The FourFourTwo Season Preview 2015/16: Chelsea
“Boring, boring champions” sang Stamford Bridge as the Blues lifted the league title in May – their first for five years. Sure, Chelsea’s suave style may have hit the skids in the second half of the season, but supporters know what they’re signing up for with Jose Mourinho, and having dazzled for five months, a frazzled first team knuckled down for the final five and never looked like loosening their stranglehold on top spot.
Minor modifications to a well-oiled machine means the Premier League and League Cup winners will expect more domestic success, while targeting drastic improvement on the continent following last term’s lethargic elimination to Paris Saint-Germain.
Asmir Begovic is a worthy successor to Petr Cech as stand-in shot-stopper, while one suspects Mourinho will be able to extract more from Radamel Falcao than Louis van Gaal did at Old Trafford. Should John Stones secure his switch south and add significant strength in depth to the backline, Chelsea will take some stopping.
What the fan says
Andrew Seaby of the Chelsea Daft blog reveals the inside line from the Blues supporters...
Why they'll do well
As if you have to ask. In Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa the Blues possess one of the most potent double-acts in Europe and, buckle up, team-mate Cesar Azpilicueta says they “will not just settle for what they did last season, they want more”. The pair of Spain internationals terrorised Premier League defences in the opening weeks of 2014/15, Diego plundering 12 goals in 15 games and Cesc stacking up the assists. If they’re not enough to keep backlines quaking in their boots, PFA, FWA and Premier League Player of the Season Eden Hazard is willing and able to wreak more havoc on the left wing, safe in the knowledge that custodian Thibaut Courtois, captain John Terry and midfield marshal Nemanja Matic are keeping the back door slammed shut. While competitors splash the cash to try to close the gap, Mourinho’s men are a “club in peace… happy because we are the same group… the champions.” Be afraid.
Why they’ll do badly
Tiredness began to take its toll on Chelsea in 2015, and Mourinho would be wise to rotate his troops more often if they’re to mount challenges on multiple fronts. Just 20 different outfield players were picked by the Portuguese prior to them wrapping up the Premier League title against Crystal Palace, and his trusted first-teamers were noticeably flat in exiting the Champions League to a PSG side who looked stronger despite playing with 10 men for a significant chunk of the second leg. Gambling on an out-of-form Falcao remains, for now at least, a risky strategy should Diego Costa’s dodgy hamstrings come back to haunt him. At 37, Didier Drogba ended up featuring in more matches than the Brazil-born talisman last term, and with the Drog since departed, Mourinho could find himself in a position where Loic Remy, who himself suffered with injuries in the last campaign, is the only viable option up front.
The big questions...
1) Will friendly faces repair Radamel?
- Nathan (Atletico Paranaense)
- Radamel Falcao (Monaco)
- Asmir Begovic (Stoke)
- Petr Cech (Arsenal)
- Didier Drogba (Released)
- Christian Atsu (Bournemouth)
- Josh McEachran (Brentford)
- Marco van Ginkel (Stoke)
- Patrick Bamford (Crystal Palace)
Unloved under Van Gaal, Mourinho’s hoping a more personal approach can help the Colombian rediscover the confidence that had Chelsea shuddering during the 2012 Super Cup, when Falcao registered a first-half hat-trick in Monaco. “We think the bright movement to get freedom in the box to score goals is there,” said the Special One. “We have a good community of Portuguese people, plus Diego Costa who was with him at Atletico.” Once a potent pair at the Vicente Calderon, reuniting ‘El Tigre’ with ‘The Beast’ could be just the jumpstart that the 29-year-old needs.
2) Can Ruben continue rise up the ranks?
Ruben Loftus-Cheek may have quietly impressed during his pair of Premier League starts in May, posting a 100% pass success rate against Liverpool, but he was soon brought back down to earth by Mourinho’s stinging criticism in Sydney, who frowned: “If he doesn’t know what it means to play for me and Chelsea, it’s one step back.” Loftus-Cheek took it on the chin, and while the likes of Andreas Christensen, Patrick Bamford and Izzy Brown spend the season trying to impress out on loan, the spotlight will continue to shine on him and his quest to grasp a regular place among the big boys.
3) Can Hazard take it to another level?
The talisman of 2014/15, no player completed more dribbles or created more chances from open play than the wing wizard, with 23 opponents booked for blocking his route to goal. “He’s the main guy, the guy that makes this team better,” exclaimed Fabregas, who along with Courtois has tipped the Belgian to become a future Ballon d’Or winner. With signs last season of his defensive responsibility being relinquished, Eden’s hopes of hitting the milestones usually reserved for Messrs Messi and Ronaldo will be enhanced. It’s up to him to routinely take opposition teams to the cleaners.
Read more about whether Hazard can become ‘Chelsea’s Ronaldo’ in the new issue of FourFourTwo magazine.
Key player: Nemanja Matic
The barricade behind the Blues’ fleet-footed forward-thinkers, £22 million still seems like a snip for the midfielder, despite the fact they signed the Serbian for £1.5m in 2009 before part-exchanging him for David Luiz. Few have screened Chelsea’s backline like the 26-year-old since the days of Claude Makelele, but simply defending isn’t enough for Matic: in 2014/15 he not only made more tackles than any other Premier League player, but was second only to Cesc for passes in the opposition half.
What we’ll be saying come May
Back-to-back titles for the Blues, despite being run close by some of their revitalised rivals, while FA Cup glory at Wembley helps atone for humiliation at the hands of Bradford. But Old Big Ears must wait for another year after ‘best bud’ Rafa Benitez gets the better of Jose in Europe once again; Real Madrid edging a naturally controversy-packed semi-final second leg.
To see where FourFourTwo think Chelsea will finish – along with a bespoke two-page preview – get our special new season issue, out Saturday 1 August.