Chelsea 2017/18 Season Preview: Strengths, Weaknesses, Key Man and Predictions

We’re nearly there, people. Premier League football will be back in our lives in just a few days and not a moment too soon!

Champions Chelsea face a difficult second season under Antonio Conte, with all their rivals (except Tottenham) spending big this summer to take back the crown.

Here’s how the Blues are shaping up for the coming season.

7. Last Season

Chelsea v Sunderland - Premier League

Chelsea were imperious last term, storming to the Premier League title with a record 30 league wins. It seems a long time since Chelsea suffered successive defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal in September, with many questioning Antonio Conte’s suitability for the Premier League at the time.

A switch to a 3-4-2-1 or 3-4-3 system reversed the Blues’ fortunes and saw the Italian’s dynamic side embark on a record equalling 13-game winning streak. Former loan exile Victor Moses was ingeniously deployed in a right wing-back role where he excelled and Conte moulded his side into a mercilessly effective counter attacking unit. 

Tottenham were breathing down the necks of their London rivals into the season’s final weeks, finishing on 86 points, but for second half of the campaign Chelsea’s title credentials were never in doubt.  

6. Transfers In

Bayern Muenchen v Chelsea FC - International Champions Cup

Conte was reportedly bitterly disappointed to lose out on proven Premier League goalscorer Romelu Lukaku to Man Utd when a deal looked all but done. The Italian settled for record signing Alvaro Morata for £60m, though it remains to be seen whether the Spaniard can adapt quickly to the demands of being a leading man in the Premier League.

However, the signings of Antonio Rudiger (from Roma) and Tiemoue Bakayoko (from Monaco), both look like savvy acquisitions.

Should Antonio Conte choose to deploy Cesc Fabregas in an advanced role in midfield as has been suggested in recent weeks, the prospect of a Bakayoko/N’Golo Kante partnership in middle of the park is incredibly intimidating. 

5. Transfers Out

Chelsea v Sunderland - Premier League

Chelsea youngsters Nathan Ake, Nathaniel Chalobah and Dominic Solanke were all offloaded in Chelsea’s traditional youth prospect wholesale. However, there’s every chance at least Ake and Chalobah will be back, should the Blues choose to buy them back for double the price in a couple of years. Ruben Loftus-Cheek has also left but only on loan to Crystal Palace.

Backup keeper Asmir Begovic departed for Bournemouth, to be replaced by Man City’s Willy Caballero, whilst club legend John Terry took his final bow.

4. Strengths

Chelsea v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League

The boys in blue were solid without the ball last season, with a defensive record second only to Spurs and just five defeats and three draws all season.  

The robust deep-lying midfield duo of Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante meant Eden Hazard, Pedro and/or Willian were released from much of their defensive duties, and waited for service just behind Diego Costa.  

The Blues were mercilessly effective on the counter attack, with Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses overloading the opposition full-backs on either side.   

3. Weaknesses

Arsenal v Chelsea - The Emirates FA Cup Final

In short, a second gear. Diego Costa had an uncanny knack for arriving in the right areas but often left much to be desired where his link up play was concerned.  

Chelsea fans will be hoping Alvaro Morata can provide a more versatile option up front, and help to bring others into the game with his back to goal.

The West Londoner’s reliance on Eden Hazard, for an attacking outlet is understandable given his world class ability but could prove disastrous should his injury problems drag on into the new season. 

2. Key Man

Arsenal v Chelsea - The Emirates FA Cup Final

You could argue N’Golo or even David Luiz, but it has to be Eden. The Belgian finally looked himself again last term after a torrid time in the 2015-16 season. The former Lille star scored 17 goals, seven assists including a masterful solo goal against Arsenal.

The Belgium captain has reaffirmed his commitment to the club, and is reportedly close to signing a whopping £300,000-per-week contract extension with Chelsea.  

Potential Breakout: Andreas Christensen.

1. Predictions

Bayern Muenchen v Chelsea FC - International Champions Cup

Title challengers. Provided Morata can supply anything close to the 20 goals Diego Costa managed last season, there’s no reason the Blues can’t challenge again. 

Whilst all other clubs in the top six still seem to be building, Chelsea are a team of veteran campaigners and league winners. The Blues’ stubborn ability to play extremely poorly for long periods of the season whilst nabbing results is the envy of their rivals. 

Final Position: 1st

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5 Things We Learned From Arsenal’s Community Shield Victory Against Chelsea

Arsenal beat Chelsea by virtue of a penalty shootout to secure the first silverware of the season on Sunday, in a game that made up for a distinct lack of quality with plenty of talking points.

Victor Moses gave the Blues the lead early in the second half, before a Pedro red card and a Sead Kolasinac equaliser with ten minutes remaining forced the game into a shootout.

And the game was decided with the new penalty shootout format – ABBA – which is certainly likely to split opinion, here are five things we learned from events at Wembley.

5. We Could Have an All New Penalty Shootout Format (And Thibaut Courtois Really Can’t Take Penalties)

Chelsea v Arsenal - The FA Community Shield

So, the ABBA format has arrived. Whether it’s here to stay or not will depend on the reception it gets following its trial in the Community Shield.

If you were unlucky enough to miss it, think of something similar to a tie break in tennis. The side that begin the shootout take just one penalty, before their opponents take two in succession. Each side then continue to take two each until a winner is found.

On this occasion, the winner was Arsenal, thanks in part to Thibaut Courtois’ horrendous attempt, which more closely resembled a goal kick.

4. Both Sides Have Plenty of Room to Improve

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Neither of Arsenal and Chelsea were particularly impressive on the day, although it’s not entirely surprising that the game lacked an element of quality.

Both had key players missing or rested, and there was clearly some pre-season rustiness still to be shaken off.

That being said, there will be plenty of areas Arsene Wenger and Antonio Conte will have identified for improvement. The two goals were sloppily defended from both, with the scorers unmarked and in far too much space.

3. Alexandre Lacazette Looks Lively Ahead of Debut Premier League Season

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He was by no means sensational, but there were hints of potentially exciting things to come from Arsenal’s £52m new signing Alexandre Lacazette.

The French forward very nearly put the Gunners in front with a curling effort that struck the post, and his movement caused the Chelsea defence a number of problems.

His inclusion in the team also seemed to free up space for Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi. Expect Lacazette to show more of his ability when the Premier League season kicks off against Leicester on Friday.

2. Defeat Could Help Vindicate Antonio Conte’s Squad Complaints

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Chelsea were by no means poor against Arsenal, but the loss and the slightly lacklustre display may help Antonio Conte stress the importance of bringing in new arrivals.

The Italian coach opted to leave new signings Anton Rudiger and Alvaro Morata on the bench, and was without Eden Hazard, Tiémoué Bakayoko and Diego Costa, who is set to leave the club.

Conte has been repeatedly bringing up the need for reinforcements before the end of the window, and the depleted squad list in the Community Shield programme seemed to emphasise his point.

1. Sead Kolasinac Could Be Arsenal’s Next Fan Favourite

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The powerful defender certainly made a positive impact in the time he was given as a second half substitute against Chelsea.

Kolasinac stamped his authority on the game with physicality, something Arsenal have been accused of lacking in recent years. The Bosnian, judging by today’s display, will quickly eradicate any concerns that the Gunners could be too lightweight.

To add to that, he scored the crucial late equaliser with a well guided header to take the game to penalties and an eventual Arsenal victory.

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Arsenal 1-1 Chelsea (4-1 Pens): Gunners Beat Blues in Shootout to Claim Community Shield

?Arsenal beat Chelsea on penalties to win the Community Shield and secure the first piece of silverware of the season.

After a goalless first half, the game came to life immediately after the break when Victor Moses gave the Blues the lead.

Chelsea looked set to hold on, but Pedro received a straight red card for a dangerous challenge late in the second half and Sead Kolasinac headed home from the set-piece that followed.

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Olivier Giroud struck the winning penalty in the new shootout format to give Arsenal the first trophy of the new season.

In what was a rematch of the FA Cup final which ended last season (albeit one of less significance), it was Arsenal that began on the front foot, probing the Chelsea backline. For the Blues, who started without any of their new signings, it was something of a lethargic opening to the game.

Not until the 22nd minute did the first real opportunity present itself, Arsenal’s new signing Alexandre Lacazette curling an effort past Thibaut Courtois after a one-two with Danny Welbeck but he was denied by the post.

Chelsea seemed to have not fully shaken off their pre-season rustiness, and there was a distinct opening game of the season feel for much of the first half. There was some improvement from the Premier League champions towards the end of the first 45 minutes, however, with Pedro testing Petr Cech with a powerful left-footed drive from just outside the box.

At the other end, Alex Iwobi demonstrated some quick feet to evade the challenge of Cesar Azpilicueta and tested Courtois, before Welbeck blazed a long-range effort emphatically over the bar.

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Despite Chelsea’s slow first half, it took just a minute after play resumed for them to take the lead, Moses ghosting into the box and latching on to a Gary Cahill header before beating the onrushing Cech.

It was a goal that came from nothing, but seemed to invigorate a previously lacklustre Chelsea side. In response, Arsenal offered some extended pressure, almost levelling through what was likely an unintentional – or maybe an incredibly audacious – effort from a tight angle by Mohamed Elneny, forcing Courtois to tip over.

With their narrow lead intact, Chelsea looked to retain their shape and contain the Gunners. Granit Xhaka attempted to take a more effective route to goal with 15 minutes remaining, unleashing a ferocious strike from distance and bringing a full-stretch save from Courtois.

But with ten minutes remaining, Pedro saw a red card for a dangerous challenge from behind on Elneny, before substitute Kolasinac brought the Gunners level with a header from the resultant free-kick.

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The man advantage meant that the final minutes were spent largely in pursuit of an Arsenal winner, but it was actually Chelsea that came closest – Alvaro Morata, on for his debut, headed narrowly wide in injury time.

With no extra time, penalties were required, and in a slightly bizarre shootout that demonstrated a new format called ABBA, Arsenal kept their composure to emerge as winners.

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Monaco to Battle Premier League Duo for Barcelona’s Makeshift Right-Back Sergi Roberto

?Monaco will battle Manchester United and Chelsea for the signature of Barcelona utility man Sergi Roberto.

The Ligue 1 champions have had a rather negative transfer window after winning France’s top division, with Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy departing for Manchester City and Tiemoue Bakayoko joining Chelsea.

FC Barcelona v Real Sociedad de Futbol - La Liga

However, after signing midfielder Youri Tielemans, defender Jordy Gaspar and goalkeeper Diego Benaglio, ?Don Balon claim Monaco could move for Roberto as the 25-year-old’s future at Barcelona is uncertain following the arrival of new manager Ernesto Valverde.

With a buyout clause of €40m, Roberto has experience of playing at right-back but is more comfortable in central midfield, his natural position, and is attracting interest from both United and Chelsea.

FC Barcelona v Paris Saint-Germain - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg

United have already spent over £100m on new players this summer, signing Benfica’s Victor Lindelof, Everton striker Romelu Lukaku and Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic, while the Blues have snapped up Tiemoue Bakayoko, Alvaro Morata, Willy Caballero and Antonio Rudiger.

Roberto contributed six assists in 32 La Liga appearances for the Catalan giants but his most significant contribution came during a Champions League tie against Paris Saint-Germain, capping a 14-minute cameo with Barcelona’s final goal in the 6-1 win over the French side.

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PSG had been interested in signing Roberto before splashing out on his former teammate Neymar but the Spaniard was not interested in a move away from the Nou Camp, although he is thought to be open to the idea now.

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?Why Chelsea’s Community Shield Clash Against Arsenal Is a Massive Game for the Blues and Conte

For many years the Community Shield has been regarded as formality; an extension of pre-season in which the competing sides can get a clearer idea of their preferred line up for the ‘proper’ test of Premier League football.

But as the competition for top six places has tightened, so the value of all domestic trophies has markedly increased, with even Jose Mourinho claiming that Manchester United’s win over Leicester City in the 2016 Community Shield represented the first of United’s ‘three trophies’ last season.

But for Chelsea, the game represents a crucial opportunity to renew Antonio Conte’s faith in the Blues as a long-term project.

The Italian left Juventus in 2014 after winning three successive Serie A titles with the Turin club, citing a failure to be fully supported in the transfer market as the main motivation for moving on.

Though Chelsea have spent over £100m so far this summer, Conte is reportedly unhappy with the club’s failure to land Romelu Lukaku and other targets as the Blues face the added strain of Champions League football this season.

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Conte took the extraordinary step of imploring his players to avoid a ‘Mourinho season’ in the past few days, in an attempt to galvanise the five-time Premier League winners, and history suggests a strong display will be important.

Chelsea’s disastrous 2015-16 season was preceded by a dire pre-season campaign in which the champions failed to record a single victory. A 1-0 defeat to Arsenal in the Community Shield followed – Wenger’s first win over Mourinho in 14 attempts – and Chelsea never truly recovered.

Pre-season games are by no means a fair test of a team’s true condition, but the manner of Chelsea’s defeats, particularly against Bayern was alarming.

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Chelsea were 2-0 down inside 12 minutes against Die Roten with the Italian’s experienced side looking uncharacteristically disjoined without the ball for most of the game.

Inter Milan also outclassed the Premier League champions with the respectable 2-1 scoreline coming only as a result of a spectacular own goal by Inter midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia.

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Chelsea have looked decidedly uninspired without the injured Eden Hazard and the Blues will look to prove on Sunday that they are a complete team who will not over-rely the mesmeric Belgian in order to compete next season.

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