‘Preseason is fake. If you’re very bad it’s fake, and if you’re too good it’s fake.’
Well, José, your side have certainly been the former this summer, with the Blues’ pre-season schedule drawing to a close with Sunday’s 1-0 reverse by Arsenal in the Community Shield. In fact, Mourinho’s men are without a win in the off-season; losing 4-2 to a second-string New York Red Bulls side, 1-0 to Fiorentina, and drawing 1-1 and 2-2 with European high-flyers PSG and Barcelona respectively. Chelsea barely broke sweat in their pursuit of the Premier League title last season, but unless they rectify their underwhelming (albeit ‘fake’) current form, it could be a much different story this season.
With that in mind, I can think of friendlier fixtures to kick off a title defence than at home to Swansea City. Garry Monk made a lot of pundits look rather silly last campaign. His side finished 8th, obliterated their previous best points tally in a Premier League season, and did the double over Manchester United and Arsenal. Relegation candidates? Piffle. Last season was no fluke, and I fully expect the South Walians to compete again. With the loss of Wilfried Bony in January, Bafétimbi Gomis stepped up to the plate, netting five times in his last six games to reach double figures for the season. The Swans coped admirably without their Ivorian talisman, and, with the addition of André Ayew to their ranks, look comfortable up top once again.
Time to look away, Swansea fans. You’ve never beaten Chelsea in the Premier League. The more astute amongst you will recall a 2-0 triumph in the Capital One Cup, the first win away at Stamford Bridge in 87 years, but the league record stands at 6-2-0 in favour of the Londoners. I’m afraid it gets worse. Chelsea average over two goals per game against Swansea, having scored 19 in 5. In fact, it’s hard to find any statistics that favour the Welsh side, but I’ll give it my best shot. In meetings between the two sides, Chelsea have received two red cards to Swansea’s one. There. Don’t say I didn’t try.
With both sides favouring five in midfield with a lone striker, for the majority of last season, a lot of pressure lies on the top tacklers to control the game. Ki Sung Yueng will be the puppet master for the Swans. The diminutive Korean scored 8 times last season, with one assist, but also provides much needed steel, averaging over two interceptions and clearances per game. His ability to read the game and break up the play will be crucial this weekend. His opposite number should be Nemanja Matic, one of the best in the business in that holding role. The Serbian has the edge when it comes to the numbers, with 87% pass completion across the whole of last season, as well as 2.88 tackles won per game. Whoever triumphs in the midfield battle could well lead their team to victory.
Chelsea certainly had the better of it between the two sides last season. They stuck 9 past the Swans across both fixtures, with a 4-2 win at the Bridge and a 5-0 demolition in South Wales. The big worry for Chelsea is that 5 of the 9 goals came from Diego Costa. To say the Brazilian (or should that read Spaniard?) is not everyone’s cup of tea would be an understatement. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that he knows where the net is. A recurrence of his hamstring injury is a major blow to Mourinho, who may have to rely on Loic Remy or Radamel Falcao this weekend; unconvincing to say the least. The other end of the pitch will bring the Chelsea faithful a lot more comfort. The John Stones saga rolls on, but it seems as though the defence will be the same, tried and tested ‘keeper and back four that served the side so well last season. The sight of Courtois, Azpilicueta, Terry, Cahill and Ivanovic on the team sheet should be a familiar one.
It’s been a summer of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ for Garry Monk. Five in, three out. Nothing major. In fact, the line-up for the big kick-off is likely to take a similar shape to the one that ended the previous season. Wayne Routledge and Modou Barrow are likely to be scrapping with new boy Ayew and Jefferson Montero for places out wide, but Lukasz Fabianski looks set to continue in goal, with the likes of Ashley Williams and Jonjo Shelvey providing a competent spine.
Loic Remy / Radamel Falcao – It’s anyone’s guess as to who will lead the line come 5.30pm on Saturday. Forty-five minutes apiece for the Frenchman and the Colombian last weekend didn’t give us a clear answer as to who can have the greater impact this season. Although, on paper, both seem capable backups to Costa, Remy found himself offside far too frequently at Wembley, with Falcao providing an equally toothless performance. If Chelsea are to get off to a strong start this weekend, one of the two strikers will have to step up to the plate.
Lukasz Fabianski – For every striker trying to score, there’s a goalkeeper trying to stop them. A few eyebrows were raised following Fabianski’s free transfer to Swansea last summer, with fan favourite Michel Vorm heading to White Hart Lane. However, once again, the Swansea gaffer got it spot on. Players’ Player of the Season for 2014/15, Fabianski kept 13 clean sheets, second only to Joe Hart. The first game of the Premier League season is normally a nervous, cagey affair. If the Polish stopper can do what he couldn’t last year and keep Chelsea’s frontmen at bay early doors, it could prove to be a fruitful opening afternoon for the Swans, just like at Old Trafford last August.
It’s always tough to call the opening game. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Without putting my neck on the line, I’m going for a tight, score draw. It will be interesting to see how the untested Eder and Ayew fare at the top table of English football, as well as whether Falcao can put his United days behind him.
Chelsea 1-1 Swansea City
You can back the Champions to get off to a flyer at odds of 4/11 with BetVictor
The draw is 19/2 with Unibet:
Alternatively, if you fancy the Swans to cause another opening day shock, they are 9/2 with Ladbrokes