The papers today are suggesting that Frank Rijkaard might be interested in the Chelsea job in the not-entirely-unexpected event of it becoming available, and the press have turned on Avram Grant now after their Carling Cup final defeat to Tottingham. So what's up at Chelsea and do they really have problems and aren't they alright really and how come they're not top when they're INSANELY RICH?
I think they've got genuine problems. To put that in prespective, there's only so far they can fall - their squad is one of the five best in the league in terms of talent and their players are strong-minded and used to winning titles. If I was suddenly made manager tomorrow they'd still be too good for teams like Wigan and Derby and Birmingham and Fulham.
In American Football (and, to be honest, I've no idea whether to write this for a UK or US audience, so you're both going to have to bear with me for the bits you already know, apologies) in the 90s the Dallas Cowboys had an amazing team built by a Head Coach called Jimmy Johnson, but after back-to-back superbowls JJ and the owner (er...who also has the intiials JJ), fell out. Johnson was sacked and a new man called Barry Switzer was put in charge. Reputedly, several senior players had no respect for Switzer, and he certainly never renewed the team and would never coach again in the NFL. Yet his Cowboys went 12-4 twice and won a superbowl, simply because of the abundant talent on the roster (after which they fell to 10-6 and then 6-10). The simliarities with Avram Grant are striking. Grant's CV doesn't warrant the job he now holds - previous roles were at Maccabi Haifa and the Israeli national job - and he's been put in place partly thanks to his good relationship with the club's heirarchy.
Chelsea's previous manager, Jose Mourinho, instilled an extraordinary tactical discipline in the side (partly by consistently substituting players who ignored instructions), and while it wasn't pretty to watch, it did mean that they were superbly effective in shutting opponents down (as when they beat Barcelona in the Champions League, and in last year's FA Cup Final which they won on pens after refusing ever to send more than 3 men ahead of the ball). They very rarely lost after getting a lead, as Chelsea did on Sunday. Under Grant, a manager tasked with making them more attacking, this discipline is gradually ebbing away. It's evident in the fact that Belletti is playing regularly (when he simply cannot defend, and can't be trusted one-on-one with any half-decent winger), and it was evident in the Carling Cup final on Sunday when Drogba failed to track Woodgate properly when he headed the winner. Chelsea's midfield used to play a ferocious high-energy pressing game when opponents got near their box, but it's slipping now. Makelele's legs have gone, and though Mikel is far more talented (and very strong on the ball) he's indisciplined and makes bad decisions. Add Ballack's occasional misdemeanors to the nasty streaks of Terry and Essien and Chelsea have also got too much volatility in the side, meaning that they will have problems with suspensions. Besides that, Robben was one of the most explosive and effective attackers in the league and Malouda has not been an adequate replacement (he looks fairly lightweight, and while his movement is good he rarely beats his man with the ball). Terry is paying now for his macho insistence on playing with minor injuries by getting lots more injuries, Ashely Cole is a shadow of his old Arsenal self and Man Utd and Arsenal have both found consistent, effective, settled sides. Grant's early results were good, but against a soft schedule that included Hull City and Rosenborg and most of the bottom half of the Prem - in games against Man Utd and Arsenal they've been comfortably beaten (more so than the score indicates). Despite all this, individual talent like Drogba and Anelka and Lampard and Joe Cole will win them games, but if they're anywhere near the final reckoning for the Prem or the Champions League this season I will be very surprised.