Questions to answer
After watching Chelsea struggle to a 0-0 draw with Queens Park Rangers, Matt Stanger wonders whether Roberto Di Matteo's squad is actually stronger than last season.
Last Updated: September 17, 2012 3:08pm
After cruising to the top of the table with three wins from their first three matches, Chelsea were given a stern examination by QPR at Loftus Road.
Choosing which match to view on a Saturday is never an easy task, with interesting threads running through each and every game. But with a tense atmosphere guaranteed after Anton Ferdinand refused to shake the hands of John Terry and Ashley Cole, this fixture between top and 19th looked capable of serving up a cracker.
Instead it turned out to be a dull, gritty affair with both teams lacking the quality to pick apart the other's defence. And although Mark Hughes will be satisfied with QPR's effort and determination, Roberto Di Matteo is left with several questions ahead of Chelsea's midweek Champions League tie against Juventus.
The form of Eden Hazard has thus far suggested that the Blues have strengthened well over the summer, but after they struggled to impose themselves at Loftus Road, one wonders whether the squad is in fact stronger than the group that achieved European glory last season.
In particular, Chelsea looked over-run in midfield, with Esteban Granero and Alejandro Faurlin both putting in impressive shifts for the R's. Frank Lampard was hassled and harried every time he received the ball and the midfielder's pass completion rate of 69% was some way below his usual calm distribution.
It's no wonder Lampard looked fatigued after the 34-year-old twice played 90 minutes for England in the past week, but despite dismissing fears over a lack of midfield options, Di Matteo deemed it necessary to stick with his vice-captain rather than throw in Oriol Romeu or Oscar.
"We have Oriol Romeu, who played some very important games last season, and Ramires, so we have enough cover," said the Chelsea manager after seeing both Michael Essien and Raul Meireles depart Stamford Bridge at the end of the transfer window. "The player (Meireles) has got a new contract somewhere else with a very good club, and the offer the club received was good. In agreement, they both decided it was probably the best way to go forward."
Di Matteo's comments highlight his lack of involvement in transfers and the manager would surely have preferred to retain two experienced heads to help in the team's title challenge and defence of their Champions League crown. Although Romeu and Oscar are both exciting prospects, at this stage in their careers they are a downgrade on the options the manager had in last season's run-in.
Another concern is the lack of back-up to Fernando Torres after Didier Drogba left for China and Romelu Lukaku was, perhaps regrettably, loaned to West Brom. Much has been said over Liverpool's failure to bring in another attacker on deadline day, but Torres' early goalscoring form has hidden the fact that Chelsea have only the Spaniard and Daniel Sturridge - who isn't a centre-forward - as striking options.
If Torres' confidence takes another dip - and there were reports that he stormed down the tunnel after being substituted against QPR - then the Blues, and Di Matteo, could suffer severely. Sturridge's late cameo failed to provide proof that Chelsea can make convincing changes in attack when it's necessary.
The Blues have made an encouraging start to the season but with the Champions League about to begin, their squad will be stretched to the seams. And Saturday's draw at QPR hinted where holes could eventually appear.
This article first appeared on Football365 here.