Before the 2013/2014 Premier League campaign kicked off, there was a great furore about Manchester United being third-favourites for the title, despite being reigning Champions. The bookies choice to win the Premiership this year was, and currently still is, Chelsea, powered by the dynamic return of Jose Mourinho.
We may only be three games in to what looks set to be the most unpredictable Premier League season to date following wholesale changes at the top of the table, but the West London outfit are already showing why British bookmakers have put all their faith in the Blues, despite the top flight being dominated by the two Manchester clubs for the last three years.
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In the transfer market, Mourinho has acted swiftly and efficiently to add to his already established squad without rocking the boat too much. Andre Schurrle and Marco Van Ginkel are both promising, youthful additions that add diversity to the roster, Mark Schwarzer is perhaps the most astute signing of the summer considering he came at no cost and can rival any second-choice keeper in the Premier League in terms of quality, Willain was signed in a moment of great opportunism as Anzhi held a firesale of all their top talents, and Samuel Eto’o, who also joined from the Russian outfit, may be 32 years old, but he comes with the perfect balance of proven quality, experience, and a vital winning mentality that will be priceless in the Stamford Bridge dressing room.
Granted, their summer transfer escapades could have been improved upon if Wayne Rooney was lured away from Manchester United. The Eto’o acquisition does add depth, quality and experience, but it does not solve the issue of where Chelsea’s most reliable source of goals will come from next season.
But the transfer saga has put David Moyes’ nose out of joint, and combined with Manchester United’s inability to bring in any established talent this summer apart from former Evertonian Marouane Fellaini on deadline day, in addition to the Red Devils’ league defeat to Liverpool, its created a picture of the transition between two managers at Old Trafford not going as smoothly as planned. Despite proclaiming himself as ‘the happy one’, it seems ‘the Special One’ still has a knack for upsetting his rivals through the British media.
A squad bursting with talent throughout, with great depth in every department and position, and one of Europe’s most talented managers at the helm, it’s understandable how Chelsea quickly emerged as the bookies’ first choice, whilst David Moyes struggled in the summer to source new signings and Manchester City under Manuel Pellegrini, exotic imports to boot, still remain an unknown quantity.
But Chelsea have backed it up with impressive performances in their opening three Premier League fixtures, in addition to their firey affair with Bayern Munich in the European SuperCup. Match-ups against Hull and Aston Villa proved easy enough, providing 2-0 and 2-1 wins repsectively, but their heavyweight clash with Manchester United was a huge test and the West Londoners came away with far more positives than negatives from the 0-0 encounter.
The Andre Schurrle-lone-striker experiment quite clearly didn’t pay off, but it’s only the third clean sheet Chelsea have claimed against United in their last 19 Old Trafford outings, and perhaps most significantly, it’s one of an incredibly rare few committed defensive displays from the Blues since their last Premier League title in 2010.
Jose Mourinho may only have been operating as Stamford Bridge boss for a few months, but he’s already providing his players with the organisation and determination to grind out results, and the pragmatism to accept a scoreless draw against the Red Devils as a point gained rather than two lost.
Similarly, the performance against Bayern Munich was equally as impressive. Despite eventually losing on penalties after ending extra time at 2-2, Chelsea’s display maintained that they’re more than capable of beating any opposition on their day, and there are few teams in Europe that can claim to have drawn with the Champions League winners after 90 minutes, let alone 120, in the past year.
The old guard, the rising talents and those in between all played their role, but a single prolific entity emerged in Eden Hazard that night, who could well hold the key to Chelsea’s title bid. The Belgian’s quality and potential has been well-documented for some time, yet I believe his showing in the Super Cup final was his announcement of arrival to the footballing world that we’ve been waiting for ever since he began causing waves at Lille.
The winger put in good form last season to claim nine goals and 11 assists in 34 Premier League appearances, also earning him a spot in the PFA Team of the Year, but considering Hazard’s potential and the £32million price-tag, many expected more, especially against major opposition.
At times last term, it appeared the 22 year-old’s game was still incomplete, but against Bayern Munich he showed a disciplined and balanced approach to the benefit of his team’s performance as well as his own individually, spending large segments of the game supporting Ashley Cole before reserving enough energy, stamina and mental focus to take on two defenders and beat Manuel Neuer with a low drive in extra time.
Whereas at Manchester United and Manchester City there is still great doubt surrounding their title chances, illustrated best by surprise defeats to Liverpool and Cardiff City respectively, Chelsea seem to hold all the key components required to claim the Premier League title.
In Jose Mourinho, they possess a uniquely talented manager who can claim to have conquered the English top flight before, in the squad they have the perfect mix of youth, age, experience, flexibility and versatility, and in Eden Hazard they have a flagship star that looks set to take the Premier League by storm this year.
And if all else fails, they have two-time Chelsea Player of the Year award-winner Juan Mata waiting in the wings, who hasn’t even been missed so far this season whilst the Blues took seven points from their first three games.
Are Chelsea favourites for the title?
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