Hallelujah Hollywood. Today, the Premier League is back. Another season of incredible passion, hopes and dreams (and the crushing of them), and unadulterated verbal, mental, and emotional abuse between supporter groups of the various clubs.
This year is set to be one of the most exciting years in the league’s history. Teams in the top six (Chelsea aside) have been throwing loads of cash at their problems to try and close the gap between them and the perennial title favorites, Manchester City and Liverpool. With last year’s title race coming down to a point in the standings, this year promises to be a closer jostle at the top with loads of talent being either filtered into the top six within the league, or being brought in from abroad in Europe. Either way, get on your feet and make it loud: ‘Cuz Here. We. Go.
After reading D-Whit’s article on Manchester United and their hopes for the upcoming PL and Europa League campaigns, I figured I had to do something on my favorite club since I was 10, Chelsea. Of course, I get all the hatred for supporting a club that only came into the spot light due to a new, big money owner 15 years ago. A club “without history”. But those that claim no history for the Blues, obviously have no idea what history even is. Most of them weren’t even alive when Chelsea was a Division 2 (now the Championship) side. So as a 10 year-old in Pittsburgh, watching Chelsea play AS Roma in the first professional match I had ever seen, and watching the likes of Super Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba (Legend) and John Terry smack Roma in the mouth at Heinz Field, I say calm the hell down.
But, with the transfer ban in place on Chelsea for two windows, a new manager, and with some large pieces of the Europa League winning group last season leaving, this summer was anything but smooth for the Blues. Here, I want to sit down and piece-by-piece break the squad apart, and provide some expectations and predictions for the upcoming season.
The Crazies: The Goalkeepers
Kepa Arrizabalaga– I know what you’re thinking. No, I did not stroke out while typing his name. You may stroke out trying to say it, though. Anyways, the most expensive goalkeeper in the world last year will be a mainstay between the sticks. The 24 year-old has all the athleticism and technique to be one of the best in the world, and is quite good with the ball at his feet. Look for another big season from him as he pushes to stake his claim as Spain’s No. 1 over United’s David De Gea.
Willy Caballero- The perennial back up, he may play some FA Cup/Carabao Cup matches throughout the season. Do not expect him to touch the pitch in the Champions League unless Kepa goes down.
Jamie Cumming- The Chelsea Academy product just signed a new contract keeping him at the club until 2023. The 19 year old will be lucky if he sees any first team action this year, and will spend most of the season with the U-21 side.
The Back Line: The Defenders
Antonio Ruediger- Still recovering from a surgery on his meniscus he injured in last season’s away fixture against Manchester United, he continues to inch closer to a return. Provided he returns to good match fitness, he will likely be a starter, depending on whether the performance of his other center back teammates dips enough to afford him the chance back into the side.
Marcos Alonso- The man stuck between a rock and a hard place. Not convincing at left back, not speedy enough as an outside midfielder or winger. This was a man tailor-made for Antonio Conte’s 3-4-3 wingback system from 2016-2018. But since the managerial changes and a change to a more conventional back four, he has been Jekyll and Hyde, with moments of genius and massive mistakes. Ultimately, the left back spot is still up for grabs.
Davide Zappacosta- A man brought in out of panic in 2016 due to Antonio Conte not assured with what his formation would be moving forward, he was brought in just to ensure the manager had options to switch to his favored back three and to use wingbacks. However, the emergence of Victor Moses and subsequent switches to a back four, where Cesar Azpilicueta runs the right back spot with impunity, it has been tough finding playing time. Look for him to feature in the domestic cup and UCL comps against lower opposition to provide “Dave” a rest. That is, until Reece James is healthy…
Andreas Christensen– The young Dane and academy product is primed for a massive run in the first team this season. Despite being slightly frozen out of Maurizio Sarri’s plans last season due to him favoring the ball-moving David Luiz and feisty Antonio Ruediger, a strong pre-season with Frank Lampard put him ahead in the pecking order, and even helped push one defender out the door…
Cesar Azpilicueta- Affectionately known as “Dave” just so we could keep his name pronounceable, the Chelsea skipper will once again be running the right back spot and featuring in every important game the Blues this season. He will be given opportunities to rest against lesser opposition.
Emerson Palmieri- Another panic signing during Antonio Conte’s reign, Emerson was finding playing time hard to come by over the last few seasons. Another wing-back, most managers felt they had an idea of what they would get out of Alonso, not so much Emerson. However, towards the end of last season, he became almost preferred versus Alonso, because although he was not a game-breaker like Alonso could be, he was more consistent and steady in his performances.
Kurt Zouma- Had a breakout year in 2014-15, until an ACL injury derailed his progress. He spent a season on loan with Stoke City, then another with Everton last year, with the latter wishing to make his loan permanent as he had another stellar year. Young, athletic, and talented, he also looks to be a starter in the center back with Christensen this season.
Reece James- Currently out due to ankle surgery, James is a long-touted academy product and seen as the successor to the right back position held by Azpilicueta. Wigan’s player of the year last year, as well as named to the Championship XI of the year, this could be a breakout year for the youngster when he returns to fitness.
Fikayo Tomori- Supposed to go on loan to another PL squad prior to Luiz’s departure to Arsenal. He will rotate through in the lesser matches, may just get a few PL appearances under his belt, depending on how the season unfolds. Derby County’s Players Player of the Year last season, he is another academy product hoping to shine under Super Frank.
The Spine: The Midfield
Jorginho- Known affectionately as Maurizio Sarri’s pet, Jorginho showed some bite in the latter stages of the 2018-19 campaign, and this has continued during the pre-season with Lampard. At the moment, he is possibly pegged to start next to Kante in a deep-lying midfield two. He is showing he is more versatile as a midfielder than just playing the “regista” role, but will he be physically dominated by the physicality of the PL like he was at times last season?
N’Golo Kante– When healthy, he is likely the first name on the team sheet. If 70% of the world is covered by water, the rest is surely covered by Kante. Will likely be placed in his “best” position, as a deep-lying midfielder protecting the back line.
Ross Barkley- Arguably one of the surprises of the pre-season, he showed the range of his offensive potential with impressive passing range, ruthlessness in front of goal, and a desire to dribble at defenders. Will likely be the starting center attacking midfielder, as he tries to fight off competition from Mount.
Mateo Kovacic- Real Madrid loanee made permanent, mostly to offset the cost of Eden Hazard’s transfer, he shows the ability to work hard, cover ground, and make devastating dribbling runs from a deep position. Providing some massive competition in midfield, especially for the likes of Jorginho.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek– Another Chelsea product showing fantastic talent, he will likely be pushing for a starting position once healthy from his Achilles repair. Will likely not be seen until 2020.
Tiemoue Bakayoko- A young player who had so much promise, seems to have a derailed career. Signed from Monaco after a stellar run to the Champions League Semi-Final two years ago, he has found himself on the outside looking in. After a loan to AC Milan seemed to re-invigorate his career last year, he has looked somewhat tidy and tigerish in the tackle, but once he has the ball at his feet, I have never seen someone so confused. Will likely be transferred out for a cut-rate price or loan before the rest of Europe’s transfer window closes. If not, he is injury insurance for those ahead of him in the pecking order.
Mason Mount- Frank Lampard 2.0. Although he does not have the build, he refuses to be physically dominated by playing faster and smarter than most of the players on the field. A goal threat from midfield, something Chelsea desperately need, and showing an innate ability to pick out the right pass, he has become a fan favorite, and quickly. An impressive pre-season has put him in heated competition with Barkley for the No. 10 role. Has shown versatility playing out wide on the wing as well.
The Question Mark: The Forwards
Pedro- His pre-season wunder-strike against RB Salzburg will have you saying, “Vote for Pedro”. An aging star, the former Barcelona man will likely be behind in the pecking order behind Pulisic and Willian, and assuredly when Hudson-Odoi returns from injury.
Callum Hudson-Odoi- A breakout season last year after being seemingly caged by Sarri (or released at the proper moment, however you wish to see it), he had instilled faith in the Chelsea faithful and academy products that you could make it as a youngster at Chelsea. If he performs like he did last season after recovering from a partial Achilles repair, he will be an untouchable starter for the rest of the campaign.
Olivier Giroud- His 1-year extension triggered mostly because Chelsea were unsure what would happen with the transfer ban, he is determined to show he is the man to lead the line. However, his performances continue to scream “Super Sub”, which he has been fighting against his entire career.
Willian- Given the #10 after Eden Hazard’s departure to Real Madrid, he will look to be the creative hub for Chelsea on the attack in addition to Pulisic once in full fitness after dealing with a minor knee injury.
Michy Batshuayi- The “Batman” is back, and looks hungry as ever. Showed flashes of power and drive to score in the pre-season, but with the chances he had, left a lot of quality opportunities left unfinished. Looked best in a front two paired with Abraham, which could be an option for Lampard throughout the season.
Kenedy- A loan/fringe player for multiple seasons, he showed an ability to run and attack defenses and fire *some* dangerous crosses from playing in a wide position. However, his finishing leaves a lot to be desired, and will likely be way down in the pecking order for the upcoming season, or may make a loan move outside of the PL now that the deadline has closed, unless a team comes calling in the winter window.
Christian Pulisic- The American Wunderkind. Signed in expectation that Eden Hazard would leave in the summer, he has large shoes to fill (not only for his price, but for whom he is replacing). At first glance, it is unrealistic to expect him to be the game changer and talisman Hazard was, but one must remember that he is only 20, with his best years (if healthy) are likely yet to come. Regardless, his willingness to run at defenders and his playmaking ability is top quality and could serve Chelsea well in the upcoming season.
Tammy Abraham- Another exciting academy product, he is the most likely candidate to lead the line for the Blues in the upcoming PL season. A tall, athletic character with pace to burn, Abraham has all the tools to light the English top flight on fire. However, he will need to be more clinical when he is presented with chances, especially against the top six, because this season, a depleted Chelsea squad may not get as many. Fans are hoping he can finally make the leap from a prolific Championship scorer (23 goals with Bristol City in 2016-17, 25 goals with Aston Villa 2018-19) to a Premier League star.
The Mastermind and The Gameplan: The Coach and Style
The return of Frank Lampard to the Blues was a much needed remedy for the toxic atmosphere that was beginning to suffocate Stamford Bridge and the Chelsea supporters. The past few managers have polarized the fan base, leading to great amounts of angst throughout the club. Now, with club legend and all-time leading scorer Super Frank at the helm, and a myriad of other former players/legends returning to the Bridge in coaching/administrative roles, the masses have united (and blindly) again.
It is incredible, really, that a coach with only one-season managing professional footballers could land a job as big as the one at the Bridge, and even more incredible yet that none of the fan-base questions him or his appointment. That is the respect commanded by Lampard, and it assuredly wins him affection and respect from his players as well. Although, in the case of David Luiz, you could be praising the manager one moment, then moving to one of your cross-town rivals the next because you decide to pout like a 5 year-old. But I digress.
Throughout the pre-season, the most common look for Lampard’s squad seemed to be a 4-2-3-1, a formation he is all too familiar from his playing days. At Derby County, his last stint, he typically stayed with a 4-3-3 formation, which ultimately (in my mind at least) is just semantics and we could call it a 4-2-3-1. However, this formation will likely allow Chelsea to get their best players on the field in their best positions, allowing them to sit in and stifle stronger opponents, but affording attacking fluidity going forward, which the 4-3-3 allows.
However, with the loss of Eden Hazard, and losing some key players to injury for the first parts of the season, and with the other clubs spending wildly and strengthening their squads with proven players, it is hard to see the Blues making waves this season and challenging for the title. However, they sit in a position where they could make a hard push for the top four, and this race may be decided by the skin of the teeth. In terms of their Champions League aspirations (and we know anything could happen in knockout football, thanks Munich), they *should* move out of the group stages, but knowing Chelsea’s luck, they will draw a Barcelona and Juventus, and then the real fun would begin.
However, my hopes are high, flying high, up in the sky with the Blue Flag, but a realistic finish will be in a Europa League Spot and either a Round of 16 or Quarterfinal Champions League exit. Oh, and the domestic cups? I would venture to say quarterfinals or better for both.
Predictions for the season:
PL Finish: 5th
Champions League Finish: Out in the Round of 16
FA Cup Finish: Out in the Quarter Final
Carabao Cup Finish: Out in the Semi-Final
Top Scorer: Tie between Abraham, Willian, and either Mount/Barkley
Predicted Opening Day Line Up:
DEF- Azpilicueta, Zouma, Christensen, Alonso
MF- Kante, Jorginho, Barkley
ATT- Abraham, Willian, Pulisic
Enjoy the season. Keep your friends close, and your celery closer. KTBFFH.
*Disclaimer: This entire article was written while watching “Chance”, the third installment of the Amazon Prime Series, “This Is Football”. This line was written as Drogba scores the decisive penalty, thrusting Chelsea into Champions League glory in Munich, 2012. (If you have not yet, check the series out. Incredible work)