- Evidence from Last Season
At the conclusion of last season, there was only one team I was keen to put my money on this one – Chelsea.
After narrowly losing the Premier League title race to Manchester City (rather than City winning it), it was very clear to me that their title challenge came a year too early in Mourinho’s rebuilding plan at Stamford Bridge. This year will be different. Their transfer dealings this summer – both in and out – highlight the progress being made (see below). But, in truth, not a great deal was needed at the Bridge outside of a proven goal scorer or two. The only thing that prevented them winning last season’s title at a cantor.
- Transfer Dealings
Chelsea has strengthened their squad markedly this summer. David Luis has been sold for big money to Paris Saint Germain. Nothing but a positive for Chelsea in my book. Joining him are a mixture of older and less influential players like Demba Ba, Ashley Cole, Samuel Et’o and Frank Lampard. Romelu Lukaku is the only player sold whom I would have suggested Chelsea should retain. But in the other direction have come Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Filipe Luis. Didier Drogba has rejoined with a mentoring and coaching role likely the main objective. There is also some talk that Edinson Cavani may be a target. If so, it would be a super signing in a position Chelsea probably need to add one more.
And let’s not forget the return of players on loan. Better than their signings in some respects. Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois returns from his loan spell at Spanish champions, Atletico Madrid, to leave Chelsea with two of the best keepers in world football. Young French defender, Kurt Zouma, also arrives at the club this summer having been signed in January. Both superstars in waiting.
- Strongest Line-Up in League
I don’t think anyone can dispute Chelsea come into this season with the strongest defense in the division. They conceded just 27 league goals last season (10 fewer than their nearest rivals) and have added even more strength in this area by calling back Courtois and Zouma, and signing Filipe Luis. The departure of David Luis is also a plus.
Their midfield also lends a strong balance between defensive solidity and attacking menace. Anchored by Ramires and Nemanja Matic (a particularly impressive addition last season), the immense attacking talent of Eden Hazard, Oscar, Cesc Fabregas,Willian and world cup star Andre Shurrle of Germany will trouble most teams. Greatly.
And in Diego Costa, they now have a proven goal scorer at European level. But with only Torres and Drogba in support, there’s little quality in reserve should Costa get injured or fatigued. Something Mourinho will need to address.
Chelsea’s biggest weakness last season was goals. Or more particularly, goals by strikers. A reliance on Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto’o and Demaba Ba left them desperately short of goals and arguably cost them a title. It is an deficiency which requires urgent attention.
The addition of Diego Costa, a star for Atletico Madrid last season, is very welcome. But not enough for an entire season in which Chelsea compete on four fronts. More signings are required.
The current Premier League champions are Chelsea’s main threat this coming season. Exceptionally strong throughout the spine of their team – with Joe Hart in goals, Vincent Kompany in central defence, Fernandinho and Yaya Toure in central midfield and Sergio Augero and Edin Dzeko in attack – City have deservedly taken the title in two of the last three seasons.
But highly dependent on the goals of Toure last season (which are unlikely to be repeated), the fact that City only won the title by two points despite scoring 102 goals (31 more than Chelsea) leaves them highly vulnerable if this tally comes to anything less this season. And with City’s squad having less depth in quality than their London rivals, simply too much is required of Toure, Aguero and Dzeko.
The group of challengers outside Manchester City is led by last season’s FA Cup winners, Arsenal. The Gunners are not far away from mounting a title challenge with a reliable defense, a wide array of talented midfielders including Ozil, Ramsey, Cazorla, Walcott and Wilshere and the addition of Alexis Sanchez to a forward line which was badly deficient last season. But the problem with Arsenal is their threadbare squad – especially acute in defenders and strikers – and the demands placed upon it by competing on four fronts.
Manchester United will be better than this season than last. How could they not be, with Louis Van Gaal achieving more in a few weeks than David Moyes did in an entire season. Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie and Juan Mata will get a bucket full of goals for United and the addition of Herrera looks to finally end their vulnerability in central midfield. But their defense does not look of title-winning calibre. Neither Phil Jones, Chris Smalling or Jonny Evans is international class and a unit incorporating Raphael and Luke Shaw leaves the entire line short of experience and organisation. Signing Vermalen for this reason alone would improve matters, but not to the extent that it’s good enough to win a title. It’s not. A Top 4 finish, however, is well within their reach.
Outside of Arsenal and the Manchester clubs, it’s difficult to see a realistic title challenger emerge. Following the departure of Luis Suarez, Liverpool have taken a backwards step over the summer. And with European football to divide their focus this season (unlike last), their second-place finish last season looks an ambitious target to reach nevermind surpass. Everton and Tottenham will improve, in my opinion, but a Champions League place is their highest realistic goal.