We Are Hooligans will be previewing every Premier League team’s upcoming season, including their transfer moves, and their predicted finish. Today, Chelsea FC.
Last season: Chelsea finished 3rd in the league, 4 points behind City. Chelsea dominated their main rivals, losing just one game against a team in the top six (at Everton), and winning at City, United and Liverpool. This alone should have propelled them to silverware, but disappointing losses against smaller teams (Norwich, Aston Villa, Sunderland, Crystal Palace) held them back.
Just two wins from those four shock losses would have secured the league for the Blues. The lack of a consistent goalscorer loomed over the team all season, and two of the three strikers in last campaigns squad have moved on (Demba Ba and Samuel Eto’o). Jose Mourinho also stressed throughout the season, either genuinely or as a safety precaution, that Chelsea was not ready to win the title, even after big wins against rivals.
Transfer Moves: Mourinho knew that he needed to buy at the least a goalscoring striker in the transfer window, and also sought to round out the Blues squad more. This resulted in bringing in two Atletico Madrid players, forward Diego Costa and left back Filipe Luis, as well as Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabergas. He also sold the players he deemed outside of requirements, including center back David Luiz, and striker Demba Ba.
He declared on July 19th, after signing Luis, that Chelsea’s business in the transfer market was complete; however, more was to come. Just six days later, on the 25th, the club announced the signing of Didier Drogba, the club’s legendary forward. Then, the biggest issue of the summer, Romelu Lukaku’s future, was settled, by selling him to Everton. Although the affair left bad tastes in the mouths of some Chelsea fans, and undoubtedly Lukaku’s, it needed to be done to have Chelsea’s season move forward.
Cesc Fabergas (30 million pounds): Jose’s first signing was not the badly needed striker, but rather the Spanish playmaker. Fabergas will be responsible for creating from the back, and anchoring the midfield, along with Nemanja Matic. His addition will take some pressure of Oscar, allowing the Brazilian to drift more, and look to score more as well.
Diego Costa (32 million pounds): The most needed signing. Costa will need to provide the Blues with goals throughout the year, or Chelsea will be stuck in the same situation as the season prior. The Brazilian/Spanish striker provided 36 goals in 52 appearances for Atleti last season, and if he can get in that range again, Chelsea won’t just be challenging for the Premier League, but also for the Champions League.
Filipe Luis (16 million pounds): Chelsea’s back line was fantastic last season, the best of any in the league. Luis’ arrival has solidified the back line, and provided added depth. He will most likely start at left back, and Cesar Azpilicueta aka Dave will be moved to right back. This will mean Branislav Ivanovic will provide much needed back up for John Terry and Gary Cahill. Luis’ signing will help stregthen Chelsea’s already strong squad.
Didier Drogba (free): The legend is back. After his last kick for Chelsea resulted in Champions League glory, the Ivorian returned, mainly to be a leader in the dressing room. With both Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard gone, Drogba’s experience will be much needed. If he can help Costa get adjusted to the Premier League, that is great. If he can still score, that is all the better.
Mario Pasalic (2 million pounds): A young, Croatian midfielder, who arrived from Hadjuk Split. He was immediately sent out on loan to Elche in Spain, another addition to Chelsea’s massive loan network, with eyes still set on building for the future.
David Luiz (50 million pounds): Luiz and Jose never fully got along; the Brazilian was far too adventrous and forward minded for Mou’s likings. When PSG rolled around, and offered Jose 50 million, I’m sure Mourinho couldn’t say enough nice things about the club. It is a good move for Luiz, who will get first team time, and will be partnered with his national teammate Thiago Silva.
Demba Ba (5 million pounds): Ba was sold to Bestikas in July, deemed surplus to requirements. Although he produced some big games, notably the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinal against PSG, he never settled in at the club. And with Drogba’s return, there just wasn’t room.
Samuel Eto’o (free): The story is the same with Eto’o. The striker has lost his speed and physicality with age, and was allowed to move on by Jose this summer.
Ashley Cole (6 million pounds): Again, an older player moved on. Cole fell out with Jose in December, and Azpilicueta took his place. Cole has secured a place at Roma, which is great for him, to be at a club which will challenge for silverware, and to be one of the few English players overseas.
Frank Lampard (free): Lampard moved on. However sad it is for Blues fans, the legend is gone, to play for New York City FC. No wait, he’s playing for Manchester City… what?!? How could he?
Romelu Lukaku (28 million pounds): This is perhaps the hardest for Chelsea fans. Lukaku was brought in to be the Drogba of the future, and yet, Drogba’s return pushed him out. The Belgian’s manner of leaving left a bad taste in some people’s mouths, and it is sad that such a great talent never got the chance with Chelsea. But all the best to him and Roberto Martinez.
Starting XI: Mourinho will most likely continue the 4-2-3-1 formation he used for much of last season, with Luis, John Terry, Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta as the back line. Fabergas and Nemanja Matic will almost certainly be the two holding midfielders, although Jose could start Fabergas higher up and include either Ramires or Marco van Ginkel; these are unlikely options, and dependent on Oscar being in bad form. Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian will start as the attacking trio, with Andre Schurrle and Muhammad Salah providing support off the bench. Diego Costa will be the only striker, although Mourinho has used Fernando Torres on the wing several times this preseason, with Costa, so he could drop Willian and use Torres in that role.
Mourinho could also use the 4-3-3 formation, with Matic, Fabergas and Oscar forming the midfield three. The back line would remain, and Hazard and Costa would be two of the attacking three. The third could be either Willian, who started for the Blues for most of last year, or Torres. Willian is coming off an extremely disappointing World Cup with Brazil, where he never played particularly well. And, as mentioned already, Mourinho has used Torres in the preseason in a wide role, so he could play there at times during the year. This formation, however, would leave the fullbacks exposed, so it is unlikely that the conservative Jose would use this.
This biggest issue in the team lineup, an issue which has dominated Blues’ fans minds for years, is the one of the goalkeeper. Cech or Courtois? Loyalty or youth? Both are still great, and both want to play. Although it is a tough problem to solve, the keeper must be Courtois going forward. During his four years on loan at Ateltico Madrid, the Belgian proved himself time and again, helping Madrid win La Liga, improbably, this season, and make a run to the Champions League Final. It is hard to say it, but it is time for Cech to move on. If he would like to stay on and pick up extra games over the next few years, and eventually transition into a coaching job, that is great. But Courtois needs to be the number one.
- Defense: Since returning, Jose has made Chelsea back into a solid defensive team, the best in the league. This is a defense which held City and Liverpool, the two highest scoring teams in the league, to just two goals over four games. The solid back line and goalkeeping combo anchored the squad. In the end, it was the attack that let them team down and blocked them from winning silverware. This season, the defenders and the goalkeeper, whoever it is, can be counted on.
- Counter-attacking: The squad survived on countering last season. It’s how the three goals at City and Liverpool all came about. The team is full of players built for counter attacking: Willian, Costa, Hazard, Schurrle, Salah, Oscar. Fabergas and Matic both are comfortable with sitting back and defending, and then providing key passes to start counters. And as pointed out, the Blues have the defense to support this practice.
- Goal scoring: Chelsea was held back by their lack of consistent goalscorers. Although Torres (vs City at home), Ba (PSG at home, Liverpool on the road) and Eto’o (Liverpool at home, United at home) all had big games, they failed to provide goals when the Blues needed it against smaller teams, which killed Chelsea. Palace, West Ham, Aston Villa, Norwich and Sunderland could all have been finished if Chelsea had had a clinical scorer. Diego Costa has been bought to be just that. And with the sale of Lukaku, as well as Ba and Eto’o, Chelsea really have no other option. Didier Drogba is obviously past his prime, and is there just to be a leader. Torres hasn’t ever produced like he did at Liverpool, so he can’t be counted on either. The burden of Chelsea’s season lies on Costa’s shoulders.
- Consistency: Like the lack of goals, the inconsistency of last year’s squad destroyed the chances at silverware Chelsea had. If only they could have gotten up for games against Palace and Sunderland like they did against City and Liverpool, then the trophy would be in London, not Manchester. If Jose can motivate his players for every game, and if Costa can regularly score, then Cheslea are sure to win the Premier League.
Predicted Finish: 1st. It is, in my opinion, only a two horse race, between City and Chelsea. Liverpool will be thrown off by Champions League football, and Arsenal aren’t quite back to where they need to be. Although City have an incredibly deep squad, Chelsea have experience beyond that of City, and the best manager in the league. However, the whole season for the Blues rides on Diego Costa’s ability to score; if he isn’t putting the ball in the back of the net every week, Chelsea will have a big problem. I think he will though, and that, in combination with the already strong defense and midfield, will propel Chelsea to the title.