The honeymoon period is over for manager Jose Mourinho in his second stint at Chelsea. Last season, Chelsea fans serenaded the Special One at virtually every match, celebrating the return of supposed stability at the club after the wacky stretch that saw four different managers over two years. The mood around Chelsea last season was fairly optimistic, with Mourinho ramping down expectations while promising to build for the future.
Now it’s crunch time for Mourinho and Chelsea.
Mourinho’s excuse last season that he was just doing his best with a roster he wasn’t responsible for building won’t fly anymore. The Chelsea squad readying to kick off the 2014-15 Premier League season is decidedly Mourinho’s, with the colorful manager largely betting his genius on a trio of newly acquired La Liga stars.
This has been an unusual summer transfer window for Chelsea with headlines dominated more by marquee players the club relinquished rather than money spent on new signings. David Luiz and Romelu Lukaku were sold to Paris St. Germain and Everton respectively. The club opted not to renew contracts for Ashley Cole (now at A.S. Roma) and Chelsea’s all-time leading scorer Frank Lampard, who will join MLS expansion club New York City FC when they begin play in 2015. In a strange twist, Lampard is currently on loan to Manchester City during the interim until the new MLS season starts next spring. Other subtractions include Demba Ba (now at Besiktas) and last season’s temporary striker fix Samuel Eto’o whose one-year contract at the club expired.
Summer additions include midfielder Cesc Fabregas, striker Diego Costa, defender Filipe Luis, and in this season’s veteran striker cameo role, Chelsea legend Didier Drogba, who is back at the club on a one-year deal. Though not technically a new player, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is staying at Chelsea for the first time after spending three consecutive seasons on loan at Atletico Madrid. Courtois’ arrival should provide healthy competition with veteran Petr Cech for the starting role. It would seem a classically shrewd Mourinho move to make Courtois the starter, but for now the job is Cech’s to lose.
Chelsea has an embarrassment of riches at midfield – so much depth that it makes it difficult to rotate the squad for maximum efficiency and adequate player contentment. Most clubs would love to have the problem of choosing midfield starters from a list that now includes Eden Hazard, Willian, John Mikel Obi, Nemanja Matic, Ramires, Oscar, Mohamed Salah, Andre Schurrle, and Cesc Fabregas. Chelsea’s robust midfield options should provide a quality blend of creative attacking with the tight defensive midfield posture Mourinho favors.
On the flip side, Chelsea better hope for plenty of goals from their attacking midfielders because, once again, the club has an (almost) embarrassing lack of options at striker. Sure, they have new mega striker Diego Costa, but the backup options are slim with only the puzzlingly inconsistent Fernando Torres and 36-year-old Didier Drogba available. Torres and Drogba can certainly produce occasional goals, but it’s difficult to see them adequately supplementing Costa across all competitions. The offloading of Lukaku (and to a lesser extent Demba Ba) this summer definitely raises questions about Mourinho’s striker protocol, particularly after he essentially complained about Chelsea’s weak striker situation near the end of last season. It won’t be surprising to see Chelsea shopping for an additional striker come Christmas time.
Chelsea nearly won the league last season even with an inconsistent midfield and a piece-meal striker situation. Their stingy defensive structure of Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, John Terry, and Cesar Azpilicueta should be formidable again this season (bolstered by new arrival Filipe Luis), and the midfield will get an infusion of energy/creativity from Fabregas.
Expect Chelsea to concede the fewest number of goals in the league and, with the addition of Costa, to score just enough to win their first EPL title since 2009/2010.
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