Tag Archives: luiz

West London’s new look: Transfer activity from Chelsea and Fulham

The transfer window closed just more than a week ago, and we are starting to see the effects of the big buys. Chelsea were the big spenders of this month’s transfer window in spending £75 million (including bonuses) on two players. Operating on a substantially smaller budget, Fulham brought in three players who will have an impact on the club’s top half aspirations for the second half of the season.

First, at Chelsea and the name on every broadsheet and tabloid back page a week ago was Fernando Torres. Chelsea broke the British transfer record and splashed £50 million on the Spanish striker who’s been out of form since a knee injury suffered last April. Good bit of business for Liverpool, who’ve likely gotten £15 million or so more than the player is worth.

“It’s a lot of money, but potentially worth it,” said The Times football correspondent, Matt Hughes. “I think long-term, he’s a replacement for [Didier] Drogba.” The problem with him being the heir to Drogba is what to do with both of them in the present. Chelsea have reverted to manager Carlo Ancelotti’s diamond midfield rather than the tried and tested 4-3-3 formation installed by Jose Mourinho. In Torres’ debut, Ancelotti’s diamond left the flanks empty, and the central of the park cluttered. To sum up, it was ineffective. Where Chelsea finds space for their new golden boy will be a difficult task for Ancelotti.

The second big name signing that arrived at Stamford Bridge this week was Brazilian David Luiz. Big name might not be the right phrasing, but you get my point. Luiz’s signing is as important to Chelsea as Torres’ is exciting. Chelsea have sorely missed Ricardo Carvalho, who was sold to Real Madrid in the summer, and that has been exacerbated by injuries to John Terry and Alex.

“I think it’s a good signing,” Hughes said. “Maybe slightly overpriced because it’s Chelsea.”

Luiz looks a like for like replacement for Carvalho, except perhaps slightly better in every department. In his 20-minute debut, Luiz looked composed, sharp, quick, intelligent and capable of carrying the ball forward. And at 23, could be the anchor of Chelsea’s defense for the next decade or more.

Of the players out the door at Chelsea, one of the most watched will be Gael Kakuta as he spends the remainder of the season on loan at Fulham. “He’s skillful and tricky and creative, which is one thing Fulham lack,” Hughes said. Kakuta is the 19-year-old French star at the center of FIFA’s investigation and ban (which was later overturned) of Chelsea’s transfer market activity after his former club, Lens, claimed Chelsea unsettled the player in order to secure his services. In other words, Kakuta is one of the brightest young talents in world football.

Fulham also added former Reading, Chelsea, and Aston Villa midfielder Steve Sidwell for a bargain £500,000. Sidwell anchored Fulham’s midfield against Villa on the weekend, breaking up opposing play and creating a fair few impressive passes and shots of his own. A player who was tipped to do little more than offer competition for Fulham’s present central midfielders Dickson Etuhu and Jonathan Greening, Sidwell looks set to displace both as a regular starter if he can continue his run of form.

Fulham also added former Chelsea, Barcelona, and Tottenham forward Eidur Gudjohnsen on loan from Stoke for the remainder of the season. Gudjohnsen isn’t likely to be more than a supporting player for Fulham, but his addition means a side that has looked relative toothless since the injury to Bobby Zamora in September, now has a wealth of options in attack. Gudjohnsen joins Moussa Dembele and Andy Johnson, both returning from injury, and Zamora, who should return to action by the end of February, as out-and-out striking options. Further, the addition of Kakuta means Fulham have another versatile goal scoring threat from midfield in addition to, Fulham’s most valuable player this season, Clint Dempsey.

Six weeks ago, Fulham were in a relegation fight. Since then, they’ve climbed to 12th in the Premier League. With these additions, Fulham should climb into the top half by season’s end. And European places, although a long shot, aren’t out of the question.

As for Chelsea, their weekend loss to Liverpool likely signaled the end of their title pursuit. However, the remainder of the year should be used to sort out how to effectively use Drogba and Torres simultaneously so long as they aren’t in danger of falling out of the Champions League places. Given the talent of that side, and Ancelotti’s prowess, that should be a no-brainer. But this season has gone anything but to plan for Chelsea.

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What’s wrong in West London

Although the Premier League table may say otherwise, there are no two clubs in the division playing worse football than Fulham and Chelsea.

Chelsea ended October as league leaders and were six points clear of their closest challengers. In that impressive first third of the season, Chelsea won eight, drew once and lost once, scoring 27 goals and conceding 3. Since the start of November, they’ve won just one of eight, drawing three times and losing four more, only managing 5 goals and conceding 12.

Fulham have not suffered the fate of two seasons. Theirs has been a rather monotonous, succession of mediocrity. In 18 games, the Cottagers have won just twice. Both wins came against fellow relegation-battlers Wigan and Wolverhampton. In that span of time, Fulham have averaged less than a goal a game.

So what’s in the Evian in West London?

For Chelsea, it’s a club undertaking massive personnel changes while attempting to defend a league title. The losses of Ricardo Carvalho, Michael Ballack, Joe Cole, Deco, and Juliano Belletti were only softened by the purchases of Yossi Benayoun and Ramiers, and the addition of academy players Josh McEachran, Gael Kakuta, Patrick van Aanholt, and Jreffrey Bruma.

Benayoun only featured in three matches before a torn Achilles ruled him out until the end of March, and Ramiers has looked astonishingly poor since his £18 million switch from Benfica.

Meanwhile the youth movement has had mixed results. Kakuta has shown glimpses of what scouts saw in the French prodigy, but he’s looked immature and out of place more often than not, while Bruma has only been used in defensive emergencies and his performances did little to inspire confidence.

McEachran has been the bright spot of the lot, but at 17, he can’t be relied upon to pick up all of the slack of players like Cole and Ballack. van Aanholt has also looked like a player ready to step into the side. Unfortunately for Chelsea, widely-heralded as the best left back in the world, Ashley Cole already occupies that position.

What Chelsea need is new faces. Players with the ability to change the game. It’s been nearly three years since Chelsea did anything close. Their addition of Nicolas Anelka in January 2008 was not seen unanimously as a game changer.

It’s nearly a certainty manager Carlo Ancelotti will add a central defender in January. The question is, how big of a gamble do they take? Gary Cahill of Bolton could step in and deputize respectfully for Alex, but at 25 and with only one cap for England, he may not be to Chelsea’s standard. Especially not at £15 million. Benfica’s David Luiz is the player with the most upside, but at £30 million and unfamiliar with the English game, it’s a pretty high-risk move. Roma’s Philippe Mexes offers a more tested option, and with only one year remaining on his contract, could prove to be the economical choice.

Past the defending, nothing is out of the question for Chelsea. They are in desperate need of creativity and goals. Some will argue the return of Frank Lampard is all the creativity and goal-scoring Chelsea need. Perhaps, but that won’t change the form of Anelka, Kakuta, Salomon Kalou, or Florent Malouda. Since Malouda has cooled off (zero goals, one assist in his past nine games), Chelsea have lacked any and all flair and trickery to complement the power of Didier Drogba. If they’re serious about retaining the Premier League title, Chelsea need to add a true game changer to flank Drogba.

For Fulham, the solution is pretty obvious, but the questions are rather confusing. The injuries to Bobby Zamora and Moussa Dembele have decimated Fulham’s attacking options. Recently-fit Andy Johnson and habitual Fulham reserve Eddie Johnson simply have not been able to stand in for Zamora and Dembele. The over-reliance on midfielders Zoltan Gera and Clint Dempsey has been glaringly obvious, scoring two goals or more on just on occasion since Zamora’s injury.

A proven striker is what Fulham need more than anything. However a central midfielder would be close behind. Danny Murphy looks to have lost a step from last season (which is saying a lot as he was nearly 33 a year ago) and Dickson Etuhu has been a near disaster this season. If there is any consolation for Fulham, it’s that its defense has been only worrying compared to the midfield and front line’s calamitous reputations. The return of Philippe Senderos from injury in February should allow more flexibility at the back to allow Aaron Hughes to cover for John Pantsil, Carlos Salcido, Stephen Kelly, or Chris Baird (whichever is playing most suspect at that time).

The solution at both clubs is the same (past spending money). Give the managers time.

Ancelotti is a proven winner, he picked up two Champions League trophies with Milan, one of which was at the beginning of their penny pinching days. If Chelsea is serious about building a perennial championship contending team (you know, like they had when Mourinho was in charge), they need to give Ancelotti time to build a squad in his image. Ancelotti should be given until this time next season.

Hughes should also be given time over at Fulham. However, the circumstances are more dire, meaning Hughes won’t have the luxury of another year of patience. Hughes will likely be given another week. If Hughes fails to produce three points from the next three matches (away to Stoke, away to Tottenham, and home to West Brom), he will likely be sent packing. What’s in Fulham’s best interest is to support whoever manages the club in January and allow him to improve an aging and mediocre squad with funds appropriate for this league (that would be more than £10 million, Mr. Al-Fayed).

The biggest difference between the two: If Chelsea fail to improve, they’ll have a furious Russian owner with questionable character. If Fulham fail to improve, they’ll be relegated. For both these West London clubs, it’s do or die.

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