The spotlight is on Chelsea to deliver after a season of transition and a summer of transfer activity. The “beautiful, young eggs” have hatched and the returning manager has had time to settle into his club. All this does is allow for Chelsea fans to be very excited about the upcoming season, but with such great expectation comes immense pressure to deliver. Can Chelsea and Jose Mourinho cope and, after a trophyless campaign last time, will the barren run end for both club and manager?
Chelsea have to be in the mix with the best pair of goalkeepers any side in the Premier League has, nor can you do much to falter their defence. The Terry and Cahill partnership is as strong as ever and all it needs is for Felipe Luis to make the left-back position his own (the comparisons with Ashley Cole will no doubt be ever-present) and Cesar Azpilicueta to get used to playing back in his natural right-back berth.
The midfield was, shockingly, a weak point for Chelsea last season. The likes of Mikel were insufficiently robust (hence Matic for urgent improvements in January) and Lampard was ageing. Oscar showed a marked drop in form and effort towards the end of last season as he conserved energy for a home World Cup, whilst Eden Hazard was one too many times relied upon to be the saviour.
A reinvigorated Andre Schurrle (will he settle for a super-sub role, though, or will be oust Willian from the starting XI?) and a youthful and exciting Salah should certainly have nurtured over the last year, whilst the acquisition of Cesc Fabregas has allowed for more flair and Premier League nous.
The biggest problem, though, was the attack. This blog has always believed Demba Ba was Chelsea’s key and most passionate striker last year and maybe with a little more consistent game-time afforded to him, Chelsea will have done better (who can forget his wonder goals against Manchester United, Manchester City, or PSG?). Instead, we had to contemplate with Samuel Eto’o, who was not half bad for an old man, and Fernando Torres, who Roman Abramovich insists he must squeeze out as much as he can from the £50 million he wasted on him. Diego Costa, if he can get running and quickly, will surely be the long-term Chelsea striker, but if in the short-term he finds it difficult to acclimatise, then what better a presence than to see Didier Drogba lead the Blue line?
Whatever people make of him, Jose Mourinho and Chelsea are the perfect fit. No-one dare proclaim (apart from the man himself, perhaps) that Mourinho is the outright best manager in the world or that Chelsea are the stand-out best team in the world — the competition is ever-increasing — but in terms of a partnership, is there a better one?
Mourinho knows Chelsea inside out and vice versa. The fans love him, the players play for him and the immense unity and tactical improvements were conspicuous in the likes of Andre Schurrle, who comes back a World Cup winner. Even Joachim Low took time to record his praise for the winger’s marked improvements.
There appears to be no greater leader of man in football, creating sergeant majors when in play (Terry and Drogba are evidently Mourinho’s being on the field). This post by The Self Pass accurately describes Mourinho, a man who does not even try to boast of his humility but will do all he can to relieve pressure off his players. Chelsea are hated, Mourinho is hated. Match made in heaven?
Upon announcement of the Premier League fixtures, my Twitter feed highlighted the fact four key matches followed Europe-trekking Champions League matches. Of course, all the best sides will be playing Champions League football then, too, and if we play them, so they play us. But to have a pattern of four like this does not bode well for Chelsea, despite the Blues having an excellent record on matches played after a European outing (it was, in fact, the matches directly before a Champions League game that Chelsea tended to slip up on).
Taking the Premier League fixtures on their own, you can argue it has worked out for Chelsea. Gentle starts against Burnley and Leicester progress to harder tasks against Everton and Manchester City, but at least we are done with the latter (and biggest title rival) by January? There is no clear hard patch for Chelsea, and even though history shows we tend to have a November-December slip, surely we cannot contemplate this this season when facing the likes of West Brom, Sunderland, Hull and Southampton?
It could, as expected, end on a big, energy-sapping climax, however, with hard-but-not-impossible tasks against Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool all within the last six Premier League matches. If Chelsea make the latter stages of cup competitions, then we could see crucial Champions League quarter-finals sandwiched in-between the United match, and semi-final legs are either side of the Liverpool match. Will Chelsea have the legs to cope?
Jose Mourinho insists “fix or six teams can win the title”, but when the going gets tough, you can only imagine two or three sides handling the tough getting going. Manchester United have, admittedly, a fantastic manager and without even a Europa League spot to divert their attention, means they can fully go for domestic glories this season. Expect them firmly to be within the hunt, especially with a manager who looks right for the job. It remains to be seen how much they improve their squad as their defence is certainly an area the opposition can pick on, but they will certainly benefit only focussing on the league.
Manchester City were the strongest squad on paper last season and, though Liverpool and Chelsea ran it close, the quality shone through in the end. However, the fact they did not walk away with the title last season, coupled with Chelsea’s vast improvements, then surely this gives room for hope? Never-the-less, Manchester City is a force to be reckoned with, especially with such a fantastic core of players.
When it comes down to it, you can only argue for Chelsea and the two Manchester sides landing the title. Arsenal have significantly strengthened their fire-power with the capture of Alexis Sanchez, but the Premier League cannot be won by a one-man show (a la Suarez for Liverpool last season). Liverpool, therefore, surely have no hope with the departure of their hero Luis Suarez and the distractions of Europe too, whilst you can always expect Arsenal to run out of steam in March-April time, can you not?
This blog is notoriously bad at making predictions, but mainly only in terms of stability. I predicted Chelsea would finish champions last season (we came third) and said we would come “second/third” two seasons ago (we came third), with a host of managerial changes in-between (this was not predicted!).
The most optimistic, but credibly realistic, expectation for this season has to be for us to be Premier League winners, Champions League runners-up (to Real Madrid), FA Cup winners (against Manchester United), and Capital One Cup semi-finalists (lose to Manchester City).
It may not be big and bold, but the silverware should definitely be with us. It has to, because Mourinho will not make a third return.