Five crucial runs in Chelsea’s 2015/16 season
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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