Two games into this year’s pre-season proceedings, and two weeks before the new league season begins, now seems like a good time to take stock and reflect on what was always going to be a comparatively uneventful summer. Having had naff all to write about for almost three months, relevant issues to be discussed surrounding the club are still few and far between. (A little bit of barrel scraping might have been required to flesh out this list to an even number). But whilst dealings on and off the pitch this pre-season have been rather underwhelming, all things considered, I think we look to be in pretty good shape. Neither result nor performance against PSG and the Red Bulls was particularly impressive but still, a lot of individuals have looked sharp, there have been plenty of moments to suggest we will start the season in our traditional excellent form; already the full variety and quality of the options our squad possesses has been made joyfully evident.
A great deal of the confidence which plainly exists in the team at the moment comes from the familiarity and consistency that will be carried through from last year. Still, there are some big (and possibly crucial) decisions that need to be made/questions that need to be answered before long. Here are the ten most interesting, in my opinion…
1) Who will partner John Terry?
The conservative, and therefore, you would imagine, the most likely option Jose Mourinho will select would be to stick with Gary Cahill. The Englishman’s experience and long standing partnership with the captain makes him a reliable starting pick. There is a strong case to be made also for Kurt Zouma however. The Frenchman is arguably more talented than his senior colleague, whilst trust invested in the 20 year old now may reap huge dividends in future campaigns. It’s 95% likely that Cahill will start against Swansea on the 8th; hopefully Zouma will get at least the opportunity to start a handful of league games before Xmas.
2) Who will be second choice striker?
With pretty much every opportunity he’s been given, Loic Remy has shown that he is quality and is/has been perennially underused. The Frenchman is a wonderful all-round centre forward and a proven match winner; rumours have linked him away from the club this summer and another year with just a bit part role will almost certainly see him off in 12 months time, which would be a sad waste in my opinion. It’s likely he will have to wait behind Radamel Falcao as well as Diego Costa however in the pecking order. Whilst not much is expected of the Colombian next year, it feels a though a player of his talent and profile should at least be given the chance to rediscover his form. Remy on form can win you matches but Falcao on form can win you trophies, and so expect him to start more regularly to begin with.
3) What will be Begovic’s role?
The Bosnian is one of the best goalkeepers in Europe and is a great signing but will of course be second choice at Chelsea. If he came under the impression that he might have a chance of displacing Thibaut Courtois, then I’d worry he may quickly become disillusioned and leave. The offer of a guaranteed starting place in cup matches might help to appease him and keep him long term. One wonders if a second choice of goalkeeper of his ability isn’t more a luxury than a necessity however and perhaps it would be worth sticking with Courtois in every game and maximising our chance of winning everything. If Begovic were to leave after a year I don’t think it would be the end of the world.
4) Is another attacking signing required?
Many are still clamouring for another attacker to join the club with Barcelona’s Pedro Rodriguez the most linked and frequently demanded name. I think the Spaniard would fit in nicely to this team but I agree with Jose that he probably has enough forward/wide options already. Especially with Victor Moses having returned and, arguably, done more in two halves of pre-season football to stake a claim for a place that Juan Cuadrado has in seven months. Many Italian teams are all still linked with the Colombian, but only if he were to leave do I think the Pedro signing would be necessary.
5) Will John Stones sign this summer?
That the club is desperate to sign the young Englishman is transparent; that he wants the move seems likely also. There are really only two stumbling blocks to this move. The first is any advisors telling him to stay at Everton for at least another year, develop his game further and increase his chances of walking straight into the Chelsea first team. The second is the likely £30/35m fee which Everton will demand – a sum which will likely be a sticking point until the final days of the window. Right now, Stones’ arrival seems inevitable, whether it will happen this summer though, I’m not sure. I’m in two minds whether or not that’s a good thing as well. Maybe it would be better for us if he were to stay on Merseyside for another season. A £26m fee plus an immediate one year loan might be best for everyone?
6) Will Abdul Baba Rahman replace Filipe Luis
The Brazilian’s departure is a shame but it’s hard to feel too rueful. He didn’t nothing wrong; Cesar Azpilicueta was just too good and too consistent, and now it’s hard to blame him for wanting to leave. Rahman looks an interesting player, reasonably similar in style to Filipe, he should offer, if he signs, the same sort of alternative to Azpi, but with room to improve and presumably a greater willingness to be second choice also. A good signing, I think.
7) Will we see youth promoted this season?
With Nathan Ake, Patrick Bamford and Izzy Brown already sent on loan and with Dom Solanke still just outside the fringes of the senior squad, the only youngster at the club with a chance is Ruben Loftus-Cheek. That no midfield signing has been made in his position (when one could have been easily justified) suggests the manager has confidence in the Englishman, even if he’ll remain fourth or even fifth choice central midfielder for the time being. Hopefully Mourinho will be brave enough to use him at least as a regular substitution, even in close and important games. I think he should look to give him at least one start a month also, to keep his development going at a sufficient rate
8) Will we see more tactical flexibility this year?
Last season Jose stuck rigidly to his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, with an occasional change to a 4-3-3 when he wanted to be more defensive. It’s clear though if he wanted, he has the resources to be far more liberal and inventive with his tactics. Already in two pre-season games, options such as using Oscar in a deeper position, playing with genuine wingers like Moses and Cuadrado, and most of all using two strikers together, have all been seen to be effective (to varying degrees).With no new marquee signings to improve the first team, we may have to consider some new systems and ideas, in order to not become stale or predictable.
9) Will Mourinho rotate early in the season?
This is a tough one. Last year our fantastic early start was essential to us winning the league and it’s unlikely that start would have been possible, if not for the manager’s relentless consistency in selection. And yet at the same time it was that same selection policy that led to so many players becoming tired and losing form in the final months. If we are to retain the title and compete for the Champions League this term, we need as many players to be fit and in form for as long as possible, which means giving the likes of Remy, Ramires, Zouma, Cuadrado and Falcao plenty of game time in the first few months. Hopefully this is what we’ll see.
10) Who is our biggest threat?
Diego Costa’s response that Chelsea are their own biggest threat has some truth to it. I think we are deserved favourites to retain the title and if we perform as well as can over the season then we should finish clearly, if not comfortably over our rivals. All three of Man Utd, City and Arsenal have improved though. But though Utd have made good signings I still don’t think they defend well enough to win a league title (especially if De Gea leaves). City have the squad to do it but with Pep Guardiola’s arrival next year all but official, I can’t imagine poor Manuel Pellegrini will be too motivated to leave him a league winning team. Arsenal on the other hand look to mean business. This is probably their best squad since the Invincibles season, I think they will be main rivals to start with and I’m really looking forward to the Community Shield on Sunday to see how we compare.