So, what chance Chelsea this year? Just more Masochism, right? Do we just want to be disappointed?


You can pretty much replace the name Chelsea in the title for any but a few clubs in the EPL, because investing heart and soul, as we true fans stupidly do, is a hiding to nothing. Let’s be honest, unless you supported Liverpool in the 70s and 80s or Man Utd in the 90s and now, whoever you supported was at best going to win a minor cup (e.g., the League Cup, Milk Cup, Carling Cup, whatever they call it) and at best was going to snag the FA Cup or get into Europe. The idea of winning the EPL (or the First Division as I still try to call it) wasn’t on the cards. Sure, if you supported Arsenal you might get a good couple of years, and even Blackburn have been known to win it, so it wasn’t unheard of.

And truly that is the problem. Winning the EPL isn’t impossible, it just isn’t bloody likely!

In fact most teams that are there have had glory days and won the thing. But the likelihood of winning it any particular year when your hopes are up and you’re invested heavily just isn’t going to pay off. Is this year going to be the same for Chelsea? For most of us, the 2009-2010 season (and almost every season) will lead to disappointment. Like gamblers we will be tempted by small wins, such as this week’s triumph.

We assume we can go on to bigger things. We will double-down like poker players, so that when the disappointment comes we will be even more emotionally invested. Is this just an English thing (as that’s where I was born even though I have lived here now almost as long)? There is a wonderful piece from Stephen Fry that talks about the English approach to expecting to lose, as opposed to the American approach of finding a way to win. During a lecture on America and England’s relative places in the World, Fry is talking about a visit by a courier to his house that day:

“Americans are constantly being surprised by their own country. We are constantly having our worst fears confirmed about ours. Literally this afternoon I was chatting to a courier who delivered some books to my house and we bantered back and forth about the coming cricket tours of the West Indies and the Australians.

‘There’s a chance Australia will lose, I suppose,’ said the courier. ‘After all they somehow did in 2003.’

‘Hang on,’ I said, nettled. ‘What do you mean Australia might lose? Don’t you mean England might win?’

‘England win? I don’t think we can go that far,’ he said. ‘England win!’ he left shaking his head and chuckling.

That’s Britain: we can’t win. We just have to hope the other guys lose.”

Tell me - is this just an English thing? Do you have to lose an Empire to experience this, or can any supporter of an EPL club anywhere in the world go through the stomach-churning rises and dips with their team, get excited prematurely, but know in their hearts of hearts they probably won’t win it all this year?

So with that positive approach in mind, what of Chelsea in 2009-2010?

Well, up to a few years ago (and a few millions from a nice Russian fellow), most Chelsea fans assumed we weren’t even going to feature. Our glory days were 1951, and the few cups in our history (ah, the European Cup Winners Cup victory of 1971 was held up as the beacon of respectability). I love the graph which shows the Chelsea way – always an also ran, but playing some sexy football while we’re at it, and of course based in the only real city in the country (London) that matters. And then, we go and win the bloody EPL, and win it again – first time in my lifetime I can promise you (I grew up supporting Butch Wilkins, if that helps you age me). So, are we on a roll, just delayed by a few good years for Man U, or have the likes of Man City and others stopped our free spending, winning ways? Here’s what I think are the secrets to this season:

Firstly, we retained all the key players: no loss of Lampard, Terry or Drogba, and at one time all of these seemed possible. They are the spine of the team.

Secondly, we hired a great manager – OK, no-one thinks Ancelotti is as good as Hiddink was (do you?), but he isn’t bad.

Thirdly, we are basically injury free. I still pine desperately for the return of Joe Cole, he was a mercurial talisman (huh?), and I’m hoping he comes back without the loss of pace so many seem to suffer. But other than Joe, who do we have to worry about? Even Ballack seems to be back to his old elbow-throwing ways in the Community Shield, so must have recovered from the broken toe.

Don’t you all love how pissed off Sir Alex was by that incident?

So, it seems that most are well and injury-free.

So what are the weaknesses?

Well, we don’t really have a lot of new blood to mix things up and keep the competition high. I watched Zhirkov train and then play in Seattle earlier this month, and he seems hungry, but $25M+, really? Not sure about Sturridge – anyone leaving Man City’s millions right now has to be suspicious don’t they? He definitely looked solid against Seattle, but this is the Sounders and the MLS, not Man U and the EPL.

And where’s the competition to keep a Mikel or a Carvalho on his game? Or even to keep Anelka focused on scoring as many goals this year? Is Sturridge our answer to the alternative striker question? I really worry that we drop off dramatically after the first 11, who pretty much select themselves. Not that we don’t have a deep squad to deal with injuries, we do – but we don’t have as much competition for shirts as I’d like. DI Santo is out on loan, as is Sinclair – is this wise?

So who are the challengers to Chelsea’s potential crown? The perennial other three of the big four? Of course Man Utd are there, but I can’t see Liverpool putting a run together again, and Arsenal haven’t bought anyone in years – what is Arsene up to? He seems to believe that he has what it takes already. What about the constant bridesmaids – Aston Villa and Everton? Villa probably have the best manager in the country, but are they ever going to invest to a level that gets them the championship? Why did they buy Downing this year? At best I see them shunting Arsenal or Liverpool out of Champions League football next year.

So will it be Man City? For the same reasons no-one wanted Chelsea to win on the back of the money, I probably share the opinions of many who would like to see Man City flare out spectacularly. They’ve been even more garish that Chelsea once were in their purchases, or attempts thereof.

I believe Spurs will make a big run this year and make it interesting. In fact, I think this year will be one of the most egalitarian for many years, with maybe 10 clubs fighting for the top four spots. But top place? Boy, it sure looks like Chelsea have a good chance this year, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, some combination of masochism and fatalism means that we’ll likely blow it when it counts and let Man U win it again. Hey, at least we won the Community Shield, right?

So follow the ups and downs of Chelsea with {encode="David.Hamilton@live.com" title="me "}this season. There will be highs, and I commit to stomach-churning lows. Every now and again I’ll likely discuss my other team – Barnet. They are in League 2 for those of you that don’t look that far down the sports page. I spent much of my childhood Saturday’s watching them snatch defeat from the jaws of victory while listening on my handheld radio for Chelsea updates. Barnet epitomize masochism, and that’s why I love them. Of course, the Football League season has already begun (that’s the name for all the leagues below the EPL, and they start a week prior). Barnet, you ask? Yes, they lost 1-0 to the dreaded Lincoln.