By Noah TanFollow @@Noah_Tan
When Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003, he dreamed of building a fantasy team chock full of the world's most exciting players, playing the best football on the planet and capable of challenging for honours on a consistent basis.
While Abramovich's huge investments in Chelsea have managed to attract big name players to the club and helped transform them into perennial title challengers, their success thus far has been based on the pragmatic approach that former manager Jose Mourinho inculcated during his time in charge.
Mourinho's Chelsea side comprised of a team of direct albeit talented players who were taught that the means was subservient to the end. Defensive ethos was highly regarded and the focus on not conceding and on scoring became equal.
That is why the Portuguese manager favoured players like Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Michael Essien and Florent Malouda in his side; they were hardworking, physically imposing and energetic players who were not only efficient powering forward but were very aware of their defensive duties as well.
It was an effective style of play, but it could hardly be classified as 'exciting'.
Mourinho may have long since left Chelsea but this style of play has endured at Stamford Bridge.
Guus Hiddink, Carlo Ancelotti and Andre Villas-Boas, managers who had a reputation of sending their teams out to play attacking football, were selected by Abramovich to change the team's playing philosophy. One by one, they recognised the futility of their task with the players on hand and all, bar Villas-Boas (which got him the sack barely halfway into the season), soon reverted to the tried and tested.
It is somewhat surprising then that the reign of current Blues manager Roberto Di Matteo, who spent majority of his playing career destroying play rather than abetting it as a defensive midfielder, should be marked with the arrivals of three of the most exciting young footballing prospects.
The summer arrivals of Eden Hazard, Marko Marin and now Oscar will join Juan Mata and Fernando Torres in a decidedly different looking Chelsea squad. Power has been traded for pace, tactical discipline for creative freedom, defensive solidarity for unpredictable flair.
It would be imprudent to think that Di Matteo had personally earmarked these players as his transfer targets. Just like the ill-fated signing of legendary Ukrainian striker Andriy Shevchenko six seasons ago, Abramovich was once again obviously the main catalyst for these recent signings.
This leads to the pressing question: Will Di Matteo be able to get the best out of all these players and fit them into the same team?
In his short time in charge of the Blues thus far, Di Matteo's most notable achievement has been to capture the elusive Champions League trophy to add to the club's growing trophy cabinet.
It was an incredible achievement no doubt, but he did it the only way he knew the team could. Villas-Boas' Chelsea reign was fraught with uncharacteristic defensive lapses because the idealistic Portuguese tried to encourage an expansive free-flowing style of football; Di Matteo immediately righted that by tightening up the defensive aspect of team's game whilst sacrificing the attacking verve which they tried to find under Villas-Boas.
The Champions League final against Bayern Munich typified the style of play Di Matteo favoured. Chelsea produced a display of defensive grit, determination and spirit, abetted with a hint of luck.
He had Drogba to thank then but the Ivorian has already left the club for China, leaving Torres as the club's chief striker. John Obi Mikel, Lampard and Salomon Kalou were used to great effect to cramp the midfield and nullify Bayern's attacking threats.
Those players were willing workers who understood that the art of defence started from the front. It is however, hard to imagine the likes of Hazard, Marin and Oscar willing themselves to work as hard as those players or paying much heed to the defensive aspect of their game. Playing the same game as before will simply not work.
If however, Di Matteo can dispense with his naturally defensive mindset, the Italian will find he has more than enough attacking potential with said players to be able to play a slightly more risky yet no less satisfying game.
On paper, a 4-2-3-1 formation appears to be ideal for the Blues next season. In an ironic twist, this formation and playing style will be similar to that which Mourinho currently uses at Real Madrid.
At the Bernabeu, Mourinho sets his team out with a primarily defensive outlook in the midfield with two defensive midfielders (one of whom operates as a deep lying playmaker), while trusting the attack to the impressive line-up of Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, Angel Di Maria and Karim Benzema. The Los Blancos went on to wrest the La Liga title from Barcelona last season.
Di Matteo can, and should, take a leaf out of his predecessor's book in how to set his team up with the players he has.
Let us start from the 2 deep lying midfielders. Ramires, who with his box-to-box play was one of the brightest stars for Chelsea last season, will undoubtedly, be granted a starting berth. This leaves Michael Essien, John Obi Mikel and Lampard fighting it out for the remaining centre midfield spot.
Given the cult status Lampard has at Stamford Bridge, the former England international should be given the nod ahead of the Ghanian and Nigerian although it would be best if Lampard could remodel his game into that of a deep lying-playmaker, a la Xabi Alonso at Real Madrid. Of course, rotation will be the key to Di Matteo's plans of conquering the gruelling season ahead and both Mikel and Essien will be drafted into the squad at some point or other.
We now come to the three attacking midfield positions. Hazard, Marin, Mata, Meireles and now Oscar are the main contenders for the available berths and much like for Real Madrid all of them possess great attacking ability.
Hazard should start on the left of the attacking trio while Mata will be given a berth on the right, enabling both players to cut in from the flanks and cause havoc from a more centralised position, which will allow the attacking midfielder in the centre to get in the box and support the striker.
The attacking midfielder position in the centre is less clear cut however. Oscar is a technically gifted player with an eye for a pass and possesses a lethal shot from range but he may not yet be able to handle the physical approach teams like Stoke will employ. The same goes for Marin, though the German's quick feet and dribbling skills can help him evade challenges better than his Brazilian teammate. Meireles, while paling in technical ability and creativity as compared to Oscar and Marin, has the experience, strength and uncanny ability to arrive in the box to score.
Upfront, Torres should be an automatic starter, although Daniel Sturridge will be nipping at his heels for that coveted main striker position. Torres suffered under Chelsea's playing style previously but with the recruitment of players who are more mobile and prefer to play quick, short balls on the ground, it will not be long before he finds the scoring touch which made him such a threat at Liverpool.
It should be a decidedly different kind of Chelsea side which line up next season; a side which is exciting, fast and pleasing on the eye. If Di Matteo is able to blend the new signings together and use the right tactics for his players, Abramovic may finally be able to realise his dream of owning a team playing the best football in the world.