After a dismal start to the season under Jose Mourinho last year, Chelsea’s defence of their title got off to one of the worst starts in recent seasons of the Premier League. It led to the sacking of the Portuguese ‘Special One’ and saw the 2014-15 PFA Player of the Year become invisible in the space of six months. Eden Hazard’s fall from grace and the subsequent falling apart of his team-mates was met with astonishment and amusement by many as Chelsea struggled to fight their way back into the top half of the table towards the end of the season. In tenth position they finished and with only 12 victories, they won almost half the amount of games as the champions, Leicester City. It was a season to forget for the Blues and this season will be even more important.
With the amount of quality in the squad, it was incredible how Chelsea could have flopped as badly as they did. But these things happen in football – although usually poor form does end at some stage – and after some extensive recovery work from stand-in manager, Guus Hiddink they managed to retrieve a season which almost ended in disaster. Relegation would’ve been unthinkable to most after watching Mourinho’s side lift the Premier League title the season previous. However, their recovery and the fact they’ve managed to keep many of their biggest stars, means they are in a good position to restart this season and could bounce back in the Premier League in 2017.
Chelsea’s collapse was largely down to what seemed like a complete breakdown in relationships between the manager and the players and that resonated in some of the player’s performances. Eden Hazard was last season’s Premier League star, Chelsea’s Player of the Year and a candidate for the Ballon D’or. However, his epic fall from the top seemed to seep through the rest of the squad and their confidence was drained. Injuries and a lack of form from their key players meant the Chelsea squad lacked identity, confidence and stability. John Terry, the club’s captain who played every minute of their title-winning campaign in 2014-15, found himself on the side-lines on too many occasions due to injury and Gary Cahill’s unstable performances meant Chelsea were often left open at the back – an area where they have been so solid for many seasons.
Their ‘park the bus’ methods were put on pressure due to an unstable defence and their creative attackers, Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa, Oscar and Eden Hazard were all performing below par at a time when Chelsea weren’t able to defend with confidence. There’s hope for the upcoming season though as all of Chelsea’s stars have a chance to revive themselves without expectation or the pressures of defending a title. John Terry will remain at Stamford Bridge for another season after being offered a one-year contract extension and his leadership will undoubtedly prove valuable for a team lacking in confidence.
Chelsea’s squad isn’t shy of ability and Hazard showed in flashes the dangers he can cause on a football pitch. He leads Belgium in this summer’s European Championships and although he is yet to set the world stage alight, his dominance in the side is still clear to see. Team-mates bounce off him and his ability to create chances out of nothing makes him an invaluable member of the Chelsea squad. Costa, who was one of the Premier League’s top goal-scorers during the 2014-15 season, hasn’t lost the ability to find the back of the net and if Chelsea’s midfield can find their rhythm again, he’ll put away chances created.
Fabregas was one of the outstanding performers for Chelsea during their title-winning season, creating more assists and more chances than many team put together in the Premier League. He has an eye for attacking runs and can put ball through the defence in areas where few players in the world can. He has already shown glimpses of his passing quality during the European Championships for Spain and he’ll be looking to recapture his glistening form of last season in the new year. One positive from Chelsea performances last year, was their Brazilian full-back Willian, who produced moments of class. His pace and willingness to push forward means Chelsea will always have a dangerous outlet out wide. Despite weak performances from the squad, it was largely due to the attacking nature of their full-backs that allowed them to get back into games last season.
The Chelsea squad may be an ageing one, but with Conte coming to Stamford Bridge, there’ll be a fresh look to the Blues team next season and the players still have the quality to trouble most defenders. If Hazard, Oscar, Costa and Fabregas can get firing again, Chelsea will no doubt be challenging at the top once more and you’d expect them to welcome Champions League football back to the club for the 2017-18 season.