Chelsea come into this season as defending champions. Following a dominant campaign that saw The Blues lift both the Premier League and League Cup, Chelsea have been very quiet this summer. Despite the lack of transfer activity, it is clear that José Mourinho and his squad are gearing up for a title defence.
Story of Last Season
The Portugese manager’s troops dominated the league from day one. With Diego Costa pouring in the goals early on, the Stamford Bridge side got off to a hot start. Playing beautiful attacking football, Chelsea lost just one game in the Premier League before January. Following a shocking 5-3 defeat at Tottenham however, things began to change. The Blues played less stylish and attractive football, due in part to Cesc Fabregas’ starke decline. Complaints about Mourinho’s pragmatism nagged the Blues all season, as Chelsea increasingly seemed to look for one or two nil victories.
The Londoners first topped the table on August 30 and were in fact never knocked off their perch. They set the record for most days spent atop the table; standing at 274. While Manchester City managed to draw level on every category in early January, they never really made it a race. Chelsea ended up cruising to the title at a canter.
This has been a relatively quiet summer for Chelsea. A year ago, Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and Loic Rémy were all brought in to strengthen the squad for a title chase. This year has seen no major signings however. Chelsea have been connected to multiple big names, but seem to have passed on them all.
Asmir Begovic: Petr Cech’s departure means that Chelsea no longer have two of the best keepers in the world in their squad. Thibaut Courtois is the undisputed number one, but the hole that Cech leaves is still massive. Chelsea needed another backup keeper who could reliably step in during high pressure situations. They also needed a player with some experience. People often forget that Courtois is just 23 years old despite entering his fifth full season as a professional.
Begovic provides all of those. The five campaigns he spent at Stoke mean that he is acclimatised to the top flight in England. At 28 years of age, he will add to the already stable state of The Blues’ squad. Begovic is also no slouch of a keeper, meaning Chelsea can rest easy when he lines up between the posts.
Replacing Cech was always going to be difficult, and unless Mourinho could convince the likes of Gianluigi Buffon or Manuel Neuer to come and sit on the Stamford Bridge bench, the replacement was always going to be a downgrade. Nevertheless, given the options available and the fee paid for Begovic; £8 million, this deal is a good one for Chelsea.
Radamel Falcao: The Colombian striker was one of the five best players in the world, although admittedly this was a few years ago now. He scored 93 goals in 119 appearances for Porto and Atlético Madrid. Monaco bought him in 2013 for almost €60 million. He managed just half a season there, able to score 11 times in 20 appearances before being sidelined with a serious knee injury. Since then, El Tigre has simply not been the same.
He spent last season on loan at Manchester United, where he became nothing more than a party joke. Falcao returned to international football in this year’s Copa America, but failed to make an impression there.
This deal left many scratching their heads. Chelsea were clearly in the market for another backup striker. Didier Drogba’s second departure opened up room for a place within Mourinho’s plans. But why Falcao? Chelsea hardly need another injury prone and streaky forward. Diego Costa’s struggles with hamstring problems are prolific. Loic Remy often struggled to stay healthy last season too. If Falcao were injured on top of that, Mourinho would be left playing Oscar as a false nine again, hardly symptomatic of a title-winning outfit.
Some think this might be a Mourinho vanity project. He wants to do what Louis Van Gaal could not do and bring Falcao back into world beating form. Others propose that Mourinho is taking advantage of a low risk but high reward opportunity. If Falcao flops, he can send the Colombian on his way back to Monaco having lost very little. However, if Falcao rediscovers his sight of goal, then suddenly Chelsea possess two truly world class strikers.
In any case, Jose has a tough task ahead of him. Returning Falcao to health and top form will not be easy, but it would certainly pay off if successful.
Kenedy, Nathan and Danilo Pantic were brought in from Fluminense, Atletico PR and Partizan Belgrade respectively. Nathan and Pantic have already joined Vitesse Arnhem. Kenedy will most likely spend the season out on loan, but there is still currently an off-chance that he will end up staying in London to cover for Chelsea’s star names. Mourinho started him in last week’s friendly against Barcelona and the Brazilian impressed greatly. Technically this deal is not quite complete but given the friendly appearance, it is all but official.
Eden Hazard: Hazard’s form will make or break Chelsea’s season. The burden of the Stamford Bridge faithful’s hopes lie almost solely on the Belgian’s back.
Since joining Chelsea three campaigns ago, Hazard has gone from a promising talent to one of the world’s greatest talents. He has developed his game to a great extent, now creating and scoring equally well. He is physically and mentally stronger and as a result of Mourinho’s motivation, he actually tries to consider his defensive responsibility.
Hazard’s importance to Chelsea’s offensive potency cannot be understated. His long and twisting runs connect Diego Costa to Cesc Fabregas. The way that he is able to create on the run, and score or set up team-mates means that when Fabregas or Costa are off their game, Hazard can take the Blues’ fortunes onto his back.
Chelsea need him most in the cold days of winter and early spring, when injuries plague the line-up and leave The Blues barren. If he is unable to carry Chelsea through these bad times, then it is quite possible that the team as a whole will fail to reach their objectives.
Cesc Fabregas: While Hazard is the most important creator for Chelsea, Fabregas is the integral play-maker. There is a fine distinction between the two. Hazard sets up chances for both himself and other players while Fabregas on the other hand, sits back and pulls strings.
He and Nemanja Matic form the pivot in Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1 system; the base from which the offence builds. Fabregas sits back and launches passes around, over and between defenders. He racked up 13 assists in the first half of last year’s campaign alone from this position.
The second half of the season was problematic for the Spaniard, a trait that has been observed in several of his previous years as a professional. He often disappeared and his ability to play make was seemingly lost. While admittedly dealing with some injury problems, Chelsea’s number four really didn’t have much of an excuse.
This campaign needs to be different. Fabregas can take some of Hazard’s burden off his shoulders with consistent form. If he can replicate his displays from the first half of the season and stretch it out over the course of the year, then Chelsea will have a very successful campaign.
Thibaut Courtois: One of the most basic principles of the transfer market we know today is that goalkeepers are undervalued. The same principle can be applied on the field too.
Keepers are hugely important in title races. John Terry has stated since long-term friend and team-mate Petr Cech departed that he would save his new team between 12 and 15 points. That is certainly a significant magnitude in a race defined by fine margins.
Courtois could be worth even more than this for Chelsea. Although the Blues’ back-line is the undisputed best in the league, the Belgian’s skill provides cover for the defenders. They can push up and rest easy, knowing the 6’5” stopper has the net protected.
With Cech’s departure, Chelsea can no longer have the luxury of knowing that another word-class goalkeeper is backing up Thibaut Courtois. I still feel that Asmir Begovic will do a satisfactory job but if Courtois somehow falls off his game or gets injured for an extended period of time, worries will quickly manifest themselves for Chelsea. His health and good form are vital to a successful season.
Not much is changing from last season. The same XI that dominated the Premier League should be the one that will try to defend their title.
Some fringe changes have been made. Victor Moses and Bertrand Traore have replaced Andre Schurrle and Mohammad Salah. Falcao will join Loic Remy in the backup to Costa slot.
Expect Kurt Zouma to get plenty more time, following his great debut season. Ruben Loftus-Cheek should see several of minutes as well. While this may not be his breakthrough season, it will be the one where he establishes himself as a solid rotation player.
- Chelsea vs Swansea City
- Manchester City vs Chelsea
- West Bromwich Albion vs Chelsea
- Chelsea vs Crystal Palace
- Everton vs Chelsea
- Chelsea vs Arsenal
Chelsea have a tough opening to the season to negotiate. Even hosting Swansea is not the simplest of tasks given the Swans recent history of spoiling opening day parties. Games away to Manchester City and Everton will provide obvious challenges, as will the home match against Arsenal. Although in this game at Stamford Bridge against Wenger’s side, Mourinho’s outstanding personal record against the Frenchman; only losing 1 of 14 meetings between the two of them, should see them through.
Given the strength of their early opponents, Chelsea fans should not be too concerned if they are not on top of the table in early Autumn. Realistically, The Blues can expect to win at least four of these initial six matches. José might decide not to risk going too offensive against Arsenal and City early in the season, so those might be draws out of choice. Expect a minimum of 14 points though, easily enough to keep the Blues in the top four and in title contention.
Final Standing Prediction – 1st
I believe that Chelsea will successfully defend their title this season. While Arsenal and both the red and blue halves of Manchester have all made big moves in the transfer market this season, Chelsea still possess enough to outlast them.
What neither City nor United have to their name is continuity. Both sides are experiencing a massive turnover of playing staff whilst Chelsea’s squad is predominantly the same as last year’s, and the players have gained more time to grow closer. Arsenal will push Chelsea hardest for the title, but the Gunners still have back-line and striker issues to contend with.
Chelsea are the only lead contender without a hole in their starting eleven. Certainly the bench could be better, but Mourinho can draw a title winning season out of just 16 or 17 men.
In my opinion, The Blues are set to become the first defending Premier League champions since Manchester United sides boasting the quintessentially brilliant quartet of Rooney, Ronaldo, Tevez and Berbatov.
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