The Special One returned to Chelsea last season, but was unable to deliver any silverware in his first season back at Stanford Bridge. Despite the fact that Chelsea won 5 of their 6 games against the other teams finishing in the top 4 (with the only points being dropped in a draw against Arsenal), Chelsea’s inconsistent form against the so-called “weaker” teams in the league meant they finished only third, and with an inferior goal difference to both Liverpool and Manchester City. The 2013 – 2014 team was not a vintage Mourinho side, but there is real reason for optimism for the coming season and beyond.
Chelsea have, for the first time since 2004, a question mark at goalkeeper. Petr Čech has been the undisputed first choice keeper for a decade, cementing his legacy as one of the Premier League’s all-time greatest players in the position over that time, as well as a club legend with a remarkable 220 clean sheets. Unfortunately for Čech, this season he will have competition from arguably the world’s best young goalkeeper in Thibaut Courtois. In spite of being just 22 years of age, Courtois already has an impresssive resumé: Belgian Pro League winner, Belgian cup winner, Spanish title winner, Spanish Copa Del Rey winner, Europa League winner, and Champions League runner up. This is the most interesting position to monitor in Chelsea’s squad, as Mourinho will have to chose between a trusted, experienced lieutenant, and a younger, cheaper, and (dare we say it) arguably more talented alternative. The winner of this battle will be an extremely valuable fantasy asset – provided they will play week-in and week-out. Selecting one for your fantasy team will be a risk, however, until the pecking order is established. The upside could be huge, given that Chelsea conceded just 27 goals in the Premier League last season (Manchester City conceded next fewest at 37). Čech finished last season with a monster 15 clean sheets as fantasy’s #3 goalkeeper.
As mentioned above, Chelsea had the stingiest defence in the Premiership last season, conceding an average of just 0.71 goals per game. John Terry and Gary Cahill formed a formidable partnership under Mourinho’s defensive tutelage, and should be locks to start again in the heart of the defence. Ashley Cole wasn’t too scared to move abroad, and has landed in Roma. His place will ostensibly be taken by £16 million man Filipe Luis, although César Azpilicueta played well enough at left back last season to win the club’s Player’s Player of the year. Neither player, nor Chelsea’s other utility defender Branislav Ivanovic, will ever be marauding, attack-centric full backs, but their presence on such a stout defence will be a valuable source of fantasy points. Indeed, Ivanovic, Terry and Cahill were all in the top 8 fantasy defenders last season.
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Chelsea boast an embarrassment of riches in midfield, to the extent that finding fantasy value may prove to be difficult. Fringe players like Marko Marin, Josh McEachran, Oriol Romeu, Victor Moses and Marco Van Ginkel will likely move on loan, but are all good enough to be in Premier League squads at least, and starting XIs on some teams. Mohamad Salah could fare similarly, as in spite of his undeniable talent, his path to playing time seemed inexorably blocked. His best chance at seeing significant action seems to be following Schurrle’s path last season – as an impact substitute, gradually making himself an important past of the squad. Do not be surprised if he is able to make that happen – he has the ability.
Defensively minded players like John Obi Mikel and Nemanja Matic will play plenty of minutes, but neither weigh in with enough goals or assists to be considered viable options for fantasy. Ramires and Willian will be used as utility players, lining up all across the midfield. They will play deep, in an attacking role, and even on the wings, as the situation dictates. Again, their benefit to Chelsea on-field won’t be reflected in fantasy production. Slightly further forward, though, the options are myriad.
The newly-signed Cesc Fabregas scored 15 goals and had 11 assists in his second to last Premier League season with Arsenal. His final season resulted in just 3 goals, but he still had 11 assists. Even as a somewhat peripheral figure in Barcelona’s midfield, he still managed to contribute to 90 goals (42 scored and 48 assists) in 161 games. His position in Mourinho’s team has been hotly debated, with analysts wondering if he will vie for playing time in the number 10 position currently occupied by Oscar, but we feel he will likely be used as a deep lying playmaker, using his vision and passing ability. As referenced above, Chelsea frequently struggled to break down teams who were content to sit back and defend, and Fabregas has likely been brought in to pick those locks. He should contribute double digit assists once again.
Oscar started the season off very strongly, and seemed to vindicate Mourinho’s decision to jettison Juan Mata and build the team around the mercurial Brazilian. He is capable of contributing skill and steel, attributes that will surely endear him to Mourinho. However, shortly after the New Year, his form dipped dramatically, to the extent that he was frequently a peripheral figure. He ended the season with eight goals and three assists in 33 appearances. What must not be forgotten is that he will still only be 22 years old by the time the new season starts, and was still the 10th highest scoring midfielder in fantasy last year. Investing in him could prove to be a very shrewd, and lucrative decision.
Andre Schurrle‘s performances in the World Cup should result in more consistent playing time this upcoming season. Unlike some of the other players mentioned above, Schurrle’s versatility will be a benefit in fantasy squads. After struggling to adapt to English football early, he became a valuable asset in Mourinho’s squad late in the season, even playing as a striker at times (albeit partially due to the ineptitude of the other options available). He scored a crucial goal to help the team overturn a deficit against PSG in the Champions League, as well as being named man of the match against Arsenal in a 6-0 drubbing – a match in which there were plenty of competitors for that accolade. He was introduced as a substitute for Germany in every game in their world cup triumph, and almost single-handedly changed the complexion of each – none more obviously than setting up Mario Göetze to score the match winner in the final. Schurrle finished the season with eight goals in just 15 starts, and should provide nice value in fantasy this year.
And then, of course, we have Eden Hazard, who will be discussed slightly later.
Last season, Chelsea were let down predominantly by their lack of a killer striker, which they hope to have remedied by signing Diego Costa for a fee of £32 million from Athletico Madrid. Costa looks to be the archetypical Mourinho striker, capable of leading the line, holding the ball up to open opportunities for the attack-minded midfielders, and most importantly, being clinical in front of goal. Although Costa was far from impressive for Spain at the World Cup, he was unfit and playing in a team that was not equipped to get the best out of him. He had a phenomenal season in Spain last year, scoring 27 goals and setting up another eight in 35 matches to fore Athletico Madrid to the league title. His club squad played in a manner similar to the current Chelsea team – utilising fast, powerful counter-attacks to overwhelm opponents. Costa’s arrival has eerie similarities to the great Didier Drogba‘s – a physically imposing player with what some feel is an inflated transfer fee because of “one great season”. Both also have reputations as fiery characters, who don’t always play within the laws of the game if it will help their team win.
Speaking of Drogba, his mooted return to Stamford Bridge is likely little more than in a mentoring role for Costa. He and Fernando Torres can be disregarded as fantasy options, unless Costa suffers an injury or fails spectacularly to adapt. While that isn’t out of the question, the reality is that Costa would still provide a better option than two legendary strikers long past the peak of their powers. The only realistic striking threat outside of Costa would be Romelu Lukaku, who, at the time of writing, looks unlikely to return to Chelsea for the upcoming season (or at all).
Lukaku has long been touted as “Drogba 2.0“, but his personality does not seem to mesh with Mourinho, and in that battle there will only ever be one victor. If he does stay around the first team squad, Lukaku is a real threat to approach double digit goals, even mainly as a substitute. He’s worth keeping an eye on, but be wary of investing too much in him.
Eden Hazard: Ah, Eden Hazard. Of all the attacking options Chelsea have, Hazard is the most tantalising, the most dependable, the most brilliant. Blessed with otherworldly talent, Mourinho has helped (and is still working on) Hazard harness his ability, elevating him into the pantheon of the world’s true superstars. His close control, pace, vision and flair give him the ability to make other professional players, some of the best in the world at what they do, look foolish at times. Last season, as Chelsea’s sole threat for much of the season, Hazard contributed 14 goals and four assists in the Premier League from the wing. Now, with Fabregas and Costa in the ranks, Hazard should be afforded even more time and space to weave his magic. Double digit goals and assists should be very attainable, along with an improvement fantasy points tally, which was good for third highest scoring midfielder last season. As an added bonus, Hazard could be in line to be Chelsea’s main penalty taker following Lampard’s departure. He should be one of the first players taken in fantasy, and anyone owning him should rejoice.
John Terry: As mentioned above, Chelsea kept 15 clean sheets last season. Terry holds the key to this defensive prowess, with Mourinho using him as his muse. Where Terry can really improve his points tally this year is, rather strangely, at the other end of the pitch. Last season, Terry had two Premier League goals, his lowest tally in five seasons. Over the previous three seasons, Terry had averaged over four goals per season. He was already the second highest scoring defender in fantasy points last season, and should be there or thereabouts again. Let others be frightened by his age and lack of speed, snap him up and reap the rewards.
Key New Signing
Diego Costa: Costa is in a prime situation, and should be a top-five fantasy striker this season. Even if he “only” scores in the region of 13-15 goals (which should very easily be obtained given that Torres, Ba and Eto’o combined for 19 league goals last year), his assists and all-round game will make him a viable option. For context, Rickie Lambert was the fourth highest scoring striker last season with 13 goals, and Costa is a better player in a superior situation. He will not be the focal point of the attack (that accolade will remain Hazard’s), which may even benefit him. No team will be able to focus on stopping him alone with the quality Chelsea have in midfield, and he should feast on the opportunity.
Andre Schurrle: The right-sided attacking midfield / winger position is a wide open opportunity for Schurrle to seize. His performances from the bench for both club and country have shown that he is able to completely change a game with his pace and power. Although he has predominantly played on the left, he would offer Chelsea another dimension on the right, being able to stay out wide to deliver crosses with his stronger right foot, or cut inside to showcase his exceptional long-range shooting (something which has not been fully demonstrated in the Premier League quite yet). His natural athleticism is something Chelsea lack in the wide areas, and could be another piece in the puzzle as Mourinho looks to return the title to the Bridge.
The Chelsea squad contains a number of intriguing young players, most of which have been mentioned above. Unfortunately, many of those who are as of yet not established will struggle to change that, as the first team is so talented and will be a genuine title challenger. Courtois looks to have the best chance of starting, and Salah could provide another option from the bench. Another player to keep an eye on is Kurt Zouma. Signed from St. Ettienne last season then loaned back to the French club, Zouma may be kept around the first team squad as depth at centre back following the sale of David Luiz. Zouma already has the physique to be one of the most imposing players at the position, but needs to learn the nuances of playing at the highest level. Should Terry or Cahill go down with an injury, Zouma will likely be the back-up (provided he isn’t loaned out again and Chelsea do not sign an experienced centre half). If he does see any extended playing time, he will immediately be a huge threat to score from set pieces.