Chelsea's season preview and expected challenges next season
With the new Premier League season set to kick off this weekend, there is a sense of wonder about...
With the new Premier League season set to kick off this weekend, there is a sense of wonder about just which Chelsea side will turn up for the opening fixture against West Ham on Monday night.
The personnel that won the Premier League in 2014-15 is largely still at the club, but after a morale-sapping season last term, new manager Antonio Conte’s main job is to reinstate the feel-good factor at Stamford Bridge.
The Italian manager has a venerable record from his days at Juventus and getting the Blues back into contention for the Premier League title will be the passionate coach’s major task in 2016-17.
A tenth-placed finish last season defied football predictions and was far from good enough for a team of Chelsea’s stature or befitting of a side with the quality that the Blues possess.
Conte has added a number of new faces to the squad he has inherited, with Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi and midfield workhorse N’Golo Kante signed at considerable expense. This pair are not expected to be the last new faces that arrive at the West London club, with the team that takes the pitch against West Ham set to be different to the one that is available after August 31.
Other major teams in the Premier League have strengthened their contingents, namely the Manchester clubs, and City are the favourites to be crowned champions at 9/4.
Much of Chelsea’s hopes of potentially winning their title back will be tied into Conte’s ability to get the club’s main players firing. The likes of Eden Hazard, Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic all had underwhelming campaigns in 2015-16 – despite being world-class, international players. If this quartet can start the season fit and firing there is every chance that the Blues can be in the running come May.
As it is, Chelsea are third favourites to win the title at odds of 5/1. Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side that won the Premier League was built around a solid defensive core, which then turned into a major weakness for the club last term.
The likes of John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic, who were rocks of the side the season prior, started to look like liabilities and Conte will have making his back four watertight as a priority. Bank on the Blues signing a new central defender before the window closes, especially as Kurt Zouma is recovering from serious injury, and this will boost the club’s chances of major success.
The fact that Chelsea are not playing in European competition in 2016-17 will also serve as a benefit, with less fixtures to worry about and a domestic focus allowing the club to put all their eggs in the Premier League basket.
The ambition will be to return to Champions League football at the first time of asking, but while other challengers feel the strain of competing on a number of fronts, the Blues may well be able to take advantage. Conte is an accomplished manager with an excellent squad at his disposal – the sky is the limit for Chelsea in 2016-17.