Table Review: 5th, 70 points, 21 Wins, 7 Draws, 10 Losses, Goals For: 62, Goals Against: 38, Goal Difference: +24.
Manager: Antonio Conte
Top Scorer: Eden Hazard, 12 Goals
Failure to qualify for the UEFA Champions League saw Antonio Conte depart the club, in what was a disappointing season for Chelsea. After a fantastic debut season, that saw him secure Chelsea the title, Conte struggled to adjust to the rampant attacking style employed by Manchester City and Liverpool. It’s a stern reminder of just how fast football changes, and how fast managers must adapt their tactics to stay on top.
Poor individual seasons from a few key players did not help Conte’s chances. Key signing Alvaro Morata starting promisingly, but failed to string together consistent performances. Conte was forced to dip into the market for Olivier Giroud in January, but the Frenchman was unable to find his best form. Eden Hazard was devastating at times, but an underperforming midfield of Cesc Fabregas, Ngolo Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko saw him often frustrated by a lack of supply.
Some good signs were visible, with the continued development of Andreas Christensen a positive. The contributions of a tireless Kante in midfield, classy Marcos Alonso at left back and impressive shot-stopping of Thibaut Courtois similarly delighted Chelsea fans.
IN: Kepa Arrizabalaga – GK – €80M, Jorginho – CM – €57M, Mateo Kovacic – CM – Loan, Rob Green – GK – Free
OUT: Thibaut Courtois – GK – €35M
The unfortunate desire of Courtois to springboard off a successful World Cup cast a shadow over what was otherwise a superb window for Chelsea. Jorginho and Kovacic make Chelsea’s midfield three a fearsome combination, a perfect blend of dynamism, grit and class. With an engine room of such quality, expect most games to be dictated by the London side.
Kepa Arrizabalaga brings shades of a young Thibaut Courtois, and seems like the ideal replacement for the Belgian. Young, with good length, aerial ability and leadership skills, it won’t be long before Arrizabalaga convinces the doubters. Nonetheless, a fee of eighty million euros is eye-watering, considering Kepa has just one senior international cap. Jorginho’s fee initially seems too large, but should he bring his best to his new side, he will justify the price-tag in no time.
Sarri went into the market with a clear objective: shore up the midfield. He has done exactly that, bringing in two elite midfielders to an already balanced squad. The loss of Courtois was unfortunate, but well handled by Chelsea management, given the circumstances.
Predicted Starting XI
A change of formation seems on the cards, as Sarri brings across a philosophy of possession and quality attacking football. A shift from five at the back seems likely, with many pundits tipping a 4-3-3 formation. Victor Moses shapes as the unlucky exclusion, with Cesar Azpilicueta moving back to his berth on the right side. Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and Gary Cahill will fight for the starting centre back roles, but Sarri will likely favour the younger pair. Passing from the back is critical in Sarri’s system, and a pairing that fits that instruction will be preferred.
New signings Kepa, Kovacic and Jorginho will slot straight into the side to replace Courtois, Fabregas and Moses. Pedro continues to offer a proven quantity on the flank, but the express pace and dribbling of Willian will beat out his challenge for the starting role. Alvaro Morata is expected to rebound from a tough season, and his movement off the ball will be key to securing the starting role at the pinnacle of the attack. Olivier Giroud will be used off the bench, providing a useful defensive and aerial presence should the situation require his skillset.
The starting XI mounts as a strong, cohesive unit. Concerns will be had about a lack of an upgrade on Antonio Rudiger, but such concerns are minor. The squad is deep and is poised to rebound.
Table Prediction: 3rd, 82 points, 25 Wins, 7 Draws, 6 Losses, Goals For: 76, Goals Against: 35, Goal Difference: +41.
Manager: Maurizio Sarri
Top Scorer: Alvaro Morata, 18 Goals
In a perfect world, this side would click immediately. The new tactics would be absorbed, new signings acclimatized without issue. Players such as Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata would take the league by storm, establishing themselves as a potent attacking duo. Unfortunately, this is highly unlikely.
It’s likely that Sarri’s side will take time to get used to his presence and tactical approach. It’s likely that the new signings will take time to get used to English football. It’s likely that Morata will continue to be inconsistent, although improved. For this reason, Chelsea may well start the season slowly, building into it as it goes along. A third-placed finish is on the cards, but should they burst off the blocks, a tilt at the title is achievable.
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