Last season, Chelsea were a club caught in transition. They may not have seemed it, finishing just four points short of eventual Premier League winners Manchester City and losing just one fixture against top six opposition, but with intrinsic flaws aplenty -most notably the absence of a dependable goalscorer – the Blues were by no means the finished article.
At least, that’s what Jose Mourinho was prepared to tell the public on a sporadic basis throughout the campaign, whose continual rejection of Chelsea’s title credentials soon became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Not to suggest Chelsea were on a parallel with the Citizens last season. As well as possessing a strikeforce that struggled for output – Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba’s combined 19 Premier League goals were bettered by City’s Yaya Toure alone – Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard’s Chelsea’s careers were coming to a rather subdued end, whilst a number of players, such as Juan Mata and David Luiz, lacked the discipline and consistency required for an a-typical Mourinho side.
But the Blues boss will more aware than anyone that the same excuses, the idea that Chelsea are still evolving and transitioning from an old to a new regime , won’t wash next season
Despite the Etihad currently boasting reigning champions status, Chelsea’s are the bookies favourites – and with the best manager and strongest starting XI in the league, there can be no justification for them not re-claiming the English crown next year.
Not least because, in comparison to twelve months ago where obvious compromises were made – the stop-gap signing of Samuel Eto’o being one of them – Mourinho has more than had his way this summer.
The need for a dependable goalscorer has been addressed by the £32million capture of Diego Costa, a striker who not only offers the potency of 36 goals in all competitions last season but also meets Chelsea’s physical and philosophical requisites as a lone front-man of the Didier Drogba mould in abundance.
The same can be said for Cesc Fabregas – by no means a traditional Mourinho player but the perfect signing to address Chelsea’s other major failing from last season; the inability to break down well-organised defences, such as Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, Stoke City and Sunderland’s.
The two, along with left-back Filipe Luis, also prized away from Vincente Calderon, gives Chelsea the strongest starting XI in the league and a strength in depth that can rival Manchester City’s. Especially when Thibaut Courtois, unquestionably the most impressive young goalkeeper in world football, is brought into the equation too, not to mention Didier Drogba’s re-arrival at Stamford Bridge.
These are all high-quality players that not only suit Chelsea’s organised style well, but should furthermore allow them to adopt a more progressive philosophy at times next season. If the Blues were forced to play a certain way last year due to the limits of their personnel, the same can’t be said of the 2014/15 campaign.
Diverse options, such as Cesar Azpilicueta, Oscar, Andre Schurrle, Fernando Torres and Mohammed Salah are aplenty – combine that with Mourinho’s meticulous tactical mind, and the west Londoners have the weaponry to compete against any quality or style of opposition.
The new arrivals have come at significant cost. Chelsea’s overall spending this summer, admittedly, in part juxtaposed by the departures of Romelu Lukaku and David Luiz, stands at £85million and is thus far only rivalled by Liverpool’s which is excepted to easily exceed the triple-figure mark by the end of the transfer window.
Other clubs could leapfrog the Blues by September 1st, but even so, Mourinho has been granted more than enough finance this summer to shape the Chelsea squad in his preferred image. The deals were wrapped up remarkably early too, meaning the new signings should already be settled by the time the Premier League season officially starts.
Likewise, Mourinho’s preferences have dictated Chelsea’s pre-season scheduling. Participating in continent-spanning pre-season tours has become a commercial necessity for major Premier League clubs, but preferring a European-based operation with little travel time and double training sessions, Mourinho has been allowed to turn his back on Chelsea’s corporate interests this summer for the sake of a more concentrated and intense preparation.
I’m sure Roman Abramovich, missing out on an opportunity to further increase the Blues’ exposure world-wide, will expect the benefits to be highly visible through performances.
But most important of all in regards to Chelsea claiming next season’s Premier League title is the fact that they have by far the most talented manager in the division. Arsenal and Manchester United mans might feel slightly differently, and indeed, both Arsene Wenger and Louis van Gaal have the ability to embarrass Mourinho on their day.
The ‘Special One’ however is of a different breed. Few managers in the history of the sport have matched his accomplishments at just 51 years of age and resultantly he’s the best-paid manager in world football, according to an index released in March.
The €17million salary is more than justified in terms of reputation, but after a trophy-less first season at Stamford Bridge, Mourinho needs to prove once again that he’s worth his pay-cheque.
Following a summer in which all of the Portuguese’s demands have been met, after a 2012/13 campaign where allowances in results were made in the name of transition, there can be no excuses if Chelsea – but more significantly Mourinho – fail to claim next season’s Premier League title. Should that be the case, the Blues gaffer will have to be held accountable.