Can Chelsea bounce back in 2016-2017?
Thanks to Copa America Centenario and the European Championships, we’ve been pretty distracted from the fact that the English Premier League has been on hiatus since early May. This, of course, is a major problem, especially for all the wonderful fans used to waking up at 7AM to watch their beloved Chelsea or Manchester United sides take the pitch. While International competition has been outstanding, as usual, we can’t help but miss that massive hole in our heart and pine for the return of the soccer league CoachUp loves the most.
After Leicester City’s 5000-1 odds to win the Premiership, capping off what is, in all likelihood, the most fantastic championship in major sports history, the perennial powerhouses have gone hard towards defeating the slew of underdogs currently rising up the table. With the addition of three world class managers, Antonio Conte, Jose Mourinho, and Pep Guardiola, this season could shape up to be even crazier than the last.
In order to prepare the loyal and initiate the newcomers, CoachUp will have you all ready for the August 13th showdown between the current title-holders Leicester City and newly-promoted Hull City. We’re counting down by previewing the league’s top ten clubs from 2015-2016, detailing the players to watch, and their European (or lack thereof) adventures. So, without further ado, here’s number ten and, strangely, Chelsea FC.
If you’re reading this, there’s a 99% likelihood that you’re not alarmed by seeing Chelsea so, so low in last year’s table. But for those late to the game or just embracing the warm glow of the EPL, here’s the lowdown. Following their first-place finish in 2014-2015, the title favorites came out stumbling, losing the Community Shield -- an intense pre-season friendly played between the league winners and the FA cup champions -- to Arsenal, then drew with Swansea, and lost to Manchester City and Crystal Palace to wrap up a disappointing August. Taking just 4 points in 4 games is not ideal, particularly for a championship-hopeful side, but, couldn’t it just be some early cobwebs? Well, it didn’t get much better: Chelsea’s stars, John Terry, Diego Costa, and Eden Hazard, just often didn’t seem up to the task or were just one step too slow against younger, faster, and hungrier sides.
As the club stumbled, so did owner Roman Abramovich, the man that ultimately sacked the aforementioned Mourinho after a defeat at the hands of Leicester City in mid-December. While Guus Hiddink, the interim manager, did his best to right the ship, and did so for the most part, Chelsea only ever reached the tenth slot, well behind any remaining Europa League berths. Last season, Chelsea finished with 12 wins, 14 draws, 12 loses, and an absurd 31 points behind Leicester City. Their 10th place finish gave Chelsea the worst-ever title defense in modern Premier League history, so they'll be looking to move on from it as quickly as possible.
However, with all disappointment comes unbridled optimism as a new campaign approaches. Under Antonio Conte, the Blues have a great chance of rebounding in 2015-2016 after additions like N’Golo Kante and Michy Batshuayi to an already strong core. At worst, Thibaut Courtois is still one of the world’s best keepers and he’ll be protected by the always underrated Cesar Azpilicueta, the solid Branislav Ivanovic, and ever-reliable Gary Cahill. With improved summers from Cesc Fabregas and Hazard, with Spain and Belgium at Euro Cup, respectively, all that’s left is to make sure that Costa, the team’s best striker, by far, still wants to play at Stamford Bridge. If he stays, then Chelsea will be well in the running for the Premier League’s Most Improved in the forthcoming campaign.
Preferred Starting XI
With Conte taking the reins, there will be a new look for Chelsea as the Italian manager is likely to utilize a 4-4-2 Starting XI, given his glut of midfield talent. In this, we might be able to reasonably expect something like this against West Ham United on August 15th:
Players to Watch
Eden Hazard, the world class winger. After a massively disappointing campaign in 2015-2016, the Belgian international will look to build on his strong summer and become the cog that makes this Chelsea side tick once again. His skill is undeniable, but when he struggles to take on opponents and finish in front of net, the entire team suffers. As champions the year prior, the club was able to depend on Costa nearly every week, but now that his temper can cause lapses in consistency or, in some cases, suspension, they need Hazard to bang in goals from the wing more than ever.
John Terry, the (still) captain. Although he may be flanked by some more talented defenders this fall, including the wrecking ball of a man in Kante, there’s still loads of pressure on Terry. 2015-2016 was treated as a farewell tour for the club legend, even going so far as saying goodbye to team and players in April. Terry is one of the best defenders in Premier League history, but he's begun to show the cracks in his foundation more and more often. If Chelsea are to climb back up the ladder, they’ll need his rock-solid contributions as the last man back once again.
Highlight of Yesteryear
Disappointing season, sure, but Chelsea still had their fair share of memorable matches, including this stunner from season's end. Down 2-0 at halftime to a surging Spurs side looking to stay in the race with Leicester City, a galvanized Chelsea team blasted in two goals after the break. Eden Hazard's 83rd minute equalizer was certainly exquisite in skill, but it ended Spurs' quest towards the top once and for all. Come for the Hazard worldie, stay for Martin Tyler's incredible call from the press box.
Getting Off To A Strong Start
8/15 vs. West Ham
8/20 @ Watford
8/27 vs. Burnley
9/11 @ Swansea
9/16 vs. Liverpool
9/24 @ Arsenal
Although West Ham were no pushovers in 2015-2016, Chelsea should be optimistic about a hot start to this campaign. With crucial matches against Liverpool and Arsenal towards the end of September, the possibility for setting a season-long tone is certainly in play, or, if they falter again, it may just bury a team looking to build on their lost consistencies, Rating: 6/10.
With new blood, new tactics, and a renewed sense of purpose under Antonio Conte, look for Chelsea to bounce back in a huge way. No Champions or Europa League will trip up Chelsea this time, so their focus will be set on bringing back glory to their temporarily crestfallen club. Of course, their older players could continue to falter, but if things break right, especially given the world class talent they've added this summer, don’t be surprised to see Chelsea challenging for a Champions League berth or higher in the forthcoming campaign.