2016/17 Premier League Champions Chelsea have had a mixed pre-season, they started with a 3-0 victory over Arsenal in Beijing and in truth tore the Gunners to shreds for the 90 minutes. The Blues then faced Bayern Munich in Singapore, and a bit like how Antonio Conte’s side started the Arsenal game, Bayern came out flying and had a 3-0 led before half-time. Chelsea did manage to pull two goals back, one from Michy Batshuayi, who made it three in the opening two games.
Following defeat to the Germans, next up was Inter and again it was another bad result out in Singapore as they lost 2-1. So three pre-season games in total, a great start but that was followed by two losses. This was in-between making summer signings and allowing players to exit, so Conte won’t be worried as the main thing he seems concerned about is the fitness of his squad.
Chelsea have made like for like signings during this summers transfer window, with Alvaro Morata, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Antonio Rudiger coming in to replace Diego Costa, Nemanja Matic and club legend John Terry. Conte has also allowed many young players to leave or be loaned out, the likes of Nathaniel Chalobah, Dominic Solanke and Juan Cuadrado have both left permanently, whilst Tammy Abraham, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Kurt Zouma have been loaned out for more experience and game time.
Costa hasn’t officially left the Blues as yet but he will never pull on a Chelsea shirt again after a fall out with Conte and his departure is imminent. Morata arrives after a reported deal worth £58 million (€65.6 million) plus add-ons and the Spaniard is certain to excite fans. He is a natural finisher who works his socks off for whichever team he is playing for, after years at Real Madrid and Juventus he wasn’t always the number one striker, yet kept his head down and always worked hard to get his chance, which he took when asked to do so. He will wear the number 9 shirt which for former Chelsea stars was somewhat a jinx – the likes of Radamel Falcao, Fernando Torres and Hernan Crespo all failed with this number on their back. Coach Conte worked with Morata at Juventus so knows exactly what he is getting and will feel very confident that he can replace Costa and along with Batshuayi he will have enough fire power to help him try and regain the title this season.
Matic left to join rivals Manchester United and team up with Jose Mourinho, however, this is not a worry for Chelsea supporters as they have a ready made replacement in Bakayoko, the powerful Frenchman is 22-years old and will link up with his compatriot N’Golo Kante to form a solid defensive midfield.
Willy Caballero has been brought in as a back up for Thibaut Courtois, Asmir Begovic was allowed to leave to join Bournemouth for regular football. Again a replacement that is very like for like as Conte will know that Caballero has Premier League experience as well as Champions League if needed.
John Terry has left to join Aston Villa and his shoes will be huge to fill, maybe too big just like when Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba left, players like these are irreplaceable really. But German Rudiger has been brought in by the coach from Roma for a huge £34 million, he is big strong and very quick, he has been criticised for his footwork in Serie A but his pace makes up for his mistakes. However the Premier League is not like in Italy, its very fast paced and one mistake could cost you your reputation with the crowd, players and staff. Zouma has joined Stoke on loan to gain more playing time after his serious knee injury last year, so for Rudiger, he will have to be ready from the off.
How are they expected to line-up?
In his first season, Conte started with a 4-4-2 formation and was quickly found out after a heavy 3-0 defeat away at Arsenal, so he changed to his more familiar and Italian style of a 3-4-3 with two wing backs and two free roles for the pair behind the front man. This season I believe he will start the same and stick with Courtois in goal, a back three of David Luiz, new club captain Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta. The two wing backs should be the very impressive Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses, with Kante and Bakayoko sitting in front the three. Eden Hazard, Willian and Morata will make the three up front. Rudiger could start from the bench and be on stand by for any injuries to the defence, whilst Pedro and Cesc Fabregas will rotate and come in depending on who the opposition is I suppose. Batshuayi was a great back up choice for Costa last season and I expect him to continue in that role this year with Morata being the starter. Despite the Belgian ending the campaign strongly and having an impressive pre-season, I feel Conte will not leave nearly 70 million pounds worth of a player on the bench.
How do they start the season?
After the Community Shield on Sunday 6th August, Chelsea will turn their attention to retaining the title and start at Stamford Bridge against Burnley on Saturday 12th. This should be a straight forward win really for the home team, but as its opening day, anything could happen. The following week on Super Sunday the Blues will face Tottenham in a rematch of the FA Cup semi-final last season, back in April that tie finished 4-2 to Chelsea and with Wembley being the new home for Spurs, for one season whilst their new ground is being built, they could struggle and Conte’s side could easily turn up and come away with three points – something not a single side managed last year at White Hart Lane.
The following Sunday, Chelsea will again be at home, this time to Ronald Koeman’s new look Everton team. The Toffee boys have spent well over £100 million since Romelu Lukaku left to join Man United, so this again could be a tough match. I feel, however, again Chelsea will come away will victory, so realistically they could be on top after three games with a maximum nine points.
Last year the Blues had no European football to worry about so they were fresh week in week out, this time around with Champions League midweek games, the league could become a bit more of a task. Terry leaving along with long serving coach Steve Holland, who has been at the club since 2009 and is departing to join Gareth Southgate and help out the England national team, could also be a massive effect. Conte is very clever and also very demanding of his players, he doesn’t sit down all game and can be heard for miles screaming his instructions from the sidelines on a match day. He has also revealed how he would like to bring in maybe four new faces before the window closes, so with that in mind and his high standards, I would be backing them for successive league titles.