Chelsea Season Preview

chelseaThe Football Lab spoke to Chelsea fan @NourAgha. Here, he discusses Chelsea’s failings in the title race last season, the key signings of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa, and shares the belief of most pundits that the Blues will win the title, for the first time in 5 years.

Last season, you took 16 points from 6 games against other sides in the top 4. Just how frustrating is it that slip-ups against the lesser teams cost you the title?

It’s incredibly frustrating knowing that you are unbeaten against the top 4 (hence, having outperformed and outsmarted each, being clearly the best of those 4), yet by May the situation is completely different and you are not the champion. The title was in our hands after the win at the Etihad, but those slip-ups cost us and came as a result of a lack of character and maturity of a fairly young squad to impose themselves on those teams and break them down. Also, it would have been much easier if we had a top striker (i.e. Costa now) who could wrestle through them and score or a midfielder who could, with a pass, split a defence wide open (i.e. Fabregas now). However, being unbeaten against the top 4 teams last season gives us a lot of confidence going into this season, and hopefully we’ll be able to build on that now by easing past the lesser teams.

John Terry is now 33. How many seasons has he got left in the tank, and how urgent is the task of finding his long-term replacement?

He’s got about one or two more seasons at most. I don’t believe it’s urgent at the moment, as Ivanovic and Zouma as back-ups are just fine for now (with Kalas out on loan), but it will be necessary to find a world class replacement once his contract is over as a player. And who knows, if we’re lucky, we could already have that long-term replacement at the club in one of the young players.

Ashley Cole leaves for Roma, while Felipe Luis looks likely to sign from Atletico Madrid. As a fairly experienced left-back, do you think he’ll fill Cole’s shoes?

It’s hard to come in and fill the shoes of someone as huge as Ashley Cole, but he’ll be an excellent player for us. Filipe Luis is a player with outstanding stamina and tackling skill. Added to his massive workrate (balanced between attacking and defending) and experience, he’s Mourinho’s perfect player and will play an essential role in any potential trophy-winning campaign. I believe he’s what Brazil missed hugely, especially at the back, to have been able to advance further in the World Cup.

You had the best ‘goals against’ record in the league, with just 26 conceded. Do you feel the whole team tracks back more under Mourinho?

The team works much more defensively, as a whole, under Mourinho. It’s definitely more balanced now. We lacked that high level of organisation and balance before, as we either had to defend for 90 minutes or attack and get exposed by conceding a lot – there was no middle ground. Now, with him, he demands nothing under 100% from every player for the team, and expects everyone to track back and put in a proper defensive shift at the back until we’re on the offensive again.

David Luiz and Juan Mata have recently left. Surely not many clubs can say they’ve gained £87 million for two players they don’t want?

Absolutely, brilliant business by Mourinho and the board. Genius actually. David Luiz and Juan Mata are excellent players, but were square pegs to round holes and surplus to requirements under Mourinho. David Luiz was second choice (under Cahill) at CB, and at CM, as we’re starting to see more clearly now, we could do with much better than him (especially offensively). Mata, on the other hand, struggled and failed to adapt to Mourinho’s system and conditions. Of course the club couldn’t deny the offers received for them, for a combined £87m which had been sat on the bench.

Cesc Fabregas comes into an already strong midfield. He’s far from a sitting midfielder, yet not quite established as a ‘number 10’; will he fit into a 4-2-3-1?

Fabregas could adapt to a deep role as a partner next to Matic, picking out passes, or could play as a ‘number 10’ assisting and scoring. His ideal, natural position though is something in between, as an attacking midfielder in a 4-3-3 which we could also see a lot this season. He gives Mourinho a lot of different options and dimensions for the team, which provides flexibility.

According to Who Scored, you’ve had more shots (18.2) than any other side, and 46% of them have been from outside the box. Are you surprised that you’ve favoured long shots?

Last season we’ve seen a lot of teams come and play against us with 10 men behind the ball, and as we struggled to break them down it’s no surprise that we’ve favoured long shots as a solution in our attempts to score. This is likely to decrease this season.

Diego Costa signs from Atletico Madrid. Will he be the clinical goalscorer you lacked last season?

I hope he will, it’s about time we have one to lead us to glory and success. He’ll need some time to adapt to the Premier League but it shouldn’t be a problem. The most important thing for him now is to score early, in the first few games, to ease the pressure off himself as he adapts. He’s built for the Premier League, physically, as he uses the strength of his body to his advantage along with his pace and powerful shooting technique. Mourinho will inject him with a world of confidence, under Drogba’s mentorship, turning him into twice the beast he already is.

With most bookmakers, Chelsea are around 15/8 to win the league title. Where will you finish?

1st. We now have exactly what we lacked last season, and the team as a whole is only getting better, maturing and building on the season before, having been unbeaten to all the top sides. It’s always been a matter of time. For success, quality alone isn’t enough – you always need an element of luck (as anything could go wrong), and I hope we have that on our side this season as it could finally be the time.

TFL Verdict

Mourinho will no doubt play things down once again, but now with the required goalscorer in Diego Costa, the expectation is there for Chelsea to win the title. 1st