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Plenty to think about for Blues

Our Nick Hext looks at the decisions Chelsea have to consider after the 2-0 defeat at Manchester City.

Last Updated: 25/02/13 at 09:10 Post Comment

It wasn't Benitez's day as he lost his clash with Mancini.

It wasn't Benitez's day as he lost his clash with Mancini.

It doesn't get any easier for Rafael Benitez.

Chelsea fans will never accept the man given the title of interim manager - a job that by name alone shows a lack of long-term support - and it would be one of football's biggest surprises if his position was made permanent.

The chants in support of Roberto Di Matteo once again arrived in the 16th minute of Sunday's 2-0 defeat at Manchester City but Chelsea fans need to look to the future and stop wallowing in the unjust departure of the popular Italian.

It was clearly the wrong decision from Roman Abramovich to remove Di Matteo - although I'm sure there wouldn't be a change in Chelsea's league position if he had stayed in place - as it got the supporters' backs up unnecessarily and provided unneeded instability to a club that has changed manager far too often.

The Blues still face a big battle to finish third this season - Tottenham go above them if they can beat West Ham tonight - but it's the best they can hope for and offers the added carrot of automatic qualification for the Champions League group stage.

The really big (and most important) question at Stamford Bridge is just who should be the new boss with a much-needed long-term mandate?

Pep Guardiola has already agreed to take the top job at Bayern Munich, Manuel Pellegrini has been heavily linked with everyone (most recently Manchester City) and would David Moyes or Jurgen Klopp really be willing to swap the security of life at Everton and Borussia Dortmund respectively for the travails on offer in West London.

All Chelsea fans remember Jose Mourinho fondly but would a return really be the best move for all concerned after his previous tenure ended so suddenly.

Could we see an old stager take the post? Abramovich will surely have been keeping a close eye on Fabio Capello's time in charge of Russia and we all know about the high regard Anzhi Makhachkala chief Guus Hiddink is held in at the club.

That shows you just some of the options and Michael Laudrup, Gus Poyet and Gianfranco Zola have also had their backers .

Whoever the new man is there will be a number of key decisions that need making for the short and long-term prosperity of the club.

One of them will be between the posts with a real battle set to start to be the first-choice goalkeeper.

Petr Cech continues to prove why he is one of the best around but the consistent performances from Thibaut Courtois during his two-season loan spell at Atletico Madrid may well be too good to ignore.

City manager Roberto Mancini faced a similar dilemma when he went with Joe Hart ahead of the - at that time - still top-class Shay Given in in 2010 and it should be time for Chelsea to make a similar decision to give Courtois a real chance to establish himself.

The 20-year-old Belgian isn't the only returning loanee who could give a real boost to the Blues squad next season and for plenty more campaigns to come.

Romelu Lukaku, scorer of two more goals for West Brom in the weekend's 2-1 win over Sunderland, Lucas Piazon (Malaga), Wallace (Fluminese), Nathaniel Chalobah (Watford) and Josh McEachran (Middlesbrough) are all likely to get a chance in the next few years.

The exciting young players already in place at Stamford Bridge - including the likes of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Ramires and Victor Moses - offer further hope for the future and there's no reason to believe Chelsea can't mount serious title and Champions League challenges again.

Challenging consistently at the top will require the gradual changing of the guard to continue but not all of the established names should be jettisoned too quickly.

We have all head the question being asked as to whether Frank Lampard still has anything to offer the Blues?

And the answer is of course he does. It's an easy point to make but Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson's handling of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes proves just how goal-scoring midfielders can be kept as an asset despite the never ending march of age.

It's also easy to see John Terry and Ashley Cole remaining in place for a little while longer.

Don't expect all members of the Chelsea squad to remain in situ though.

Fernando Torres continues to be the £50million mistake that offers nothing to the squad and it must be the best thing for all concerned if he heads away from England to try and find some of his swagger from seasons past.

He'd certainly receive a warm welcome back at Atletico Madrid if needed to replace Falcao (who must be on Chelsea and City's radar) if the in-demand striker leaves Los Rojiblancos in the summer.

Demba Ba's standing wasn't enhanced by his display in the City defeat.

Ba does offer an added goal threat to the Blues but it would be a big surprise if the former Newcastle man is the star striker a title challenge can be built around.

Lukaku will offer a new physical presence in the Chelsea attack next season but more is required so don't be shock if the chequebook is swept open for a big-money swoop for Falcao or Edinson Cavani.

Chelsea should provide most of the headlines during the off-season and making the right call on the next manager will determine whether we see an end to the recent Manchester monopoly in the Premier League.

My views on City haven't changed since writing this article in the aftermath of December's Manchester derby defeat at the Etihad.

Kolo Toure proved just why he can't be trusted in defence as his mistake led to Ba winning a penalty on Sunday and that could have been the turning point if Joe Hart hadn't kept out Lampard's spot-kick.Matija Nastasic will develop into a real top-class operator but it remains clear an extra centre-half is needed - especially if we won't see a return to the team for Joleon Lescott.

Roberto Mancini's future will continue to make the headlines for the rest of the season - as it has since he arrived in England in 2009 - but City's owners have kept faith with him thus far and it's by no means certain they will change track just yet.

Besides, Mancini has only just started to be heard on the new Metrolink service to the Etihad and it would sound odd it was a former City manager saying "you are on the Droylsden line" next season.

That is unless Joe Royle, Brian Horton and Sven-Goran Eriksson could be persuaded to help out as part of an all-star announcing ensemble.

There certainly isn't any danger of Benitez getting to offer his voice as a long-term part of Chelsea's future - but don't bank on the end of Mancini just yet.


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