Can Chelsea repeat?
London is Blue. Last season’s EPL champions have reloaded and are looking to repeat for the first time since 2006-2008 when Manchester United won the league in three straight seasons.
Key Signings: Tiémoué Bakayoko, Álvaro Morata, Antonio Rüdiger
Key Departures: Diego Costa , Kurt Zouma (loan), Nemanja Matić
Going into last season, Chelsea was in an interesting predicament with a new manager and title hopes. After some mediocre results early in the season, they switched to three at the back with two wing backs, which revolutionized their play. Chelsea did not lose much after that, setting records by winning 30 games in total. They also won 13 consecutive matches tying the all-time EPL record. Chelsea won the title rather easily by seven points and posted one of the highest point totals in EPL history at 93. So how do they repeat?
Chelsea’s roster is arguably even better than last season’s. Despite losing Diego Costa, who is likely to return to Atletico Madrid in January, they replaced him with Morata, who has scored at every level and is still getting better at age 24. Additionally, Morata will finally be reunited with Antonio Conte, who signed Morata in 2014 to Juventus (Morata never actually played under the manager as Conte left to manage the Italian national team).
Morata will be expected to carry the load, especially after Hazard suffered a broken ankle during Belgian training earlier this summer that will keep him out for the season’s first two months. Chelsea also replaced Matić with Bakayoko, the 22-year-old defensive midfielder from Monaco who adds power and agility to the squad. Their starting XI is the most well rounded group in the league, but a lack of depth could cost them.
With all players healthy, Chelsea has 16 strong contributors who will be important to winning a title. This worked last season because Chelsea was not playing Champions League football. But with additional important games on the schedule, Chelsea could drop some points if they are forced to give players rest. Additionally, last season Marcus Alonso and Victor Moses were pivotal in allowing Chelsea to press high and attack wide. But this year they are lacking depth at that wing back position. They also dropped points late to Palace in the absence of Victor Moses, showing the importance of their health and also their lack of depth.
With the new signing of Rüdiger, Conte has more flexibility and could experiment with Azpilicueta at the wing back in case of injury. Wing back is their thinnest area, but arguably their most important. With that being said, these 16 players are more than good enough to win the league, but again, only if they can stay healthy. Hazard is out until October, but any additional injuries could cost them. Similarly, Liverpool was in the title race last year until they lost Coutinho to injury and Mane to the African Cup of Nations.
The reason why Chelsea has a chance to repeat is because they have three serious game-winners who can earn points on sheer brilliance and talent: Kante, Courtois, and Hazard. Kante was the player of the year, and as represented by his last two titles with different teams, arguably the most important player in the league. Kante is a Swiss Army knife and an absolute work horse in their lineup. He was top 10 in the league last season in interceptions, tackles, passes, and touches. With only two central midfielders, Kante has to cover a lot of ground, and to this point has done so incredibly. His partnership with Bakayoko will be one of the best central midfield pairings in the league.
Nothing but class.
Courtois made some incredible saves throughout the season that no other keeper in the league could have made. He has tremendous reflexes and length which puts him in elite company as a top three keeper (maybe top one). Courtois sits behind the best defense in the EPL that did not lose any players. Chemistry within their defense will allow them to continue their success into next season.
Courtois saves two points right at the death against Sunderland.
Hazard might be the best attacker in the EPL. His ball control and pace are unparalleled and he is clinical in front of goal. With Hazard out, Willian and Batshuayi will see significant minutes early in the season, and will need to provide goals. In the first two months, Chelsea faces Spurs at Wembley, and Everton, Arsenal, and City all at home. Chelsea cannot drop too many points in these matches without Hazard to have any chance at the title.
Hazard with one of the best solo goals all season against Arsenal.
Chelsea’s formation could end up being the difference. They played with a 3-4-3, which teams had trouble adjusting to all season. Some clubs that did have success against Chelsea matched their formation, like Spurs, who had a dominant win at White Hart Lane in early January. Will other teams utilize the 3-4-3 more or will Chelsea change their formation based on their opponent? Chelsea was one of the most difficult matchups for other teams based on their excellent team defending and high press style, but other clubs should have plenty of time to prepare for Chelsea’s unique style.
Chelsea is a serious title contender once again, but with both Manchester clubs spending some serious cash and adding a lot of depth to their teams, Chelsea will have difficulty repeating. If the squad can stay healthy and receive a lot of production from Morata, especially in the absence of Hazard, they look like they could be title winners once again.
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