also not getting himself good looks on goal. The “xG” statistic is an advanced metric that assesses the quality of a team’s or player’s shots, and produces a numerical representation of how many goals they should have scored (here is a great New York Times piece on the ins and outs of xG). According to this model, Falcao has registered a cumulative xG of 1.406 in the Premier League this season. Basically, this means that he is not simply unlucky; the one goal he has scored is about all that he deserves statistically.
This lack of production, combined with the significant time he has missed due to a serious knee injury, makes Falcao an obvious candidate for a Chelsea exit. Since the 30-year-old is at Stamford Bridge on loan, all that Abramovich and Co. have to do is pass on their option to re-sign him, permanently or otherwise. Plus, with French striker Loïc Remy already on the club’s wage bill, Falcao’s departure would not leave Chelsea entirely shorthanded. While this season-long experiment was worth a try, Falcao is basically dead weight at Chelsea and should not be back with the team next season.
Branislav Ivanović, Right-Back
At 32, Branislav Ivanović is decidedly past his prime / Getty Images
Just as Chelsea’s mediocre 2015-16 season has been shocking to say the least, so has the play of the club’s right-back Branislav Ivanović. Despite being a defender by trade, much of the Serbian’s value to his team comes through his frequent overlapping runs into the attacking third. For instance, during his club’s Premier League title-winning 2014-15 season, Ivanović assisted five goals and delivered an outstanding 109 crosses, second only to attacking midfielder Cesc Fabregas’ 115 on the Chelsea roster. No other Chelsea defender tallied more than 42 crosses in the league that season.
Fast-forward to this season, and Ivanović’s statistics reflect a noticeable decline in offensive productivity. In 25 league appearances (all starts), the 32-year-old has only contributed two assists and 61 crosses. Now, this reduction would be more excusable if Ivanović had been effective on the defensive end this season. However, this has not been the case. For the first half of the season in particular, Ivanović’s form mirrored that of his club: sluggish, lacking sharpness, and just plain sloppy at times. By the end of December, the Chelsea defense had given up 29 goals; in 2014-15, the club only allowed 32 goals the whole season.
While he has performed better since Christmas, Ivanović’s overall lackluster play should serve as a signal to Chelsea management that a change ought to be made. As the club’s vice-captain, his locker room influence and leadership is worth taking into account, but it simply does not make up for the fact that he has looked to be a step behind on both ends of the field this season. He is only going to get older and slower from here on out, and Chelsea would be better off investing in the development of their two young outside-back prospects, Abdul “Baba” Rahman (21) and Wallace (21).
Eden Hazard, Winger
Eden Hazard has struggled to replicate his past award-winning form this season / skysports.com
Of these three players, Eden Hazard’s exit would be by far the most controversial. After his 14 goal, nine assist, PFA Players’ Player Of The Year award-winning efforts back in 2014-15, the expectation was that he would solidify his place among the top handful of attackers in the world this season. Instead, in 26 league appearances (21 of them starts) the 25-year-old has put up a stunningly bad stat line of three assists and zero goals. No, that last part is not a typo. Somehow, Hazard has still yet to score in the Premier League this season.
As bad as this all sounds for the Belgian winger, there is a distinct possibility that this is just a one-season speedbump for his career. Chelsea have drastically underperformed as a team, so naturally this trend will extend to the club’s star forward as well. In addition, Chelsea’s ex-manager Mourinho was rather direct and open in his criticism of Hazard during the first half of the season. This lack of support from his manager could very well have contributed to Hazard’s difficulties finding the back of the net thus far. He also may just need a change of scenery to get back into top form, similar to how Mexican striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez’s August switch from Manchester United to Bayer Leverkusen sparked a terrific turnaround in his career.
This all being said, Chelsea still have a tough decision to make regarding Hazard. It is quite possible that, come next August, he will pick right back up where he left off in the 2014-15 season, and once again be considered one of the top attacking talents in the game. However, this rejuvenation may never occur if he stays at Chelsea, given their need to rebuild and managerial uncertainty. Hazard’s brilliance is still relatively fresh in the professional soccer consciousness, so it is likely that clubs such as Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain would be willing to pay serious money to acquire him. While it would certainly be a gamble, selling Hazard this summer to help finance a major roster-retooling may be just what Chelsea need in order to effectively re-organize and re-focus as a club.
[Statistics courtesy of foxsports.com, and xG data courtesy of public.tableau.com / Opta / @footballfactman]
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