Premier League Preview: Chelsea
Posted by Daniele Accurso | Published on August 2, 2016
Predicted Finish: 4th
With a truly horrific campaign coming to an end, where we saw Eva Carneiro leave the club after a huge scandal, Jose Mourinho getting sacked and the club finish in a lowly 10th position, i’m slightly cautious about this new upcoming season. However with the ex-Juventus and Italy manager Antonio Conte now at the helm, i’m hopeful we can expect better things to come of the blues this season!
With one of the richest owners in world football, Chelsea fans have come to expect a world class signing as a minimum each summer transfer window. This seasons transfer business is as crucial as it ever has been. Last season under Jose, when the club were still rejoicing as it won the double (Capital One Cup and Premiership), signings weren’t a priority it seemed. The acquisition of Pedro for £21 million seemed like a knee jerk reaction after the blues poor start to the season. Falcao coming to the Bridge following his ill fated stint at Old Trafford was weird but still, was not the worst piece of business. That award goes to Papy Djilobodji. 1 minute of football for the club came away against Walsall in the Capital One Cup. Says it all really. So with a squad low in confidence following last year’s disgraceful season, Conte’s needed to do some great business in the window and has done in my opinion.
What Chelsea fans, football fans and pundits came to see last season was how defensively weak Fabregas was when Matic wasn’t on top form himself. Defensively Chelsea looked shambolic and that’s neither Fabregas’ or Matic’s fault. Jose was adamant on using a system with players who didn’t suit the role, something Guus Hiddink tried to change when he played John Obi Mikel over Matic. Conte however has tried to fix this problem, signing the Leicester City title winning midfielder N’Golo Kante. As a small, agile workhorse in the middle of the pitch, it may allow Cesc Fabregas to play at his best again this season and provide much needed competition to Nemanja Matic. Reports in the past few days have suggested the Brazilian creative midfielder Oscar may be on his way out the club, suggested by Sky Sports presenter Jim White. Therefore Kante signing on the dotted line seems as important as ever in a midfield which was lackluster going both forward and defending last year.
In addition, Conte seems to have ditched the commonly used 4-2-3-1 formation and wants to play a more attacking 4-2-4 formation, with two forwards and two wingers pushing high up. Thusly, playing with the two strikers, Michy Batshuayi has been brought in for around £32 million to partner Costa upfront. A heavy price tag it seems for the 22 year old however with a ratio of 0.42 goals a game for Marseille, Batshuayi could be pivotal alongside the colossal figure that is Diego Costa. Lukaku and Morata are also being linked with a move to the club whilst a new full back maybe on the way, especially after Baba Rahman’s moved out on loan to Schalke for the season. Therefore even though there haven’t been too many new arrivals, the figures of Batshuayi and Kante show intent from Conte and the club, in comparison to last year’s purchases of Falcao, Pato and Djilobodji who were nothing short of horrendous.
What’s expected of Chelsea this season and what’s their target? Simple, it’s a top four finish and some sort of silverware! Roman Abramovich bought the club for those special Tuesday and Wednesday night games under the lights with the world watching, where Chelsea take on the creme de la creme. Finishing 16 points off 4th place last season is something Roman will not wanted repeated anytime soon. Such league performances have seen Jose, Carlo Ancelotti, Scolari and Andre Villas Boas all get the sack and is a destiny Conte will be avoiding at all costs. With such strong managerial competition in the form of Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Pochettino, Wenger, Koeman, Bilic and Jurgen Klopp, Chelsea will have to pick up points early and get their season up and running quickly. A slow start last year, a 2-2 draw to Swansea and a 3-0 away defeat to City, underlined what sort of season it would be for Chelsea. Three winnable opening games will help Conte ease into the job however, nothing less than 7 out of 9 points will have the media on his back straight away. An opening Monday night derby to Slaven Bilic’s West Ham at Stamford Bridge, followed by another London derby this time away to Watford, is followed by their third game where Conte takes on Sean Dyche’s Burnley at the Bridge. Chelsea’s fifth and sixth game take place against Liverpool at home then away to Arsenal respectively. One thing we know about Conte is that he has an abundance of passion and 3 derbies in his first six games will fire him up for the season ahead. Pundits always say get the hard games out of the way and by playing West Ham, Arsenal and liverpool early, it may be a blessing in disguise. On the other hand, the players are still adapting to Conte’s ideas and these matches may’ve come just a bit too early for his liking. Either way, Conte will want nothing but victories regardless of his squad’s understanding of his philosophy and these tough opening games will urge Conte to drill his ideas into the players even more.
One benefit Chelsea and Conte will have is no European football, allowing more time to focus on cup competitions and the domestic league. As mentioned above with such strong competition in the league, Chelsea will do well to finish in the top four especially with a new manager but they may be contenders for the title. No one predicted Italy to do so well in the Euros, many saying it was the worst national side in 50 years. The underdog status may help Conte and allow Chelsea to go under the radar what with the Manchester clubs in the media’s gaze 24 hours a day now. However Mourinho’s tactics, Guardiola’s tiki taka and Wenger’s talent of securing top four will see Chelsea scraping over the line this season into fourth spot. Conte should be looking at the FA cup and the newly renamed English Football League cup as a priority. With the title seemingly out of reach this season, and no Champions League, the chairman will want some sort of silverware to satisfy his appetite. Chelsea have dominated the FA Cup in the past decade, winning it 4 times, and Antonio Conte will want to add to his personal tally of trophies as soon as possible too.
What’s to say about this man that hasn’t been said already? Any fan who doesn’t support Chelsea seems to hate Costa which only sparks our affiliation for the man even more! The anger, the stamps, the fights, the tenacity from the Spaniard is what makes him a hero at the Bridge. After Drogba left the club the first time, forwards such as Torres, Sturridge and Lukaku never set the world alight during their time at the club (apart from Torres’ goal against Barcelona)! As a result, Diego’s been the striker we’ve all been waiting for to properly replace Didier at the club. His actions in the past season, especially in the derby against Arsenal when he got too physical with Koscielny and Gabriel, saw him excluded by Del Bosque from the Spanish national side. Now this rejection will only spark Diego on to perform even better this season. With a new national coach, Diego has to stake his claim to be Spain’s number 1 over Real Madrid striker Alvaro Morata. Obviously we know how capable Costa is in front of goal. 20 goals in his first season and 12 last season suggest he has an eye for goal and will be pivotal in leading the line for Chelsea this season. However, what interests me more is this situation surrounding the striker. A Spanish source published a video in which Diego was suggesting to Sergio Ramos, that the club wouldn’t sell him back to Atletico Madrid, before the pre-season match between Chelsea and Real Madrid. How will this affect the striker’s attitude this season, who knows, but it adds to the excitement and unpredictability that is Diego Costa.
The PFA winner has had a dramatic fall from grace in the past 12 months. Following a brilliant season where he swooped all footballing awards whilst being the talisman for Chelsea’s two trophies, Hazard seems to have regressed like nothing seen before. Jose even stated,
“I am very happy that Eden has signed a new contract. It shows he believes in the club’s coaching staff and players to help him become the best player in the world”,
Mourinho said on Chelsea’s official website. Since the praise of the Belgian star, when Jose even compared him to Cristiano Ronaldo, Hazard went an astonishing 34 premier league weeks to get his first goal in the league. With Hazard, at times it looked like he didn’t want to be playing out on the pitch. He would walk around instead of busting a gut to track back and help out his team mates, which infuriated me and many fans at the games. But after having a solid Euros personally with Belgium, the critics will be back out in force which Hazard will be keen to quash as soon as possible. How will Hazard fit into Conte’s hard working team is yet to be seen but if he can find his form of two years ago, Eden has every capability of being of the best players in the Europe again.
My third and final key player to look out for is Kurt Zouma. The Frenchmen who, before his injury was Chelsea’s best defender, has every right to think this could be his breakthrough season. Zouma sustained a right knee anterior cruciate ligament injury in February against Manchester United and unfortunately missed out on the Euros for France. If he hadn’t picked up that injury, for sure he’d have been in the French squad and would have been picked over Umtiti and Rami in the starting 11. So being on the road to recovery, Zouma expects to be out for the first few months of the season but it’ll be interesting to see how he comes back. As a result of such an injury and prolonged time on the sidelines, Zouma may’ve lost some of his natural pace which will worry Chelsea however if he comes back fighting fit, he has every chance to be the best centre back in the league. That opinion may come as a shock to many considering the likes of Kompany, Koscielny and Smalling are his competition but his pace, physique, power and only being 21 years of age make him one of the best centre backs in Europe. If Conte can nurture him and mould him into a top class centre back, considering he’s worked with Chiellini , Bonucci and Barzagli for the past couple of seasons, Zouma could soon be mentioned in that calibre. Ultimately, what makes Zouma so important this campaign is that it looks like it will be John Terry’s farewell season. After cutting it close on a new contract last year, it seems like Terry and the club are going separate ways and Zouma will be the new spearhead of that central defence. It’s a big season for Zouma for so many reasons which makes him an important player to watch out for.