Chelsea 17/18 Premier League Season Preview
After masterminding Chelsea to the PL title in the 2014/15 season, Mourinho and his squad started a nose dive towards the bottom next fall. Chelsea finished 10th and were in clear need of a revival after the 15/16 season. Enter Antonio Conte. The pragmatic Italian coach had a tough task at hand; reinvigorate the demotivated squad and lead a title charge. And that he did.
Conte’s first major decision was to either fit the players he had into his system, or change his system to match the players he had. Initially, he chose the latter. With the players he had, a 4-defender system seemed to work best. The results weren’t great. Chelsea won their first two games through late winners by strikers Batshuayi and Costa. They tied their fourth game and lost the next two. This prompted Conte to scrap his new system and return to his comfort zone, a 3/5-defender formation. For the rest of the season, Chelsea donned a new-look 3-4-3 formation that very few teams could beat.
The results were immediate. Chelsea entered a 13 game winning run which included a 4-0 smashing of Manchester United, a 5-0 demolition of Everton, and wins against Tottenham and Manchester City.
Chelsea won the league by 7 points, boasting the second best offence and third best defense. Going into the 17/18 season, however, there are changes that Chelsea must address if they want to win the title again.
While Chelsea’s defense at times appeared impeccable, one clear problem was Gary
Cahill’s performances. Known for backing away from his attacker and being a complete liability in possession of the ball at times, Cahill has cost Chelsea multiple goals by himself. Some of the most notable examples were when he stood on the ball too long against Arsenal and Swansea. Both occasions led directly to goals against his team. Chelsea have already signed Antonio Rudiger this summer. Rudiger is a better defender and more comfortable on the ball than Cahill. However, it isn’t quite clear what Conte plans to do with Rudiger. The simple solution is to put Rudiger in Cahill’s spot, but Cahill is currently Chelsea’s captain. This makes the situation awkward because manager’s don’t like to bench their captains, especially before the season even starts. Instead, Conte might move Azpilicueta back to his original position at right back (replacing Victor Moses) and place Rudiger in Azpilicueta’s vacated center back spot.
In the midfield, Chelsea have Player of the Year award winner Ngolo Kante. This season, he was partnered with Matic. Both were defensive minded players, something that Conte preferred to have. While they were able to win the title this season, a struggle Chelsea had was breaking down teams who defended deep in their own half. To solve this problem, Conte would sub on Fabregas, one of the best passers in the league. Looking into next season, two things are looking very probable. Firstly, Matic probably won’t be a Chelsea player, and secondly, Fabregas might not start. Fabregas is lacking defensively, which doesn’t cut it for Conte. Despite his stellar attacking ability, Fabregas was always overlooked by Conte.
Chelsea have signed Bakayoko from Monaco this summer. Bakayoko is an all around great player. He has the defensive capabilities of Matic, and an attacking and passing ability superior to the man who may be leaving Chelsea. Bakayoko’s attacking ability isn’t Fabregas level, but it should be enough to improve Chelsea’s offense.
In terms of attackers, Chelsea might need a new striker. Costa is almost certain to leave
the club. Chelsea have been heavily linked to three strikers: Aguero, Aubameyang, and Morata. No one is sure what is holding up the Morata deal, considering the fact that Morata definitely wants to leave Real Madrid. Perhaps Chelsea are holding out for the chance to sign one of the other two strikers. Aubameyang is rumored to want to leave Dortmund, but Dortmund’s new manager, Peter Bosz, might want to keep the Bundesliga’s top scorer of the 16/17 season. Aguero’s future at Manchester City isn’t clear. If City is able to sign Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal, Aguero will have no starting spot. It will be up to City manager, Pep Guardiola, if he wants to keep an unhappy Aguero in the team, or sell him to a direct rival. Either way, none of the three signings seem to be a guarantee for Chelsea right now. If they can’t sign a new striker, Conte will have to trust Batshuayi, a player who didn’t get much playing time this season. Despite this, Batshuayi’s playing ability was clear in the little time he featured this season.
Chelsea have already made two out of the three signings that they needed to make. Assuming that the players don’t see a dip in form, they should challenge for the title again. Knowing that Chelsea have a trigger happy owner in Roman Abramovich, Conte will be assured that anything less than a title win could put his job security at risk.