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Paul Lagan, London24’s Chelsea blogger
Monday, July 30, 2012
You might have noticed, there appears to be some sort of sporting festival going on just now.
The whole of London seems to have been transformed into a purple haze.
The Olympics has given most of us footy fans something to focus on since the Euros ended so you might be forgiven for not noticing that Chelsea are back on the pitch.
Thankfully the Games might also have masked a miserable pre-season tour for the Blues out in the USA.
Two defeats, a draw and a single win against the mighty Seattle Sounders is what Chelsea will return to London with under their arms this week.
Roberto Di Matteo has got a big task to transform the European Champions into league title contenders and he has just two weeks to get the boys ready.
No doubt Robbie will have recorded Team GB, Spain and Brazil’s opening group football matches in the Olympics.
After all there was Ryan Bertrand, Daniel Sturridge, Juan Mata, Oriol Romeu and new boy Oscar to keep tabs on.
He might even have half an eye on Hulk, a potential signing who might just be the foil Fernando Torres needs to ignite his Chelsea career.
If he has had time to watch the first two games, he will be most impressed by Brazil’s No.10 and playermaker Oscar.
The £25m man from Internacional is a star among stars as Brazil coasted to two opening victories. Oscar scored the third in their 3-1 win over Belarus yesterday.
The midfielder played the full 90 minutes in both his games with Hulk impressing on occasions too.
Oscar, 21 in September, will be one vying for the coveted playmaker role in Chelsea’s midfield this season - but will have to be right on top of his game if he is to oust Spain’s Mata.
Sadly for the former Valencia man, Spain won’t be adding the Olympic title to their world and Euro ones as they were eliminated at the first hurdle. Yesterday’s 1-0 defeat to Honduras means Mata plus international and club colleague Romeu will be back to pre-season with the Blues ahead of Saturday’s match at Brighton.
While neither will be expected to play against Gus Poyet’s side, Di Mattteo can take comfort in Mata’s exceptional form. The same cannot be said of Romeu who got just 30 minutes game time.
Bertrand played in the 1-1 opener against Senegal but was dropped for the game against UAE.
The surprise inclusion to the Blues’ Champions League starting line-up is earmarked to be Ashley Cole’s eventual replacement at left-back.
And with Cole, now 32, in the last year of his contract with Chelsea, if Bertrand continues to impress, it might mean the England left back won’t be offered a new deal and Bertrand is handed the spot.
Sturridge was touch and go to even start the Olympics with Great Britain. Viral meningitis was diagnosed ahead of the Games, but the striker recovered in time to start the first match against Senegal.
However, the hit-man had a miserable match and was replaced at half-time.
It looked as if his Olympics was over when he was overlooked by boss Stuart Pearce to start yesterday’s second game against UAE.
But he entered the fray at the interval and scored a sublime goal to clinch a 3-1 victory that gives GB an excellent chance to reach the quarter-finals.
Sturridge played as the central striker role he craves for at club level but which is constantly denied him.
He has shown he can play in that position, but it’s highly unlikely that Di Matteo will offer him much encouragement. Will Sturridge hang around SW6 with Torres the main striker, where Eden Hazard could relegate him to the subs’ bench?
Only time will tell on that score, but if GB are triumphant in the Olympics, it will mean Sturridge has also been successful. That will be a dilemma for Di Matteo to deal with.
Romeu’s 30 minutes for Spain was largely anonymous and I expect him to be equally anonymous this season for Chelsea.
He was Andres Villas-Boas’s golden boy, but when the Portuguese was sacked in March, Romeu’s season was effectively over. I can’t see him featuring much in blue this season.
After Saturday’s match on the south coast, Chelsea have just one more game before the big Premier League kick-off - in the Community Shield against Manchester City.
A miserable set of pre-season performances stateside might just be mitigated by the excellent Olympic performances of Oscar and Sturridge.
But will either be automatic choices for Di Matteo?
Quite how he will shoehorn Mata, Oscar, Hazard and even Marko Marin in a midfield that still has the likes of Frank Lampard, Obi Mikel, Raul Merieles and Ramires is anybodies guess.
Di Matteo was eventually offered the Chelsea job after the Blues’ hierarchy failed to persuade Pep Guardiola to come out of a self-imposed one-year sabbatical.
If Di Matteo does not hit the ground running in terms of positive league results, he might find himself as one of Chelsea’s shortest-serving full-time managers.
But one or more of his players might well be an Olympic champion.