After last season’s dramatic and largely controversial season, Chelsea fans have got what they wanted, the return of Portuguese manager and club legend Jose Mourinho. With an apparently settled and largely deep squad, this season could well be the Blues’ best for some time yet.
Roman Abramovich would not be Roman Abramovich if he didn’t expect the best, and the best is first place in the Premier League. Chelsea haven’t won the title since the 2009/10 season, while the last two years have seen them essentially out of the title race by December.
These relatively feeble attempts at challenging for the title have cost managers such as Claudio Ranieri, Avram Grant, Luis Felipe Scolari, Andre Villas Boas and Roberto Di Matteo their jobs, while others have not been sacked, but pretty much forced to resign after some sticky patches. Mourinho left the club in 2007 in this manner, but he’s determined to come back successfully, and success means the Premier League title.
The immense Bayern Munich team of 2012/13 were head and shoulders above all of Europe in last season’s champions league, with holders Chelsea being overrun by Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk to crash out in the group stages despite being reigning champions, the first champions to ever do so the season after their triumph. Such an embarrassment this was that it led to Roberto Di Matteo’s sacking, and could well cost Mourinho his job if the same thing were to happen this season.
However, Mourinho guided Real Madrid to three Champions League semi-finals in three years, as well as having won it for both Porto and Inter Milan. The Champions league tends to be where Mourinho thrives, and with the array of cultured attacking talent that Chelsea possess, they could well be in the running for the title of European champions.
Unlike last season, Chelsea have an extremely difficult to predict line up. The 4-2-3-1 formation that starred mostly Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar was arguably the jewel in Chelsea’s crown in 2012/13 was one of the few things that Benitez made sure not to tamper with from the Di Matteo regime, and to change it would be a risky move by Mourinho.
Another part of Chelsea’s team Mourinho needs to make a decision over is the defensive partnership. Club stalwart John Terry looked as if he was being phased out at times under Benitez, with David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic often being picked ahead of Terry. Mourinho and Terry had a particularly close friendship during Mourinho’s first reign, but there will be no room for sentiment under Mourinho, Terry must earn his place.
Another long term ally of Mourinho is Frank Lampard, who enjoyed a fantastic second half of the season last year, eventually causing Chelsea to offer him a new contract despite being one of the club’s oldest players at 35.
One new Chelsea signing that will contest Lampard’s place is classy Dutch midfielder, Marco Van Ginkel who joined from Vitesse Arnhem. Although he is raw, he will soon learn from any defensive midfield partner, be that Ramires, Frank Lampard, John Obi Mikel, or even David Luiz, presuming he stays.
What could be another sensitive issue for Mourinho to deal with is who to play in attacking midfield or out wide, depending on his chosen formation. It would be fine to use the trio of Mata, Hazard and Oscar, but with Victor Moses, Kevin de Bruyne, who spent last season on loan at Werder Bremen, and new signing André Schürrle all in the squad, Chelsea have almost too many options in this position, contrast to 2010/11, where a lack of creativity was a major factor in them not winning the title.
Up front, however, there is no real world class striker. Romelu Lukaku was firing on all cylinders in pre-season and looked capable enough for West Brom last season, but how he’ll cope against England and Europe’s meanest defences is a matter of question.
Fernando Torres still hasn’t found any form of consistency two and a half years on from his £50 million move, while Demba Ba has never really looked suited to Chelsea’s team.
Not buying Cavani, Falcao or Rooney, whom they were all reportedly interested in may come back to bite them.
Best XI (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Cole; Mikel, Lampard; Schürrle Mata, Hazard, Lukaku.
Petr Cech: One of Mourinho’s first signings has grown into somewhat of a legend in his nine years at Chelsea, with his ability to pull out regular world class save and his maturity as a dressing room leader off it.
Few goalkeepers read the game better than Cech, and with Terry and Lampard not expected to play as much as in previous years, Cech will be expected to wear the captain’s armband on quite a few occasions this season, a role he is more than capable of taking.
Eden Hazard: After a blistering start to his Chelsea career, it took the Belgian until around January to rediscover his early season form, but when he did, he looked unstoppable. His interchanges with Mata were something to behold at times (see West Ham at home in March), and he will look to delight the Chelsea faithful again in 2013/14.
If he performs regularly, he could well be considered one of the division’s very finest players.
Juan Mata: From the very first game of the season, the Spaniard was consistently excellent for the blues in 2012/13, with a fantastic left foot and the sort of trickery that means defenders fear few players more than Juan Mata.
With possible formation changes, Mata’s role may alter a little this season, but as long as he’s fit, he’s a threat and a real asset to the Blues. Early summer talk of him departing would have been a terrible blow to Chelsea.
Despite their lack of a proven world class striker, Chelsea’s team looks even deeper and talented than ever. They are one of the few teams who could have six or seven players suspended or injured, yet still look extremely strong, evoking memories of Mourinho’s “two players for every position” ideology.
Unlike at Madrid, Mourinho has the respect of the dressing room, and will unite them all. His tactically sound mind will mean Chelsea will be solid, yet creative, whereas past Chelsea teams have tended to lack one or the other.
Manchester’s big two, City and United, will of course have a say and they won’t be easy to beat, but I believe the determined Mourinho will push this well-drilled Chelsea side to the title.
Written by Joshua Sodergren
Follow Joshua on Twitter @chelseasalad365
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