There’s no getting around Chelsea’s slow start the season, both in the Premier League and the Champions League. Mourinho has experimented with different lineups and, as we saw Wednesday versus Basel, formations. Mind you, the squad isn’t unfamiliar with this kind of rotation. Benitez had Chelsea in a constant state of fluctuation last year that allowed them deep cup runs and an eventual Europa League title. But in light of all this rotation and experimentation, the question begs: what is the best possible starting eleven for Chelsea?
Let’s start with formation. Over the past couple of years Chelsea have done well with a 4-2-3-1. They’ve switched up a few times, and some of their players would arguably perform better with a different shape, but this formation has given them the ability to move forward quickly. Counter attacks and dribbles straight into the box have been the name of the game, and this formation allows everyone, even the outside backs, to get in on the action. For the sake of simplicity, and logic, the best eleven will be outlined in this formation.
Čech is the obvious choice in goal. He’s been the uncontested king for some time now and that doesn’t look to change anytime soon. Even with the talent of on-loan Thibaut Courtois waiting in the wings (and doing quite well at Atlético), Čech remains the first choice for the foreseeable future.
For defense, let’s start out on the right. Branislav Ivanović has been Mourinho’s top choice at right back, giving him the opportunity to make runs forward and use his size in set pieces. But César Azpilicueta proved himself as one of Chelsea’s best signings last year in the same position, even though he’s had virtually no playing time under José. Last campaign he moved forward well and provided decent crosses into the box. Putting Azpilicueta here allows Ivanović to move to center back, a position he holds down well. The Serbian may not be able to move forward as easily from the middle, but it makes him a major boon in one of Chelsea’s weakest positions on the field.
Next to Ivanović in the center goes John Terry. At times the Chelsea skipper has been unreliable and a bit injury prone, but at full fitness he’s the top choice here. Terry’s leadership is best demonstrated in the way he organizes his defenders. The overall shape of the defense improves dramatically when the captain is on the pitch shouting orders. Gary Cahill has shown some promise, but he’s not convincing in a squad that’s trying to take on top clubs. Terry’s experience and leadership win out at the end of the day.