So here we are then: after three months of rest and recuperation, the Chelsea boys are ready to defend their Premier League title.
The history books suggest we’ve got our work cut out: nobody has successfully recaptured the title since Manchester United in 2009, but these boys in blue showed enough class last season to at least hint at the prospect of back-to-back glory.
It has been a mercifully quiet summer transfer window, with Antonio Conte tinkering rather than overhauling the playing squad. The departure of Nemanja Matic is a shame in a sense – he showed glimpses of his best last term, and was a driving force in the last quarter or so of the campaign.
But Conte has his own ideas of how he wants Chelsea to play, and Matic’s replacement – Tiemoue Bakayoko – is certainly a quality addition. He’s young, athletic and powerful, and statistically he was one of the best defensive midfielders across any of Europe’s top leagues last term. His numbers, remarkably, were up there with N’Golo Kante’s! With that pair shielding the back three, we can see our own blue wall being erected that will be almost impossible to break down.
Antonio Rudiger is another smart capture. He’s another young talent with a bright future, and he will provide necessary cover at the back to deputise for Conte’s first choice trio or allow Cesar Azpilicueta to fill in at right wing back when Victor Moses is absent (as he is this weekend).
Embed from Getty Images Rudiger’s capture also enabled Conte to ship Kurt Zouma out on loan – he will get plenty of game time at Stoke, and that will be crucial to his development.
The vast majority of Chelsea fans await their first sighting of Alvaro Morata with interest. The lanky Spaniard has never quite hit it off at Real Madrid or Juventus, but a career goal tally of 103 strikes in 271 appearances suggests promise. His style of play echoes that of Diego Costa, with powerful hold-up play and clinical finishing suggesting he could be an adequate like-for-like replacement for his fellow countryman.
Ah, Diego. Many of us had suspected that he wasn’t happy at the club ever since the whole China debacle kicked off around Christmas time, and you would presume that his and Conte’s working relationship crumbled at that particular time.
Technically Costa is still a Chelsea player, although having been told to stay away from the Chelsea camp he has been training in Brazil and is expected to complete a move back to Atletico Madrid soon; even though the Spanish outfit have a transfer ban in place. Answers on a postcard about that one!
Following a non-event of a defeat in the Community Shield, attention turns to the season proper and the visit of Burnley as Stamford Bridge’s curtain-raiser on Saturday. The Clarets have sold two of their best players and were hapless on the road last season – surely the Blues will start the 2017/18 campaign with a win, won’t they?
Chelsea Team NewsIdeally, you’d like to be at full strength for your seasonal opener, but unfortunately that luxury is not available to Conte this week.
Eden Hazard is still some way from full fitness following ankle surgery, and he hasn’t kicked a ball in anger for three months. September is his pencilled in return date, so the Blues will have to make do without their talisman for the time being.
Victor Moses is suspended after carrying over a ban from last term, and he will have to watch on from the stands. With no obvious replacement at wing back, expect Azpilicueta to shuffle out there and Rudiger to make his debut in what should be a straightforward enough game.
Tiemoue Bakayoko’s full debut is also on the back burner after the midfielder suffered a knee injury in pre-season. He is also expected to return alongside Moses next week. Happily, Cesc Fabregas is a more than adequate replacement.
Chelsea vs Burnley Head to HeadChelsea are unbeaten in six starts against Burnley (W4 D2 L0) in a run dating back to November 2008.
They’ve only actually played each other seven times in the past 30 years, with the first meeting of those ending in a Burnley victory in the League Cup.
But the Blues have lapped up the Clarets ever since, winning 3-0 at the Bridge in the first meeting last season before settling for a 1-1 draw at Turf Moor in February.
How the Match Will Be WonBurnley will have presumably done all they could to keep quality centre back Michael Keane from leaving the club, but the lure of an offer from Everton was enough to tempt the England international away from Lancashire.
The loss of Andre Gray could be a big one too. He may only have notched nine league goals last season, but his pace was crucial to the counter-attacking style that Sean Dyche prefers; especially for tough away trips like this.
Burley’s attacking options are now Sam Vokes and Jon Walters, and neither of those will be giving the Chelsea defenders nightmares.
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So the question that remains is can Chelsea break Burnley’s resistance? We certainly have the players with Cesc Fabregas orchestrating attacks from deep and Pedro and Willian looking lively in pre-season. This is a textbook fixture for Morata to make his debut in, and naturally we’re not going to expect miracles from a player that won’t have experienced anything quite like a Burnley welcome before.
The Clarets lost 14/19 away games last season, and that is symptomatic of a side that struggled to resist quality opposition on their travels. A rudimentary Chelsea victory is expected.