After last season’s awful Premier League display, Chelsea fans will be hoping to do a u-turn and compete for a European place once again. Antonio Conte’s arrival has sparked excitement in London and Blues fans will be expecting the Italian to stabilize the squad and bring some much needed expertise to Stamford Bridge.
The new boss has already been hard at work throughout the summer, experimenting with his squad and bringing in N’Golo Kante from Leicester City to strengthen his midfield. Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and co. have another big season ahead of them but what can Chelsea fans expect this year?
Firstly, the arrival of the French midfielder will add stability and composure to the rusty-looking Chelsea side. Namanja Matic has looked a shadow of his true self since being substituted on and then off minutes later by Jose Mourinho back at the start of the 2015-16 season. The formerly brilliant defensive midfielder was a strong presence in the Blues midfield and was a key jigsaw piece in the Chelsea’s side spine. His poor form has made Matic invisible at times and he’s looked shaky during his pre-season performances so far. Kante could be just the ticket to cure that issue and will bring a presence back to the Chelsea midfield. The title winner can pass well and his positioning is usually effective. He’ll be able to link up well with Oscar and Hazard and will add a new dimension to the Blues squad.
Chelsea’s success under Jose Mourinho during the 2014-15 season was largely due to the heroics of Eden Hazard, who was voted the PFA Player of the Year after a tremendous season. His form was poor last year and he looked lost; a player unsure on his future and his role within the squad. However, after enjoying an encouraging European Championship tournament with Belgium, the Chelsea forward looks brighter and he’s been lively during their pre-season clashes so far this summer.
Hazard’s pace and ability to turn defenders inside and out causes problems for the opposition and allows Chelsea to put pressure on in good areas. If the Belgian can find his form once again, under Conte, Chelsea will look a lot more solid and the Italian manager will be sure to give direction to a squad lacking in identity. The new boss was renowned for his organisational philosophy at Juventus and that could prove invaluable to a side that looks wayward at times.
Chelsea’s weakness seems to lie in their defence, and it was important they offered John Terry a contract extension which kept him at the club for this season. Kurt Zouma’s injury will be a huge blow for the start of the season and it seems Conte is awaiting his return rather than choosing to invest in a big-name centre-back. Whilst that may please many fans, it means Chelsea could be a little vulnerable for the start of the season, with Terry likely to partner Gary Cahill in central defence and although they’re an experienced partnership, they have their limitations.
Terry’s lack of pace and inability to drive the ball forward from defence has been criticised in recent seasons as his age seems to have affected what were once brilliant abilities as a centre-back. He’s still a leader though and with so many changes already occurring in the Chelsea camp, his presence cannot be underestimated. Cahill has had a poor year too and the England international will be hoping to fight for a regular starting position once again. The good news is that Conte’s coaching expertise lie largely in defence and that’s certainly an area Blues fans will be hoping to see an improvement in.
As well as the usual big names, Chelsea fans have had the chance to see some of their players who don’t usually feature regularly for the Blues. Juan Cuadrado has been given his opportunity during the pre-season campaign and he looked bright against Real Madrid in their most recent clash. The attacking winger looked creative and sharp and he’ll be hoping to push for a place in Conte’s squad this season.
Michy Batshuayi looked dangerous too and Conte will be hoping he can count on the two attackers to add depth to his squad. It’ll be a big season for Costa, Matic, Hazard and Fabregas, who all under-performed last season but pressure will also be on Pedro who was last season’s big-money buy. The former Barcelona forward was awful last season but he’ll have a chance to start fresh this year and it’s important he gets his Chelsea career off to a start.
All-in-all, there’s still many things to address and Conte won’t have an easy job on his hands. However, the Chelsea squad still holds a lot of quality and they have depth in midfield and attack which they’ll be hoping to expose as the other top teams endure busier schedules when competing in European competition. Chelsea’s sole focus will be the Premier League and the lack of other distractions could prove to be extremely valuable. At least one of the top clubs will be disappointed as European places are limited but for Chelsea, it’s vital they bounce back otherwise it could prove costly for future seasons. They’ve managed to attract players this year despite no European football but it’s unlikely they’ll be as successful next season if they are unable to qualify.