There is little doubt that, given this summer’s expenditure, expectation levels at Chelsea extend to, at least, dining at Europe’s top table next season.
Big, fat cheques were written during the close season to the tune of over £30m, bringing in the likes of Frank Lampard, Emmanuel Petit, William Gallas and Boudewijn Zenden. The Chelsea hierarchy will be seeking a return on that investment in terms of returning to the Champions League, which they graced, with some style the season before last.
Chelsea’s difficulty in that season under Gianluca Vialli was, turning in a sumptuous performance on a Wednesday in stadia like the San Siro, then palpably failing to reproduce the deed at clubs like Sheffield Wednesday on a Saturday.
After the departure of Vialli, under new boss Claudio Ranieri, Chelsea stumbled into the last UEFA Cup spot following a troubled season where speculation of player unrest and communication problems were rife.
The communication problems centred on the fact that Ranieri was not an English speaker on arrival, and much fun was had when his initial none-too-qualified translator came out with his ‘game of two halves’ reply after some ten seconds of Ranieri-speak. A qualified linguist later accompanied the Italian on media duty.
Ranieri later developed a quirky habit — only addressing the waiting media when his team lost! Players, most of the time Gus Poyet, were assigned to attend press conferences when the team won or drew.
As the team won most of their late-season encounters, it was difficult to assess how Ranieri’s English was coming along. Word has it that he will soon be ‘at the end of the day-ing’ with the best of them.
Ranieri is now putting his stamp on team affairs at the Bridge. Out have gone long-servers like Gus, Frank Leboeuf and Dennis Wise, along with, somewhat surprisingly, young prospect Jon Harley. There is a younger feel to the side now, with the likes of Lampard, John Terry and Eider Gudjohnsen being given a chance in the team.
Of course, Gianfranco Zola is still pulling his magical strings in the hub of the side and Marcel Desailly is still the rock the team is built on.
But perhaps more crucially, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has not lost his nose for a goal. Any side with an almost guaranteed 20-odd goals a season man in the team has a fighting chance of silverware or a strong league placing — and Hasselbaink, for all his faults — rarely disappoints.
He may be aggressive, he may be sparky, but boy can this player score goals — from any range. You realise the depth of Holland’s striking options when it seems the best the former Leeds man can command is a place on the bench.
Chelsea have enjoyed a steady start to the season, drawing against Newcastle and Arsenal and recording a 2-0 win over Southampton. They do, however, seem to enjoy something of voodoo over Spurs in the last ten years or so, one which needs dispelling, and hopefully on Sunday.
If Ranieri is still keeping to his post-match ritual with the media, let’s hope we hear from the man himself at around 4pm at the Lane!