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Jun 25, 2014

Blues struggling to shine in Brazil

Gary Cahill will have plenty of rest ahead of the new season.

By every possible metric available, it has been universally agreed that this World Cup is -- at the time of writing -- the best in living memory. The sheer weight of goals, the widespread adoption of attacking football and a decent sprinkling of upsets have all contributed to a compelling tournament where even respective minnows South Korea and Algeria served up a game that will be remembered long after we have all departed this earth.

At the moment, in the club vs. country debate, country appears to be winning, though that does not mean that parochial interests have to take a back seat. Indeed, the world stage is an excellent platform upon which to observe the players from your particular team in a different light.

Like many of the top European clubs, Chelsea have a plethora of players strutting their stuff in Brazil with their supporters all hoping to see them shine and the club itself merely praying for a clean bill of health after the tournament is over. Up to this point, the medical department at Cobham have had nothing to concern them, yet those who were expecting Chelsea's representatives to claim the spotlight have had little to shout about thus far, either.

With Frank Lampard's time at Stamford Bridge now at an end, it appears that the sun has now set on his international career and (as it's England we're talking about) it predictably ended with a sigh rather than a bang. That Lampard was England's best player in their swansong 0-0 draw against Costa Rica is counterbalanced by the defunct nature of the fixture with the contrasting futures of both teams already known.

Elsewhere, throughout the tournament, Blues defender Gary Cahill formed part of the much-maligned defence that ultimately led to England's exit though he could do little about any of the goals. He might have been in close proximity to Mario Balotelli when the Italian planted his winning header, but it was the pinpoint cross from Antonio Candreva that made the difference. As for the Uruguay debacle, perhaps he could have dropped deeper to pick up Luis Suarez, but Phil Jagielka's poor decision-making was the catalyst, so it's hard to attribute blame there.

Although England might have disappointed, Spain have been exposed as the biggest chokers which is a little concerning considering some of their players look set to be turning out in West London next season. New signing Cesc Fabregas did not start any of the three games, while potential arrival Diego Costa looked like a fish out of water. Palpably unfit, Spain did not help their striker by playing long passes into the channels and then expecting him to do the rest by himself.

Atletico Madrid press aggressively as a group meaning that Costa will often find himself with options having wrestled the ball from the opposing defenders. Spain did not play to his strengths and floundered as a result. Perhaps they should have played Fernando Torres, seeing as he started their meaningless 3-0 win against Australia and duly scored, though the fact that such an out of form player was even selected for their squad in the first place should have set alarm bells ringing before they even arrived in Brazil . At the other end, Cesar Azpilicueta might not have been personally culpable but he  was still part of a defence that conceded five goals against the Dutch and a further two against Chile.

There are even question marks about Chelsea's Belgian contingent, despite the fact that their team has won both games and has qualified for the second round. Prior to the tournament, there was much talk about Hazard having failed to reproduce his mesmeric club form on the international stage and, having watched Belgium's first two games, it is easy to see why. While the squad is filled with gifted players, the tactic appears to be that once Hazard has possession he no longer needs the assistance of his teammates; the result being that he is left consistently isolated and outnumbered. There have been glimpses of his genius -- as seen in his assists for the winning goals against Algeria and Russia -- though far too few for anyone's liking. Another factor is the slow tempo employed by Belgium and it is no surprise that those two assists arrived when the pace quickened.

Elsewhere in their team, Romelu Lukaku has flattered to deceive. The striker has exhibited little movement and poor body language as he ambled through both Belgium's opening fixtures before being substituted for the much livelier Divock Origi. Lukaku might point to an injury picked up in the build up to the tournament as mitigation, but Jose Mourinho is not likely to have been too impressed by his performances. The Portuguese, however, will have been encouraged by the returning Thibaut Courtois who has looked steady if unspectacular in both matches.

In a similar vein to Belgium, Brazil have spluttered rather than cruised into the knockout stages with both Ramires and Willian used sparingly. Oscar shone in the opening day win over Croatia, netting the final goal, but has only flickered since then.

Away from the established stars, the World Cup has also allowed Chelsea supporters to run the rule over two of their loanees. Kenneth Omeruo has not looked out of place at international level for Nigeria and will have pleased his club manager; as will Christian Atsu whose pace and trickery have caught the eye for Ghana. If he can add a decent final ball to his repertoire then Chelsea could have yet more competition in attacking areas of the squad.

All in all, Chelsea's presence in Brazil has not yet been an especially productive one, though there is a silver lining. For starters, it is not inconceivable that some of those currently starring in South America could end up in West London. The Blues are looking for strikers and Colombian Jackson Martinez's name has often been linked with the club of late. His goalscoring exploits will certainly have been noted by Mourinho, as will those of his teammate James Rodriguez.

But more importantly, the relative failures of those at the World Cup could actually have a positive effect on Chelsea's forthcoming season. The campaign following a major summer international tournament is often blighted at the start for the top clubs due to the fatigue of those that competed deep into the latter stages. While that issue might affect Hazard, Courtois, Ramires, Oscar and Andre Schurrle amongst others, there will be no such problem for the rest. Azpilicueta, Fabregas, Costa, Torres and Cahill will now be able to get a decent preseason under their belt along with the likes of John Terry, Nemanja Matic and Branislav Ivanovic and those others that did not take part in the World Cup.

Those returning early from Brazil might have be hugely disappointed at this moment in time, though their sadness will be assuaged should it give them the stamina to win major silverware for Chelsea next season.

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