If the 2013/2014 season was a transitional phase for the London billionaires, then 2014/2015 could be safely described as the time when Jose Mourinho’s expensively assembled squad not only showed promise but lived up to the primary expectation had of it by fans and owner. Chelsea were no longer little horses in the title race but had grown into the main horse on the tracks.
Jose Mourinho’s quiet yet well calculated dealings in the market proved to be pieces of shrewd business at the end of the season. Cesc Fabregas confidently pulled the strings in the midfield; Nemanja Matic further consolidated his reputation as a destroyer at the base of the midfield; Thibault Courtois was imperious in goal (safe for a few gaffes which were not totally unexpected in his first season in the EPL); and Diego Costa was simply a revelation. The Spanish international simply took to the EPL like duck to water and his goals earlier in the season at the end proved vital for a Chelsea side that thinned out in the final run-in.
The Blues started the season playing with swagger and gait. Their swashbuckling style of football proved too sophisticated for virtually every team in the EPL to handle till the early weeks of February when they were brought down to earth by a Spurs team that appeared to have discovered the Achilles heels of this Chelsea side. They were walloped five goals to two and that was the beginning of reality. Chelsea never truly rediscovered the beautiful touch till the season ended though the refusal of their closest contenders to genuinely compete still gave Chelsea a generous gift of lifting the trophy by May 2015.
In spite of this EPL triumph which according to Mourinho was his priority for the season (the Capital One Cup triumph was an icing on the cake), Chelsea’s shocking home exit in the UCL against PSG left much to be desired. This is not to talk of the embarrassing 2-4 home loss to Bradford in the FA Cup. All of these shortcomings have been attributed to a major flaw in the team – Jose Mourinho’s lack of rotation of the first eleven. Chelsea’s first eleven remained largely the same all through the season with changes only forced by extreme cases of fatigue and injuries that could not be managed. Jose’s apparent lack of belief in the quality he has on his bench and the club’s academy has attracted a lot of criticisms as one would have expected the squad to be much more rotated than he did in order to freshen the tiring legs.
The players appeared to tire out as February approached with the January purchase of Juan Cuadrado also appearing to have been a misadventure for both club and player.
It is expected that a winning team would remain hungry for more success. In football, strengthening the core of the team, improving the quality of the bench and blooding bright prospects from the club’s academy (this lays foundation for sustained success) are essential to ensuring that such club never forgets the joy of winning.
For Chelsea, Mourinho insists that his Chelsea team is in top condition and does not need any major surgical process to remain competitive next season. However, obvious facts and pre-season engagements do not support Mou’s position. While it is true that Chelsea’s first eleven remains one of the strongest in Europe, it can no longer lay claim to being far ahead of its rivals in the EPL. With Arsenal only one quality striker signing away from giving the EPL a realistic shot, United having panel-beat its squad to the point of having to replace Di-Maria and sorting De Gea’s transfer issue only; City also a few signings away from getting back into top condition and Liverpool fixing its frailties; Chelsea might have well been caught up with in terms of quality.
While Felipe Luis has been transferred to Atletico Madrid and Cech to Arsenal, Chelsea’s major signings this summer have been Falcao (on loan) and Begovic (permanent). Begovic is obviously an understudy to Courtois but Falcao’s loan deal to replace the departed legendary Drogba must still be taken as a costly gamble. The reason for this pessimism is not far-fetched – Falcao has not been the same since his anterior cruciate ligament injury. His return of a paltry four goals last season at United (though limited games are used as an excuse) does not help his reputation.
Chelsea remains short on the flanks with only Eden Hazard being the creative winger in the team. Willian offers a lot of industry but lacks the creativity needed to break down well-disciplined teams from the flanks. Cuadrado who should be an alternative appears to have forgotten his boots at Fiorentina and does not look like he would turn out to be value for money.
In central defence, Chelsea still boasts about the strongest pairing in Europe but Terry is aging and has lost about a yard or two while Cahill showed last season that he could be prone to loss of concentration at critical moments of phases of the season. The emergence of Zouma is cheering news but getting Stones from Everton must be priority for Mou as a fall-back option should Cahill do the Tottenham circus again this season. Azpilicueta has performed very excellently in the left-back position but getting a natural left-back remains a priority for Jose. If Baba Rahman of Augsburg eventually comes in, then this end would be covered.
Fabregas’ habitual/traditional second half of the season working vacation must get an antidote if Chelsea would retain the EPL and give the UCL a respectable shot. His slide last season coincided with Diego Costa’s forced absence at various points and the goals dried up for Chelsea. One would have thought Mou would get a playmaker that could support Fab but it appears his confidence in Oscar’s ability is still firm and the lot of the latter should have surely been helped by having had a long rest in the summer.
Upfront, there may be regrets for Mou’s failure to get a capable back-up for the injury-prone Costa. Mourinho’s failure to get Costa operated in the summer appears to have started haunting him as the striker has already been out twice with injuries in pre-season and Loic Remy continues to show only flashes of brilliance which are not sufficient to keep hopes bright. Falcao is the third striker but his reputation in front of goal of late and his floundering performances in pre-season would surely have Mourinho thinking hard if this was ever worth it.
Retaining the League title would be the least achievement expected of Jose Mourinho and his wards this season while nothing less than a semi-final finish in the UCL would be deemed respectable.
Personally, I expect Chelsea to win a minimum of two trophies, the EPL inclusive, considering the resources at Mourinho’s disposal and the psychological advantage of being holders. More so, he has retained the core of his squad with only minimal exits (fighters and boundless energy in Matic, Ramires and Mikel; flair in Hazard, Willian and Oscar; limitless creativity in Fabregas & Oscar; power in Costa, Ivanovic, Cahill and Luiz; versatility in Azpilicueta, Willian and Zouma; I HONESTLY do not know where to put Falcao and Cuadrado) and ultimately, he still has an unrepentant winner and leader with the legendary presence of John Terry.
Manchester City remain a genuine challenger with the reinforcements they have made; Arsenal are just an out-and-out striker and maybe one more quality central defender from ending their pretenders tag (Cech ticks more than five boxes for the team); Liverpool still need more than merely signing players to be in the run – they actually need Brendan Rodgers to use his head; and if Manchester United would quickly sort out De Gea’s transfer saga and replace Di Maria, they would be ready to gun for the title.
In Europe, a semi-final finish for Chelsea in Europe this term would not be a failure. With the continued strength of Barcelona, reinforcements at Bayern and PSG and Madrid coming back as a wounded lion, Chelsea would be outsiders for a place in the final match.
The gods have not moved out of Stamford Bridge. Mourinho and his team only need to do for themselves what the gods will not do for men.