Although this pains me to say, I have to admire what Sir Alex is doing in Manchester this year. The youth movement, for better or worse, is a shift that must be made by a big club every 5-7 years. Or, if you are Arsenal, every 2 years. Over the last few seasons Chelsea has tried to fight this philosophy with a Botox strategy – buying a few younger players to make the club look young on the surface but deep down the wrinkles are there, trust me. Not only has Sir Alex committed to moving towards a younger squad, he is actually playing them, and I am not just talking about the Carling Cup fixtures. Sure his hand was forced a few times due to injuries, but more often then not we have seen a young upstart in the starting 11 for United in a key fixture with a healthy Giggs or a Nani on the bench. Such strategy is the proper way to groom your younger talent. Conversely, I cannot remember a big game in the last three years where Chelsea gave a start to a younger player. Don’t get me wrong, in their older age, the likes of Drogba, Anelka, and Terry are still pacey and powerful, but father time will win, and when he does I am not convinced that Chelsea will be ready for it.
The number one contributing factor in a team’s success in the premier league is the health of their stars. In this department Chelsea has been more than lucky. Sure Essien has had his issues – so has Peter Cech, Ricky C (of Madrid fame) among others, but in last year’s campaign Chelsea remained relatively healthy in key positions. Lampard’s Ripken-like run has been remarkable. John Terry and Didier Drogba’s have also maintained their healthy form throughout the grueling league and cup campaigns, whereas their northern competitors have had no such luck. Last year United was forced put an ailing team on Rooney’s saddle, that is anyone that was left to play. Liverpool also played long stretches without Number 9 and several key defensive players, Skirtel and Agger among them. This left Jaime Carragher to unsuccessfully defend the kop, poor Pepe. Then there is the Arsenal, who consistently prove that they are just too fragile for this league, nothing more to it than that. Call me a pessimist, but I am afraid to say that Chelsea’s luck in the injury department is surely to run out this year. As a result, this will force Chelsea to play unproven quantities, which brings me to my next point.