Premier League profile 2015/16: Chelsea
Premier League champions Chelsea will begin the campaign to retain their title, which they are 7/4 to do with Coral, on the back of a disappointing 1-0 Community Shield defeat to London rivals Arsenal.
Yet, ahead of the new season, Jose Mourinho should be more than satisfied with his star-studded roster, who are one of a mere handful of sides to have kept continuity and resisted the urge to undergo wholescale changes over the summer.
The Blues’ lack of action in the transfer market is a huge show of faith in the current ranks, with owner Roman Abramovich no stranger to shelling out, and this should pay dividends.
Over pre-season and at Wembley, Chelsea have largely looked rusty and far from their usually high-pressing sprightly selves, but once Mourinho’s men take to the Stamford Bridge stage to host Swansea City on the opening day, those kinks should be ironed out.
The usually compact capital club illustrated a few chinks in their defensive armour against Arsenal, but better that the Blues get those mistakes out of their system now than when points are at stake.
Having allowed custodian Petr Cech to cross over and join the Gunners, bringing in Asmir Begovic as back-up to post prodigy Thibaut Courtois, the Stamford Bridge side are undoubtedly weakened. Yet, it was arguably a show of strength and confidence to allow the move to unfold.
The last chief remaining from Chelsea’s old guard, captain John Terry, still looks to be the star of his side’s rearguard which, at age 34, should be somewhat concerning.
Kurt Zouma’s path of progression seems smooth but another injection of young blood is required and has clearly been identified going by the Blues’ pursuit of composed John Stones, who would certainly help Chelsea improve their ability to play out from the back.
Whether or not Chelsea can seize the young Englishman from Everton, full back relief is another priority that could ease the burden of Mourinho’s ageing backline.
Augsburg’s Abdul Rahman Baba, a gung-ho Ghanaian left back currently bombing down the flanks in the Bundesliga, is reportedly close to a west London arrival and could shake-up Chelsea’s defensive selection in a way now departed Filipe Luis failed to.
Complacency could well become the Blues’ biggest stumbling block, though, and there were hints of that in the Community Shield clash. Chelsea expect to win even when falling behind and many of Mourinho’s players practically pick themselves, while the formation is always predictable with a lone frontman.
Subtle changes can refresh a team more than any transfer, so the ‘Special One’ could benefit from loosening the reins on his attacking players this term. They have little to lose but much to gain by such a move.
On the wing, Willian, increasingly influential out wide but still lacking end product, and twinkle-toed Eden Hazard, even on an off day, are automatic starters.
Egypt attacker Mohamed Salah is as good as gone but, if Juan Cuadrado and surprisingly Victor Moses are to have any semblance of a Stamford Bridge future, they must show quickly that they are viable alternatives.
With this being Chelsea, it seems foolhardy to be excited about the prospect of seeing Brazilian youngsters Nathan and Kenedy pulling on a Blues shirt anytime soon. Although, Ruben Loftus-Cheek could add real dynamism and, if Mourinho wants a player other than underrated Oscar to partner first picks Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic in midfield, the youngster should eventually offer more than either Ramires and John Obi Mikel.
In attack, meanwhile, without dangerman Diego Costa, the Blues lack serious bite up top and, as of yet, two successive summer back-ups in Loic Remy and Radamel Falcao do not look to be up to the task of understudy.
Colombia leading scorer Falcao, of course, deserves time to prove his merits and should not be judged on one poor cameo. If he can get back to his best, and that is a big if, Mourinho will be heralded as a hero.
The Blues, 8/1 to win the Champions League, cannot afford to toss points away in the meantime, though, and may struggle to break down stubborn opponents if they cannot get their forwards firing on all cylinders. Before teams figure out how to frustrate the champions, Mourinho must upset the apple cart.