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Chelsea 2015/16 Premier League Season Preview

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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.

Transfers In

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.

Key Players

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.

Predicted Line-up

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.

Mourinho will probably stick with the 4-2-3-1 that has worked so well since he returned two years ago. No big changes should be expected.
Chelsea - Football tactics and formations

  1. Chelsea vs Swansea City
  2. Manchester City vs Chelsea
  3. West Bromwich Albion vs Chelsea
  4. Chelsea vs Crystal Palace
  5. Everton vs Chelsea
  6. 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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James is Chelsea fan, but he enjoys writing about more than just Stamford Bridge. He has written about Swansea, internationals and the Champions League before. Give him a follow @thepitchview

Chelsea

Chelsea 4-0 Hull City – Willian plays himself into Champions League contention

Jake Jackman

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Chelsea

Chelsea continued their upturn in form with a convincing 4-0 win over Hull City in the FA Cup. The Blues were overwhelming favourites for the tie, but they had to get the job done and they did so effectively, scoring four times in the first-half.

They would have had one eye on the Champions League tie against Barcelona that is upcoming and that led to Antonio Conte making several changes.

The Italian decided to rest key players such as Eden Hazard, Ngolo Kante and Cesar Azpilicueta. It was the right decision as they progressed with comfort. Here are three talking points from the match:

Olivier Giroud is off the mark

One huge positive to come out of the game for the hosts was Olivier Giroud’s first goal for the club. He signed in January to provide competition for Alvaro Morata and his performances have been encouraging since signing, but to hit the back of the net takes the pressure off the Frenchman.

The signing carried relatively little risk for Chelsea as the striker has lots of experience in England and his consistency is already shining through in a Blues’ shirt.

Early into the game, he had a great opportunity to open his account, but he blazed a volley over the bar. It was a difficult chance as the ball was lifted over the defence to play him in, but a striker of his calibre should have done better.

Three goals were scored and he didn’t score one of them. If he had finished the match without scoring, it would have been talked about and that is why his goal just before half-time will relieve the pressure from him.

The rest of his game was excellent as he got two assists and linked up the play well from the front-line. Although he was brought in to be the back-up striker, Conte may give him the start against Barcelona as he is the player in form.

Hull City showed fight in the second half

The contest was over by the time the players stepped back out for the second-half, but Hull City showed fight and commitment to keep the score down to 4-0.

Nigel Adkins knows the importance of every mental victory when battling against relegation and to draw the second half can provide the players with confidence ahead of a return to league action.

Their performance was markedly improved as they created good opportunities and came close to scoring from the penalty spot. David Meyler stepped up and saw his penalty saved, but that didn’t see the players lose focus as they continued to create opportunities. During the match, they had 10 shots to Chelsea’s 14, which shows that they were far from embarrassed. They just didn’t have the quality in the final third that their Premier League opposition did possess.

It would be a huge blow for Hull City to suffer back-to-back relegations and their manager will be aware of that. This match against Chelsea was a good occasion, but it was far from a priority and their defeat won’t live too long in the memory.

They are currently 21st in the Championship and only above the bottom three by one point. Their far superior goal difference provides encouragement, but they must show this level of commitment until the end of the season if they are to avoid the drop.

Willian proved his quality before the return of the Champions League

Rotation can cause problems in the FA Cup, but in this case, it provided an opportunity to those that are on the fringes of the first-team to play themselves into contention for the Champions League.

Willian is an interesting case as he does feature prominently, but he isn’t a guaranteed first-team starter, as Pedro often gets the nod to start ahead of him.

Willian was excellent against Hull City and certainly gave his manager some food for thought ahead of the match with Barcelona. He completed six dribbles, attempted four shots and made three key passes as he terrorised the opposition defence. On the day, he scored twice, but he easily could have got a hat-trick.

Antonio Conte will be aware that his team’s big weakness is an over-reliance on Eden Hazard. The return of Cesc Fabregas goes some way to providing some support to the Belgian, but if Chelsea can get Willian playing to this level consistently, that would be a positive. He is more dynamic than Pedro and offers more flair to the attack. This performance could see him start against Barcelona.

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Chelsea

Chelsea 3-0 West Bromwich Albion: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from Stamford Bridge as an Eden Hazard inspired Chelsea dismantled a struggling West Bromwich Albion side.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

Chelsea eased the pressure on Antonio Conte after a brace from Eden Hazard saw off basement boys West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge.

It had been a troubling week for the Blues, following back-to-back heavy defeats against Bournemouth and Watford that had cast serious doubts over Conte’s position as manager.

But Hazard netted twice, either side of a goal from Victor Moses to complete a routine victory over the Baggies, who lost loan star Daniel Sturridge to injury after just three minutes.

Chelsea leapfrog Tottenham Hotspur into fourth spot as the battle for the top four heats up, while West Brom remain seven points adrift of safety.

Here are three talking points…

Talismanic Hazard comes to the rescue again

Just days after he was voted as Belgium’s player of the year by his peers, Hazard underlined his ability as a footballer of rare class with another brace to take his tally to 11 for the season.

Chelsea’s number 10 has an excellent scoring record against West Brom, one which he improved upon with a display that was too good for the Baggies to handle.

Hazard is a talismanic performer and when he hits his straps, the rest of the team feed off him.

Hazard combined with new boy Olivier Giroud to slam home his first of the evening, which eased the tension at Stamford Bridge.

The 27-year-old added his second and rounded off the scoring late in the second half, slamming the ball past visiting keeper Ben Foster.

Back in the top four as a result of this victory, Hazard will be the key to Chelsea’s hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

With him in their ranks, anything is possible.

Conte relieved as the pressure lifts

One man who will be extremely grateful for Hazard’s dazzling display is Conte.

The Italian seemed to be on the brink after last week’s 4-1 loss to Watford, which came hot on the heels of a similarly catastrophic result at home to Bournemouth.

Conte’s prickly demeanour and comments in press conferences had led some to speculate that he was goading the Chelsea board into sacking him, less than a year after he steered the club to the Premier League title.

Either way, it’s clear he retains the full support of the Stamford Bridge faithful, which was vocal in its support for Conte throughout the game, chanting his name with regularity.

Conte himself was typically demonstrative on the touchline, bellowing instructions and celebrating each of the goals as his players repaid him with an improved performance.

Whether he will be in the dugout next season remains to be seen, but for now at least his job is more secure than it was a week ago.

Sturridge’s World Cup audition falls flat

In front of watching England manager Gareth Southgate, Sturridge would have been hopeful of making a positive impression following his shock move to West Brom in the January window.

The Liverpool striker made the switch in order to enhance his prospects of making the World Cup squad, which will be named in little over three months’ time.

Few doubt Sturridge’s quality, but his fragile body continually struggles to hold up under the intensity of Premier League football.

His withdrawal due to a hamstring strain less than three minutes on the clock was a monumental blow, both to him personally and West Brom’s ambitions of springing a surprise against Chelsea.

Although he is expected to be sidelined for only a couple of weeks, this latest setback again raises questions over his durability.

Sturridge’s opportunities to prove he deserves to be on the plane to Russia are fast running out.

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Arsenal

Which four of the ‘big-six’ clubs will qualify for next season’s Champions League?

Martyn Cooke

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There are just 12 games remaining of the current Premier League season and, with Manchester City seemingly destined to secure the title, attention will now turn towards the battle to secure a place in the top-four.

There are only three places available to share between Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Liverpool and two of those clubs will be have to be content with competing in the Europa League next season.

Here, The Boot Room predicts who will finish in the top four at the end of the season…

Arsenal

There was once a time when the possibility of Arsene Wenger and Arsenal failing to qualify for the Champions League was unthinkable, yet the Gunners are facing the realistic possibility of missing out on playing in Europe’s elite club competition for the second consecutive season.

This campaign they have been held back by their inconsistent and unpredictable form away from home and are playing catch-up with their rivals with a five-point gap emerging between themselves and fourth place.

There is a new sense of optimism around the Emirates Stadium after Wenger added Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to his squad yet a defeat against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday would all but end their hopes – qualifying through winning the Europa League could be a more realistic option.

Prediction: 6th

Manchester United

There is currently a slight sense of disappointment around Old Trafford this season that, despite obvious progress since the arrival of Jose Mourinho, the club have had to be content with seeing cross-city rivals Manchester City stroll their way towards the Premier League title.

It is difficult to imagine Manchester United missing out on a Champions League place as they already have a considerable buffer of seven points and undoubtedly have a squad that is full of quality and experience.

The arrival of Alexis Sanchez will provide additional impetus in the closing stages of the campaign and the only real danger is that their attention might be redirected towards challenging for the Champions League or FA Cup with the title already all but lost.

However, Mouirnho has his team ticking over nicely and it is likely that they will maintain their current league position.

Prediction: 2nd  

Chelsea

It has been a frustrating and increasing turbulent season at Stamford Bridge following the failure of Chelsea to build on last season’s title triumph.

Back-to-back defeats against Bournemouth and Watford have left the Blues clinging on to their place in the top four and there is now a realistic possibility that they may miss out on Champions League qualification.

Antonio Conte’s frustration with the club’s transfer policy has been clear to see since the summer and the off-pitch squabbling can only be a destabilising influence for the players.

Chelsea are certainly a team that are out of form and appear to be short of confidence and direction and it will be a true test of Conte’s managerial prowess to see if he can facilitate some sort of revival in the closing months of the season.

However, momentum is currently against them and they may well be one of the two clubs to miss out.

Prediction: 6th

Liverpool

You get the sense that it is always two steps forward followed by one step back at Anfield under Jurgen Klopp and you never know quite what to expect.

Liverpool continue to be consistently inconsistent as demonstrated by their recent, contrasting performances against Manchester City and Swansea City.

The arrival of Virgil van Dijk in the January transfer window is a boost, although recent games have suggested that he alone will not solve the club’s defensive frailties, whilst the sale of Phillip Coutinho is offset by the impressive array of attacking players that Klopp has collected.

If Liverpool can put together a good run of results then they will be able to capitalise on Antonio Conte’s woes as Chelsea and finish in the top four.

Prediction: 4th

Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham Hotspur supporters will now have a taste for Champions League football after the success of their team in this year’s competition and they are hitting form at just the right moment in the Premier League.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side are unbeaten since mid-December and have plenty of momentum with the inspirational figure of Harry Kane continuing to his remarkable, prolific run of form in front of goal.

Much will depend on whether the England striker can stay fit until the end of the season whilst they also need Dele Alli to rediscover the sparkle that he has lost in recent months.

Tottenham face a season-defining fixture on Saturday when they face Arsenal in the North London derby but they should have enough quality to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Prediction: 3rd

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