Premier League Fantasy Preview: Chelsea
Chelsea are yet another Premier League side with a new manager this season, as Antonio Conte arrives at Stamford Bridge on the back of leading Italy to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016.
The Blues are looking to bounce back from a disastrous title defence last year, when Guus Hiddink led them to a safe mid-table finish following José Mourinho’s sacking.
N’Golo Kanté and Michy Batshuayi have been added to Conte’s squad and more signings are likely before the big kick-off, but Chelsea remain highly reliant on older players such as captain John Terry, who has signed on for another year after looking on the brink of leaving the club.
Conte is regarded as one of the best tacticians in world football but he faces a huge task to turn around Chelsea’s ageing squad, although the presence of stars such as Eden Hazard will help.
Likely tactics and formation
Chelsea have typically played a 4-2-3-1 in recent years, like many top clubs, but Conte is known as being particularly flexible and often chooses to operate with a back three.
It is likely Conte will tailor his tactics and formation to the opposition on a regular basis as he is known to be very proactive, with a solid defence and heavy pressing the key facets of his sides.
How Chelsea develop their attacks depends very much on whether Batshuayi goes straight into the team or if Diego Costa continues to start up front.
Kanté is the man Conte will build his team around after the diminutive France international was a revelation in Leicester City’s unexpected march to Premier League glory last season.
Although Conte looks to be in the market for a new defensive leader, Terry is likely to continue to shepherd the back line for now, with Hazard another certain starter in the Chelsea squad. Cesc Fàbregas has been a firm fixture in the Chelsea midfield since his arrival and he will be again.
Thibaut Courtois is the undisputed number one at Stamford Bridge and the Belgium international will continue between the posts for Chelsea in the Premier League this season.
The main cover comes from the former Stoke City stopper Asmir Begović, with the 29-year-old’s appearances likely to be restricted to cup competitions.
Should Conte use a three-man defence that could be good news for Terry, whose lack of mobility later in his career has affected his ability to play in a back four. Kurt Zouma also looks a good fit for Conte’s plans, but the Frenchman will miss the start of the season through injury.
Gary Cahill had an indifferent Euro 2016 with England and could miss out, with both of last year’s regular full-backs, César Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanović, vulnerable to losing their place.
Ivanović in particular had a poor season last year, although he may improve if moved to centre-back, with Kenedy an intriguing option. The young Brazilian was used at left-back at times last season despite being considered to be more of a midfielder.
Kanté’s arrival means Ivanović’s fellow Serbia international Nemanja Matić is likely surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge, with Fàbregas likely to partner Kanté as a double-pivot in front of the defence.
Conte may opt to use Hazard in the number 10 position, with Oscar another contender for that position, while Willian will almost certainty continue in his shuttling role on the right side of midfield. Pedro is another pacy option for the wing.
It looks to be a straight fight between Costa and Batshuayi to start up front for Chelsea this season, with Atlético Madrid rumoured to be interested in bringing the combative Spain forward back to the club.
Costa hit 16 goals in 41 appearances last year after a poor start to the season, but the Brazil-born striker missed out on a place in Spain’s Euro 2016 due to his patchy form, while Batshuayi was prolific in Ligue 1 for a mediocre Marseille outfit.
A bloated squad means there are plenty of bench options for Conte and sorting out a 25-man Premier League squad is likely to be one of his top challenges in the early weeks of his reign.
Loïc Rémy’s pace makes him a fine asset to have as a substitute, while Victor Moses is another player with lots of Premier League experience who will be hoping to be more involved this year.
Young players such as Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Lucas Piazon, Matt Miazga and Mario Pašalić could be regulars in matchday squads, with John Obi Mikel a useful player to have on the bench too.
Fàbregas and Hazard tend to share set-piece duties at Chelsea, with Hazard first in line to take any penalties the team is awarded, although Costa is also capable of scoring spot-kicks.
Terry remains a serious threat from attacking corners and free-kicks, while Cahill has also been a regular goalscorer for Chelsea from set-piece situations.
More spending looks inevitable at Stamford Bridge before the start of the new Premier League season, with Real Madrid striker Álvaro Morata a top target, while Portuguese pair André Gomes and João Mário have also been linked with moves to the club.
During pre-season Conte will also have to decide what to do with a clutch of fringe players who have been out on loan. The likes of Marko Marin, Juan Cuadrado, Marco van Ginkel and Christian Atsu could be sold to free up more transfer budget for the Italian coach to spend on new additions.