Roberto Di Matteo has only Marko Marin unavailable to face Manchester City in the Community Shield at Villa Park on Sunday.
The German international sat out last weekend’s friendly defeat at Brighton and is still not ready for action, but we can expect Chelsea returns for Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge, while Oriol Romeu and Ryan Bertrand are also in contention, and Eden Hazard is expected to make his debut.
‘Everybody apart from Marko Marin is fit and available and I will select the final team tomorrow after the last training,’ said Di Matteo.
‘It’s certainly going to be a strong team, keeping in mind the stage where the players are, they are at different stages, but it will be a strong team.
‘There is always competition for places and I try to keep it as open as possible for people fighting for places. We’ve only had some of the players back this week from the Olympics and it will take a bit of time to find the right players in the right positions. We have a couple of new players but a lot of them have been here before and know each other.’
As Premier League champions, City are probably favourites for the game, and Di Matteo expects a tough challenge from Roberto Mancini’s men, believing they will be among the frontrunners once again in 2012/13.
‘Everybody will be chasing them. They have a good squad, a good team and when you are at the top it is hard to stay at the top,’ said the Italian. ‘There will be plenty of clubs trying to catch them up this season.
‘There was a big gap last season and that’s one of our challenges this season, to try and bridge it. Twenty-five points was a lot, and we have a tough season ahead trying to compete.
‘There are a lot of very good teams this season, it seems the Premier League is getting more balanced every year. They have a good squad and will be difficult to catch but that’s the job of all the other teams.
‘Traditionally this match doesn’t give a big clue to what kind of season you will have, but it will be competitive and both teams will want to win. But whoever wins doesn’t necessarily go on to win the Premier League or anything else [but] it’s always better to win. It’s a good feeling and the players know a win against Man City would be great and give us the right step into the Premier League.’
With Oscar yet to join up with the squad, Di Matteo believes we will have a formidable group once it begins to gel.
‘I watched him in the Olympics, before the Olympics, and he will certainly add a lot of quality to our team. He is still a young man and will be able to learn a lot from the players we have here, and the mentality of the players here,’ said the manager.
‘There are plenty of trophies to win this season and we have a very driven team and players who are never satisfied with what they have done in the past.’
Di Matteo also suggested he is still interested in adding to the squad, with a striker a possible priority, particularly given the likelihood of Romelu Lukaku departing on loan.
‘At this stage of his career the most important thing is to play. It might be a bit more difficult here with us so it’s the best choice to let him go out on loan,’ admitted the coach.
‘We are a little bit light in a couple of positions and we’ve got one or two young players who are interesting but we will see what is going to go on and see what happens when the market closes.’
Another player who has been linked with a move away is Daniel Sturridge, who was today called into the England squad. The player, Di Matteo says, remains firmly in his plans.
‘He is part of the squad, of the team, and still has a lot to give. He still has a lot to learn as well but we are hopeful he can develop even more and become a great player for us.
‘He did very well to recover from his illness in a short period of time. He is a very exciting player and it’s great for him to be involved in the England squad.
‘He has the ability to play in more than one position. He made it quite public he likes to play as a number nine but there is competition, which is good, and we will see as the season starts who is going to play.’