The Premier League fixture list was revealed on Wednesday, starting speculation on how tough or easy each team’s run to the title would be.
Across the board, every team will have to deal with a shortned summer. The Community Shield is played on August 2ndand the season starts the next weekend. In other words, teams have 6 weeks before the Premier League kicks off.
The season begins and ends early because of the European Championships in the summer. The Euro’s will not only affect individual players’ mentalities as they attempt to protect themselves from injury but they will also affect next season as teams struggle with worn-out players.
For Chelsea, the season looks to be fairly well balanced. Although there are no killer runs, there aren’t any easy ones. At least every four or five games, the Blues will have to face a potential Champions League contender, and that is leaving out Southampton, Swansea and other mid-table teams who could give Jose Mourinho’s men trouble.
The Blues need to target five crucial runs in the season, which if successful, will propel them to the title again.
August 2nd (Arsenal)– August 29th (Crystal Palace)
The season will open for Chelsea at Wembley where they will face Arsenal for the Community Shield. This is a pride game. It won’t have any effect on the Premier League table but the boost of early silverware, as well as a victory over a rival, would set the season off on the right foot.
A home game against Swansea starts the Premier League campaign. They need to be wary. Last campaign, Swansea beat United 2-1, at Old Trafford, to start the season.
Then comes the vital trip to City. Mourinho will look to shut the game down, and come out with a point at minimum. Don’t expect any fireworks from this game.
Chelsea will then make the trip to the Hawthrones to face West Brom, followed by Crystal Palace at home. The club season will take a break for international fixtures.
Last season, before the international break, Chelsea won all three of its games, including a 6-3 thriller with Everton. They were top of the table by the end of August, and never looked back, leading all the way until the end.
If the Blues come out strong, especially against Arsenal and City, they will have control of the title race before it even really begins. They can make a statement, and with the congestion that the schedule promises, that can’t be underestimated.
September 12th (Everton)– October 3rd (Southampton)
Although this comes directly after the first crucial run, this period will be entirely different than the first.
The first will be about making a strong statement. The second will be about surviving.
A trip to Everton is first, followed by a mid-week Champions League game (TBD opponent), and then a home game against Arsenal.
Chelsea then travels to Newcastle, where Jose Mourinho has never won. Another Champions League game is smacked into the middle of the week, followed by Southampton at home.
With the potential of Real or Atleti in their group, those first two Champions League games could really make the period even tougher.
This will be one of those times in the season when Mourinho sacrifices beauty for product. He won’t have any tolerance for dropped points, and Chelsea’s style will reflect that.
If Chelsea comes out of this in full health, but in Europe and at home, then the signs for both campaigns will be very good.
December 19th (Sunderland)– January 2nd (Crystal Palace)
The most congested period of the season (also the merriest), the Christmas period is packed with games. Chelsea has four, including a Saturday (26th), Monday (28th) and Saturday (2nd) run.
Although at Sunderland, United and Palace, and home against Watford, cannot compare with last year’s fixtures (Stoke, West Ham, Southampton, Tottenham), congestion is the main factor here.
Mourinho came under the most criticism he has faced in London during this period last season, with the media, and some fans, alleging that his refusal to rotate players cost the team on New Year’s Day (5-3 loss to Tottenham). Indeed, Mourinho used 8 of the same 11 players during all four games last season.
Hopefully this time around, Chelsea will have acted in the summer and picked up more depth, but regardless, with the League Cup in full swing, and the FA Cup about to kick into full gear, Mourinho will have to be careful about his player selection.
January 16th (Everton) – February 27th (Southampton)
Of all the periods mentioned above and below, this will be the most decisive in Chelsea’s campaign. This is the same winter period that the Blues struggled in last year, when they fell out of both the FA Cup and Champions League, and flat lined in the Premier League, nearly falling out of the lead.
This year, it will be even harder. Trips to Arsenal and Southampton, and hosting Everton and United, will put a thorn in Chelsea’s side. Throw in the Champions League knockout stages starting, as well as (hopefully) several cup ties, and Chelsea has a potentially catastrophic problem.
As we saw last year, failure in one competition can set off a domino effect. The FA Cup loss to Bradford led to a tight month and a half of Premier League fixtures and an early exit from the Champions League, to PSG.
Even more so than in Christmas, Mourinho will need to utilize his depth, and even call on the youth system, to remain in contention in at least 2 or 3 competitions.
If Chelsea comes out of this period unscathed, they aren’t quite home clear, but the title race would certainly be in their hands.
April 16th (City) – May 15th (Leicester)
The title run in. Chelsea fans will hope that by this point, the trophy will all but be back at the Bridge.
But the Blues won’t get a straight cake walk into the end of the season. Last season, Chelsea clinched the title with four games left. Even with a draw against Liverpool and a shock 3-0 loss to West Brom fans and players remained relaxed and happy.
This season will be different, however. First up will be City, likely to be Chelsea’s main contenders for the title. A trip to Bournemouth follows. Mourinho will see this game as, depending on how the table looks, an easy three points, or an easy point (in the case that, with enough of a lead, Chelsea doesn’t need to waste energy by trying to win).
Hosting Tottenham will provide the toughest fixture in this run. While City will almost certainly be challenging for the title, that game is likely to be a draw, with Jose seeking to cut risks and not lose any points. However, Spurs will be on the hunt for points, especially if they are in the Champions League race. The added bonus of a victory over a London rival will make Spurs even more aggressive.
Mourinho might certainly shut down the game, like he will do against City. But he might also let his dogs loose. After the 5-3 humbling he took last season at Spurs, Jose might look for some revenge. Even if he doesn’t, the game should be exciting, since at least one team will be going for goal.
If the Blues are up going into the last two games, Chelsea fans will breathe easy. It would take a miracle for Chelsea to lose the title here. A trip to Sunderland could be difficult, if the Black Cats are fighting to survive, but the fact that Dick Advocaat’s team will probably be in the relegation battle again should speak enough for the quality of Sunderland.
Chelsea then hosts Leicester on the last day, and while Leicester twice gave Chelsea a run for their money last season, this again should be a game that Mourinho sees as guaranteed points.
City and Tottenham will be tough games, and the other three could cause fans some worries. But if Chelsea can replicate last season’s form, than they should be through clear to the title.
The first four runs are crucial to how the last one looks. If Chelsea can take care of business and get a two or three game cushion on second place by the second City game, the season should end well.
But if Chelsea start slow, and struggle to find consistent form in the winter, then Mourinho could have serious problems on his hand.
Chelsea looks very likely to do what no team has done since United in 2007-08: repeat as Premier League champions. But the road won’t be easy. The five most crucial runs in the season will determine what happens. Mourinho will need to navigate these carefully, as he has before, to ensure glory.
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Are Chelsea finally going to see the best of Alvaro Morata?
The Spanish international has been inconsistent since his £60 million move.
When Antonio Conte sealed the signing of Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid in the summer, many Chelsea fans lauded him as one of the signings of the window.
He was an instant hit at Stamford Bridge following his £60 million arrival, scoring on his debut off the bench in a 3-2 loss against Burnley on the opening day.
Morata has been most commonly used as an impact sub especially at Madrid, but at Chelsea, he was quickly given the responsibility of spearheading the Blues’ attack.
He repaid the faith Conte showed in him early, notching a hat trick away at Stoke in mid-September.
There was early talk of him being involved in a four-way battle for the golden boot alongside Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku and Gabriel Jesus.
Since then, it hasn’t worked out as well for Morata at Chelsea.
He went on a scoring drought soon after, although he did score a crucial winner against title rivals Manchester United in November.
He still received criticism, however, culminating in a poor performance against Arsenal in the Carabao Cup, where he missed several guilt edge chances to give Chelsea the advantage.
He then played 40 minutes in the FA Cup against Norwich, managing to receive two yellow cards in a matter of seconds, first for diving, and then for dissent.
The cold weather has been blamed for his lack of form, as well as a back injury which at one point Conte suggested could force him to miss the rest of the season.
The English climate is different to what Morata will have previously experienced in Spain and in Italy with Juventus, although whether that can be used as a real argument is debatable.
He proved that theory wrong today, finishing off a fine Chelsea move in one of the coldest games of the season.
The Spaniard has looked bereft of confidence in recent weeks and months, and it appeared that Olivier Giroud had overtaken him as Chelsea’s leading marksman until today.
Morata proved his class against a Leicester side that, had it not been for a late mistake, would have taken the current Premier League champions to penalties.
His well placed shot after an excellent Willian through ball opening the scoring before an audacious flick hit the crossbar.
Although not at the heights of the likes of Kane (24 goals) and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (28 goals), Morata has notched 10 goals of his own – a decent return considering he has missed a fair amount of games with injury in a team that is equally reliant on goals from wingers Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian.
With the cold weather subsiding, if that can be used as an excuse for some of Morata’s poor performances, and Chelsea’s chances of silverware increasing with an FA Cup semi-final, now is surely the time for Morata to produce some of his best form and lead Chelsea’s charge going into the back end of the season.
Tieumoue Bakayoko disappoints again for Chelsea against Leicester City
The Frenchman looked to struggle against his FA Cup opponents.
Tieumoue Bakayoko was one of the big-name signings for Chelsea during the summer as the club tried to push on under Antonio Conte after their Premier League triumph.
The Frenchman had been a standout player for AS Monaco during their surprise Ligue 1 winning campaign and cost the Blues a reported £40 million.
Although they are one of the richest clubs in the world, that remains a big spend and they would have been expecting a first-team ready player.
That hasn’t been the case as Bakayoko has struggled to adapt to English football and has found himself sidelined for Danny Drinkwater on several occasions.
The England international is an experienced Premier League player, but he was brought in to provide cover. It is a worry that he has been performing better than the player brought in to partner N’Golo Kante.
Chelsea managed to qualify for the semi-final of the FA Cup with an extra-time victory over Leicester City. However, Bakayoko was underwhelming once again after being brought back into the starting eleven.
He lasted until half-time before being replaced by Cesc Fabregas. During the first half, the Blues were too predictable in central midfield as neither player offered creativity from deep.
Wilfred Ndidi was arguably the best player in that area of the pitch as he dominated Bakayoko and Kante for the first-half.
The summer signing from Monaco was booked just before the break and didn’t re-emerge for the second-half. It was another disappointing performance from him as he failed to take the opportunity provided by Antonio Conte.
During the match, Bakayoko had a tackle success rate of 33% and he failed to make a single key pass to influence proceedings in the attacking half.
It was obvious that he was lacking in confidence as he often chose the simple pass and wasn’t as aggressive as the Leicester midfield players that he was competing with.
As the season has progressed, central midfield has emerged as an area of weakness for Chelsea. They often play with two defensive-minded midfielders and that makes them predictable to play against.
Last season, Nemanja Matic was more dynamic in central areas and he wasn’t afraid to step into the attacking half to contribute to attacks. The decision to sell him to a rival club now looks a huge mistake as the Blues are less effective in the middle of the park.
It was hoped that Ross Barkley would provide more energy to that position, but he has struggled with injuries since moving to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have a difficult task to save their season, as they must finish in the top four and lift the FA Cup to restore pride.
Bakayoko needs to have a strong end to his season if he is to prove himself worthy of another chance next season. There is likely to be a new manager at Stamford Bridge with Antonio Conte’s position looking more untenable by the day.
A managerial change will lead to a squad overhaul and the 23-year-old will be one of the first to go. He doesn’t offer anything different to Kante and his compatriot is far superior in every area.
His most ardent supporters will allude to his inexperience and suggest that he needs to be given more time. However, when watching him against the 21-year-old Ndidi, it became clear that he isn’t good enough for a club like Chelsea. He was outclassed and outbattled by his younger opponent.
Since Roman Abramovich bought the club, there have been several mistakes made in the transfer market. The decision to sell Matic and sign Bakayoko was another.
Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea: Three talking points from the Etihad
Manchester City managed to beat Chelsea for the second time this season as they continue their march to the Premier League title. The contest was far from entertaining, as the visitors showed no interest in playing football and instead to soak in pressure.
Pep Guardiola’s team didn’t have to get out of second gear and it was a more comfortable victory than they would have been expecting. The Citizens are now 18 points clear at the top of the table and remain on target for 100 points, which would be a superb achievement.
Meanwhile, Chelsea sit outside of the Champions League places and are now five points behind Tottenham in fourth position. They will need a near perfect end to the season if they are to avoid missing out on qualification for next season’s competition. Here are three talking points from the Etihad Stadium…
David Silva showed his class
The 32-year-old has been at Manchester City for the majority of their journey from Premier League also-rans to elite super club and he remains a crucial player for them under Pep Guardiola.
If he had been in the team for the entire campaign, he would be running Kevin de Bruyne close for the PFA Player of the Year award. He is a classy operator who seems to get better with age.
He got the important assist for the winning goal with a superb piece of play and that is becoming par for the course for the Spanish international. Silva completed 95% of his passes and made three key passes during the contest. Meanwhile, he was very good out of possession as he made three ball recoveries.
It has been incredible to watch Pep Guardiola get all of his attacking talent on the pitch at one time, but the improvement of both Silva and De Bruyne off the ball has helped achieve that.
They are now complete midfielders and capable of thriving in both halves of the pitch. The midfielder is a club legend and supporters will be hoping that he has a few years left in him.
Antonio Conte continues to make puzzling decisions
Last season, the Italian was lauded every week as his side won the league title comfortably, but he has failed to follow it up with a good second campaign. There have been a lot of problems for Chelsea this season including recruitment, tactics and player performance.
They have been reliant on Eden Hazard and as the campaign has progressed, the team have lost their intensity, which suggests they no longer believe in Conte.
Their 3-4-2-1 formation was revolutionary, but they have moved away from it frequently this season and haven’t been able to settle on a first eleven. That was one of Chelsea’s strengths last season. Gary Cahill and David Luiz have been sidelined, while Alvaro Morata has failed to replace Diego Costa sufficiently.
On Sunday, Conte chose to field Hazard as a lone frontman, but he struggled to impact the game in that role. He is best when having space in front of him to run into and he didn’t have that against Manchester City.
The Belgian international was isolated and touched the ball only 31 times. It was a tactical error and one that blunted Chelsea’s attack before a ball was kicked.
Ilkay Gundogan is flourishing in the middle of the park for Manchester City
The former Borussia Dortmund midfielder has had his problems since arriving in the Premier League.
He has suffered a few injuries and that has seen him struggle to secure a regular starting berth, but he has featured prominently in recent weeks and is perfect for the system. Gundogen recycles possession effectively and that is required, especially when the opposition team sits deep.
Gundogen touched the ball more than any other player on the pitch with 181 touches and was very good at distributing the ball quickly. He finished the match with a 96% pass success rate, which shows his role.
He wasn’t taking any risks and he didn’t have to. City have a lot of attacking talent and the German international isn’t required to try risky passes to influence the game.
Although Chelsea didn’t get on the ball much, Gundogen broke up the play when required with four ball recoveries. Fernandinho’s absence could allow the 27-year-old to secure the place on a permanent basis and he does offer more in the role, especially in possession. It was a strong performance and one of the standouts in a dull affair.
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