£38m enforcer, energetic midfielder… Chelsea’s ideal Prem-opening XI

The new era at Chelsea under Antonio Conte brings with it some interesting dilemmas. The Italian has always favoured a 3-5-2 formation throughout his entire career, something that Chelsea and most Premier League clubs have not implemented in recent years.

However, the stubborn Conte will want to fit his system to the players at Chelsea, along with a number of additions, in preparation for a key season which involves no European competition at Stamford Bridge.

With such a wealth of talent at Chelsea, Conte may not have to invest too much in new players but rather reignite the passion and ability of the current crop in West London.

With just under three weeks to go until the new Premier League season kicks off, we take a look at the likely Chelsea starting XI next season…

GK – Thibaut Courtois

Courtois

An indifferent season for the big Belgian in 2015/16 saw his reputation as one of the worlds’ best ‘keepers diminish somewhat. However, there is no doubting the natural ability of the 24-year-old and he will undoubtedly start the season between the sticks for Chelsea.

CB – Kurt Zouma

Kurt Zouma (centre)

At just 21, Kurt Zouma is fast becoming one of the most promising young defenders in football and looks totally comfortable a Premier League level. The Frenchman is just the type of defender that Conte likes; strong and fast with the ability to play the ball out from the back.

CB – Kalidou Koulibaly

Kalidou Koulibaly

Considering the Kalidou Koulibaly was playing his football in Genk two seasons ago, it seems astonishing that his stock has risen so swiftly. However, the reported £38m bid from Chelsea indicates the astonishing progression that the 25-year-old has made since joining Napoli.

The Senegalese international is rumoured to want a move to the Premier League and Antonio Conte, who is aware of the abilities of Koulibaly, seems desperate to land the defender.

CB – Gary Cahill

cahill

Returning from the embarrassment of England’s Euro 2016 campaign will not be easy for Gary Cahill. However, the 30-year-old was hardly at fault and his consistency for both club and country mean he is a likely starter for Antonio Conte’s Chelsea.

RWB – Willian

WillianChelsea

An interesting dilemma befalls Antonio Conte when deciding to select his wing backs for his preferred formation. While the left sided player looks to be a guaranteed slot for a certain Spaniard, the right side proves far more of a tricky conundrum. However, Willian provides the perfect solution; fast, energetic and not afraid to put in a tackle. The Brazilian will need to improve his defensive capabilities to hold down the position in the long run however.

LWB – Cesar Azpilicueta

Azpilicueta

Alongside Willian, Cesar Azpilicueta has been arguably the best Chelsea player over the last 24 months. The Spaniard is the perfect example of a modern day full/wing back; exceptionally good in the tackle, tactically sound and an offensive outlet when required.

CM – Nemanja Matic

matic

Look at any of Antonio Conte’s past teams and you will see he likes to deploy two strong, tough-tackling midfielders in the centre of the park. Should he continue to adhere to this tradition, Nemanja Matic would be the perfect fit.

CM – N’Golo Kante

N'Golo Kante

Arguably the best player in the Premier League last season, N’Golo Kante is a comparative steal at £30m. The Frenchman is the best tackler in England, an astute passer and an engine that simply never runs out. A partnership with Nemanja Matic could disrupt the flow of any team.

CM – Cesc Fabregas

Fabregas

Cesc Fabregas will likely be tasked with becoming the key playmaker in Antonio Conte’s side but will need to significantly improve on last season’s performances if he is to maintain his position. Fabregas’s performances were so underwhelming last season, he was often made a scapegoat for the entire team’s failings. However, Conte will know the abilities of the 29-year-old and will likely start him from the off.

ST – Eden Hazard

Eden Hazard

If Eden Hazard is to retain his place in the Chelsea team, he will likely be deployed as a busy number 10, picking up balls from the flanks and coming short to set up teammates. This transition may actually benefit the Belgian, who looked lost for much of last season. The 25-year old thrives in central position and could be a superb foil for a free-scoring frontman.

ST – Diego Costa

Football Soccer - Rapid Vienna v Chelsea - Pre Season Friendly - Allianz Stadion, Vienna, Austria - 16/7/16 Chelsea's Diego Costa in action Action Images via Reuters / Heinz-Peter Bader Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

Despite the signing of Michy Batshuayi for over £30 million, Diego Costa will likely remain as Chelsea’s frontman for the 2016/17 season. The 27-year old could thrive under Antonio Conte’s fierce management style and provided he steers clear of any unnecessary altercations, could have a very productive season.