Chelsea finished the season where they started it last year – at the top of the league. Apart from the second gameweek of last year where Tottenham (surprisingly) led only on goal difference, Chelsea were never uprooted from their throne. Mourinho’s “little horses” became thoroughbreds, thanks in no small part to the huge contributions of last season’s marquee signings Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas.
At the time of writing, the only significant transfer movements around Stamford Bridge have been almost like-for-like replacements. With club legend Petr Cech making his way across London to the Emirates Stadium to ply his trade with Arsenal, Asmir Begovic has stepped in to replace him as Thibaut Courtois’ top back-up. While Begovic is not the same calibre of goalkeeper that Cech is (few are, even at the age of 33), his role as a squad player renders this largely redundant. Another Chelsea hero in Didier Drogba has departed SW6, and although his replacement Radamel Falco was inneffectual for Manchester United last season, he still remains capable of replacing the paltry four Premier League goals Drogba contributed last year.
Chelsea’s transfer business so far has been austere, to say the least. The rumours of Pogba, Pedro, et al seem to be just that, so the question is – can last season’s squad become next year’s champions?
Fake Pigskin Exclusive: Join Monkey Knife Fight and Get an Instant 100% Deposit Match PLUS a Free $5 Game!
Early Fixture Outlook
vs. Swansea, @ Manchester City, @ West Brom, vs. Crystal Palace, @ Everton, vs. Arsenal
To begin last season, Mourinho and Chelsea eschewed their traditional defensive pragmatism in favour of a more expansive, progressive game. This wasn’t the case to close out the season, but this was likely due to fatigue setting in to the squad which used the fewest players in the Premier League. For the upcoming season, it’s likely that they will open with the same attacking flair that vaulted them to the top of the table – except for the games against City and Arsenal. Mourinho is notoriously particular about not losing games to direct title rivals, having lost just three times in 40 games against Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal per BBC Sport. As a result, expect the home game against City and the away fixture against Arsenal to be tight, cagey, and most importantly low-scoring affairs. The othe against Swansea, WBA and Crystal Palace provide opportunities to start both attacking and defensive Chelsea players, but be wary of the away trip to Everton. The Toffees will be stung by their poor performances last season, and will want to turn Goodison Park in to a difficult place to win once again. That said, if you’ve invested in any Chelsea players, you’re likely to start them week-in and week-out.
Thibaut Courtois (£5.5m)
Courtois finished last season as the 8th highest scoring goalkeeper, and enters this season as the (tied) most expensive. However, he did miss six Premier League games last season, something which – barring bad luck with injury – will not happen again this season.
Courtois has already proven himself as not only one of the best young goalkeepers in the world, but one of the best goalkeepers in the world regardless of age. Yes, he lost his position briefly last year after looking bereft of confidence for a spell, but he came back better than ever, and now has the experience of winning a Premier League to go with his La Liga and Europa League titles. He no longer has the spectre of Cech over his shoulder, and knows that he is the main man in nets for Chelsea FC. If he finishes as anything but the top scoring goalkeeper in fantasy this season, it will come as a surprise. In the second half of the season (after the 5-3 horror show against Spurs) Chelsea conceded just 13 goals in 18 Premier League games – 5 of those coming after the league title had been sewn up.
His main source of points will come from clean sheets rather than saves, something worth keeping in mind when considering your league’s scoring system. As a point of comparison, Courtois had 12 clean sheets to last season’s top fantasy GK Lukasz Fabianski’s 13 (in five less games), but less than half as many saves – just 61 to Fabianski’s 126. While the stout defense Courtois has in front of him will help his goals conceded statistic, if your league is more reliant on saves made it may be more cost effective to look elsewhere.
Studs – John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic (each £7.0m)
Terry and “Iva” garnered more fantasy points than any other players in standard scoring leagues last season. As such, they are appropriately priced this season, but there is no reason to expect they can’t repeat the feat this year. Ivanovic scored as many goals as his new team-mate Falcao and his former team-mate Drogba, as well as strikers Agbonlahor, Dzeko, Diame and Defoe. Terry scored as many goals as Liverpool wonderboy Coutinho, as well as Sunderland’s leading scorers Steven Fletcher and Connor Wickham.
Fake Pigskin Exclusive: Join Monkey Knife Fight and Get an Instant 100% Deposit Match PLUS a Free $5 Game!
While these totals may seem unsustainable, in spite of the many chants of “boring, boring Chelsea”, only one team (Manchester City) scored more goals than Chelsea last year. There are plenty of goals to be shared amongst this team, and with Ivanovic and Terry’s propensity to score from set plays, their advancing ages need not be a concern, nor a cause for regression. Indeed, in spite of the rigours of modern football, both played every minute of every game last season, an impressive feat for two players in their 30s. Their potential point scoring prowess is far from limited to attacking potential, however. They led the league (by a comfortable margin) in clean sheets for defenders, and should be close to, if not at the top of the pile again next year.
Sleeper – Cesar Azpilicueta (£6.0m)
For the first half of last season, Azpilicueta was arguably Chelsea’s best defender. Excelling in both the defensive and attacking aspects of the game, he had taken his previously exceptional game to new heights. Unfortunately, a groin injury suffered shortly after that aforementioned confidence-draining loss at Tottenham meant that “Dave” suffered a dip in form (although he did register some more impressive performances later in the season). Azpi’s point scoring potential is capped by his goal scoring form – he is yet to register in his three seasons in the Premier League – and the fact that he has never appeared in more than 72.5% of Chelsea’s minutes in any of those seasons.
If he can avoid the trainer’s table, however, Azpilicueta should make more appearances this season. Filipe Luis looks to be on his way back to Spain, leaving the left wing back berth to Azpi alone. His versatility also stands in his favour, as he could easily deputise on the right side should Ivanovic get injured or have to play at centre half.
Azpilicueta finished as the 8th highest scoring defender in standard leagues last year, so the term sleeper isn’t entirely appropriate. He falls in to this category only because of the elite level of the other options in his own team. However, of the three players mentioned here, he stands the best chance to outperform his price point, and could end up being a fantastic value for your team.
Stud – Eden Hazard (£11.5m)
Hazard was unequivocally the best player in the Premier League last season. He eventually embraced Jose Mourinho’s methodology, insisting that even the most creative players perform within the constraints of his scheme and work defensively for the benefit of the team. On innumerable occasions last year, Hazard raised not only his own level of performance, but the level of those playing around him as well. The end result was 14 goals, 10 assists, and more fantasy points scored than any other player (standard fantasy.premierleague.com scoring).
Hazard will unquestionably be one of the most popular players in fantasy football this season, and having him on your team may be necessary just to “keep up with the Jones'”. However, given his remarkable consistency last season, you may be able to glean an advantage by setting him as your captain. Interestingly, he did not score more than one goal in any game in the Premier League last season – while this may ostensibly seem like a negative, it simply means you do not have to worry about week to week fluctuations in his scoring, unlike some players (Christian Benteke, I’m looking at you).
This season, expect little deviation from that pattern. Hazard has posted double digit assists in all three of his seasons in the Premier League, and has scored 9, 14 and 14 goals. On paper, his contributions seem remarkably consistent, but in watching him play it is obvious how much he has grown as a player. This is now Hazard’s team, and he will once again be it’s star. With Diego Costa’s availability seemingly a constant question mark, and Hazard being the team’s unchallenged penalty taker, his status as Chelsea’s most potent attacking threat mean he will be worth the outlay for your fantasy squad.
Sleeper – Nemanja Matic (£5.0m)
Realistically, Cesc Fabregas is the only other marquee fantasy option in Chelsea’s midfield, but given that there are only three midfielders more expensive, the “sleeper” tag doesn’t really qualify. Instead, Matic may be worth a punt at just £5m. He won’t put up gaudy statistics, scoring just once and providing 3 assists last season, but he will play consistent minutes for one of the top teams in the league. Chelsea’s defensive solidity mean that he will frequently garner points for clean sheets.
Another player to keep in mind is Victor Moses (£5.5m), who has impressed in pre-season. Chelsea’s right wing berth is up for grabs, with Cuadrado failing to impress since his big-money move and Willian and Ramires being little more than stop-gap solutions for the role. Moses provided three goals and four assists in very limited action for Stoke last season. He could be well worth a bench stash, which may pay off handsomely if he can cement a place in the starting XI.
Stud – Diego Costa (£11m)
Costa provides the biggest risk of any player listed, and at the time of writing has just missed out on being able to participate in the Charity Shield against Arsenal. His status for the opening game against Swansea is up in the air, and he represents a huge gamble given the huge financial commitment required to procure him.
With that caveat out of the way, let’s move on to why Costa might win you your league this season. He scored 20 goals in just 26 Premier League games last season, and added three assists for good measure. He plays the game with a ruthless streak, wanting to win at all costs, regardless of who he has to step on to get there. He is reminiscent of Roy Keane, willing his team mates on, or even Michael Schumacher, performing on the boundaries of the rules (and sometimes beyond). When he is on the field, he will score, and score frequently. Hopefully him sitting out the Charity Shield was a precautionary measure, and he will be unleashed against Swansea when the Premier League season opens. His ability to hold the ball and start attacks as well as finish them make him an invaluable asset to Chelsea, and when he is healthy, only Kun Aguero can claim to be as deadly in front of goal. Aguero is himself no stranger to the physio’s table, and costs a hefty £2.0m more than Costa – and they averaged almost exactly the same goals-to-game ratio last year. In that context, Costa is a risk well worth taking.
Sleeper – Loic Remy (£7.5m)
Remy’s fantasy value is exclusively predicated on Costa’s health, because when Costa is fit, Remy won’t play meaningful minutes. Which is unfair to Remy, because he proved in his extremely limited time last season that he is not out of his depth at a top club.
In just six starts and 13 total Premier League appearances, Remy netted 7 goals, some of which came as the team were closing in on the title. Remy is not afraid of the spotlight should he be thrust in to it again, and Mourinho is aware of how important a piece of the puzzle Remy is, stating last season that he “owed Remy game time” after the French striker scored in consecutive games against Hull and Stoke to keep the title challenge on course.
If Costa is fit to start the season, Remy will do little more than warm your bench as his value trickles away. However, should he deputise in Costa’s absence, he will be the main pivot of one of the most threatening attacks in the Premier League. As things stand, he is well worth a speculative add at the minute, with the potential to be flipped for more value down the line, or cut for little loss.
Predicted Opening Day Line-Up:
GK: Thibaut Courtois
RB: Branislav Inanovic
CB: John Terry
CB: Gary Cahill
LB: Cesar Azpilicueta
CDM: Nemanja Matic
CM: Cesc Fabregas
LW: Eden Hazard
STR: Diego Costa