Despite a relatively quiet summer, it looks as if the reigning champs are in prime position for a repeat. José Mourinho’s Chelsea dominated the league last season, and the lack of any major changes means that, barring an injury, the same star-studded cast that won last year will lineup alongside one another for another season. However, will this unchanged team be able to compete with the other title challengers who have been spending hundreds of millions this summer on improvements?
The cornerstone of Chelsea’s run for back-to-back titles, as with any other Mourinho team, will be their defense. Last season, the Blues allowed just 32 goals in 38 games (a league best), and at Stamford Bridge opponents scored just nine times in 19 matches. This impressive record is largely thanks to arguably the best back four in the league. On the wings, Branislav Ivanovic and César Azpilicueta shut down opposing midfielders while also showing great distribution and composure to spark counter attacks. The forms of the duo actually forced big-money signing Filipe Luís to watch the majority of the season from the sidelines and ultimately move back to Spain this summer. One point of possible concern for Chelsea supporters will be the age of club icon John Terry. The 34-year-old is coming off of one his best seasons to date, but will his legs be able to replicate another 40+ game season? Rumors are spreading that the Blues are trying to lure young England defender John Stones away from Everton as a potential Terry replacement, but if that pursuit fails I’m not sure they can rely on Terry for another amazing season.
Sitting in front of the back four is the attacking/defending tandem of Cesc Fábregas and Nemanja Matic. Fábregas, after returning to England from Barcelona, reminded the league why Arsenal fans were so sad to see him go back in 2011. The Spaniard recorded a league best 18 assists, a tally that has only been bested by himself in the last ten years when he recorded 20 for Arsenal in 2007-08. The prior Premier League experience definitely helped the 28-year-old midfielder quickly adapt to his new surroundings in London, and the chemistry he built with the attack can only help him this season. Where Fábregas shined in attack, Matic thrived in defense. The Serbian’s physicality paired with his patient and composed tackles made him an invaluable piece of Chelsea’s title-winning squad. Matic was never afraid to go into tackles regardless of the opposition, and when he did break up attacks he was almost always able to find a penetrating pass to push his side into the attack. The balance between him and Fábregas could again serve to push Chelsea to the crown.
As good as Chelsea were in defense, you can’t win games without goals and that’s exactly what Diego Costa and Eden Hazard provided. Costa, the former Atlético Madrid striker, joined Mourinho’s men over the summer for a reported fee of £32 million and he did all he could to justify this massive price tag. His debut season in the famous blue kit saw the 26-year-old score a team-leading 20 league goals, and his near telepathic partnership with Fábregas made him one of the most lethal strikers early in the season. The major issue with Costa is his injury problems. Not even one game into the season, Mourinho has hinted that the Spaniard may miss out on the season opener due to a hamstring issue and this problem has plagued him in recent years. If he can stay healthy all year, he can lead the league in goals, but if he has to battle injuries his tally will take a hit. While Costa provided the muscle up front, Eden Hazard provided the flair and pace that fans love to see. You could easily argue that Hazard is one of the best, if not the best, player in the league at the moment. In his first three years in England, Hazard has scored a combined 37 league goals and recorded 27 assists. In the preseason, the Belgian has already shown the fans that he still has that special spark and there is not a reason to think that 2015-16 won’t be another big year for Chelsea’s star man.
The only big departures of the summer have been Petr Cech to Arsenal, and the aforementioned Filipe Luís back to Atlético Madrid. Neither of these exits pose a real threat to Chelsea’s title hopes as both players primarily served as benchwarmers the majority of the season. Cech, a club legend, was forced to watch a young Thibault Courtois establish himself as a dominant force in the league. Luís quickly had his starting hopes dashed once Ivanovic and Azipilicueta began to solidify themselves in Mourinho’s plans. Other than the emotional factor of a player like Cech leaving, don’t expect either departure to hinder the champs.
Overall, it looks like José Mourinho has all the pieces he needs to bring the title back to Stamford Bridge for second straight year. As with any team, injuries can derail a season and Chelsea are no exception. When healthy, however, the Blues are one of the best in the league and they will surely be in the title conversation come May.