It was clear before the start of last season that Antonio Conte wouldn’t be Chelsea when the 2018/19 campaign started.
Yet, on the eve of the new term, Maurizio Sarri has not even been Chelsea manager for a full month. The dithering over Conte’s removal undoubtedly impacted the Blues’ ability sign new players.
Now, optimism is back, despite the looming danger that Roman Abramovich will pack up and leave the country; because it has been so hostile to Russian investment since the Salisbury scandal.
But what can Chelsea fans realistically expect this season? Read on for our predictions, key players and much more…
As mentioned above, the delay in appointing Sarri meant that Chelsea’s summer took months to get going. Napoli playmaker Jorginho is key to Sarri’s methods. Beating Manchester City to his signature was a major coup.
Securing Mateo Kovacic as part of the deal for Thibaut Courtois is excellent business. That said, it does look set to limit the gametime of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ross Barkley.
The major gamble is Kepa, the world’s most expensive goalkeeper. Chelsea didn’t match Liverpool in the bidding for Alisson because of the hefty pricetag. Then with time ticking away, they went all in on the Spanish international.
He is a good stopper with great potential, but the Blues played the Courtois situation awfully. Their Kepa swoop is the action of a club who appeared unprepared for the Belgian’s departure.
Kepa will get the same treatment David de Gea got in his debut season in English football. He has the talent to overcome it and become a success, but it’s no mean feat. Especially being parachuted in without a pre-season at the club.
Sarri’s Napoli side was so exciting and well-coached. So it is tempting to think that Abramovich has finally got a managaer who can bring an attacking brand of football to Chelsea.
From a purely footballing perspective, Sarri is an exciting appointment. He looks set to get rid of Conte’s preferred three-man defence and 4-3-3 will be the order of the day.
Cesar Azpilicueta should return to right-back, which may see Victor Moses become an outcast.
Valued at £18m by Transfermarkt, he could well leave in January, unless he can nail down a role on the right wing.
Sarri’s new-look midfield holds the key to the team implementing his new ideas effectively, so new-boys Jorginho and Kovacic have a major role .
N’Golo Kante will be as vital as ever; his energy required to cover the ground in a team that will look to press higher.
Chelsea remain a physical, functional team rather than a truly fluid technical one; Eden Hazard elevates the attacking quality.
Keeping him from Real Madrid’s clutches would be a major coup; it looks like much of the hard work has been done on that front by seeing out the English deadline without losing him.
Who has something to prove?
Sarri inherits a bloated squad, many of whom underperformed last season in that insipid title defence, so there are no shortage of players with a point to prove.
Chief among them if Alvaro Morata, who failed to deal with the weight of expectation last season, but the aforementioned Moses, Loftus-Cheek and Barkley, former wantaway Willian and Pedro are others who need to improve to prove their worth to Sarri.
At centre-half, there is no guaranteed pick, with David Luiz set to be handed a reprieve, Gary Cahill looking to force his way back in and Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen proving inconsistent last season, so the battle is well and truly on at the heart of defence.
Predicting Chelsea’s Premier League fortunes is a tough ask. The last four seasons have seen title triumphs followed by major underperformance, and following the pattern of oscillation would mean Sarri is set to win the title in his maiden Blues season.
The quality of Manchester City and the investment of Liverpool make title hopes unrealistic, but Tottenham’s lack of activity, Manchester United’s Mourinho-led unrest – something Chelsea know all about – and Arsenal’s state of flux make the top four a realistic goal.
The Blues tend to ruthlessly accumulate trophies, and although Liverpool and Spurs will surely take the domestic cups more seriously, Sarri has the squad depth to go deep into both the EFL Cup and potentally retain the FA Cup.
The Europa League represents a genuinely realistic chance of silverware and a potential route back into the Champions League.
Chelsea are the bookies’ favourites, with Arsenal and Sevilla as their nearest challengers and if they take the competition seriously – or use it as a meaningful breeding ground to give their hugely talented youngsters a platform – they should expect to do very well indeed in Europe’s secondary competition.