by Ben Sutherland
The 2014/15 Premier League season is just six games old but Chelsea may have their sights set on a record this season by becoming only the third team in history to go through the whole league campaign unbeaten.
Jose Mourinho won’t admit it publically, but he’d love to enter the record books with his side and this would be the perfect way to do it. Only two teams in the history of English football have been able to go through a season without tasting defeat. Preston were the very first ‘Invincibles’ in 1888/89 when they also won the double with the FA Cup, while 115 years later, Arsenal followed suit with one of the great sides of the Premier League era so far. Since then no team has come close to matching those incredible feats.
Although it is very early in the season to be talking too much about records, the Blues have already overcome some testing challenges and are warm favourite with BetFair at 8/13 to lift the title. They travelled to Goodison Park back in August and came away with all three points after scoring six goals in Merseyside, while they were unfortunate not to take a maximum return from the Etihad Stadium where they saw out a 1-1 draw with defending champions Manchester City. Former Blues legend Frank Lampard came back to haunt them on that occasion with a late goal to ensure the two ante-post favourites for the title finished with a point a piece. Those are the kinds of results that prove Chelsea have the fight to not only win the title this season, but to make history whilst doing so.
Looking ahead to the upcoming month for the Blues and there are a couple of tricky fixtures for them to negotiate. They start October with a tough home tie against the Gunners in what is never an easy fixture. That said they will be odds-on favourite to win that game against an Arsenal side that have some key players injured at the moment. A trip down to the South of London follows for another London derby against Crystal Palace. The Eagles have not shown the same form as that of the back end of the 2013/14 campaign where they survived relegation due to a good run of results so anything other than three points in that game will likely be disappointing.
The toughest tie in October could be the trip to Old Trafford to take on a rejuvenated Manchester United. Although the Reds have been unable to fix their defensive problems, their attack of Radamel Falcao, Wayne Rooney, Angel Di Maria and Robin van Persie is a match for any forward line in the world. That clash will almost certainly feature goals so a good bet would likely be to play over 2.5 and over 3.5 goals – while in the correct score market, a score of 3-2 for both sides is likely to herald attractive odds. Gary Cahill and John Terry will need to be at their very best in that game but Chelsea should cause the Reds lots of problems themselves with their own attacking qualities and may just be able to outscore their opponents in what is always one of the games of the season.
One of the key reasons for Chelsea’s tremendous start to their Premier League campaign has been down to Diego Costa. The £32 million signing from Atletico Madrid has proved to be the missing piece of the jigsaw from last season. The Spain international has already reached eight goals for the season and looks on target for a 30 goal return from his campaign. Costa is now the leading contender for this year’s Golden Boot award due to his early season form. With no Luis Suarez in the league this season, there does not appear to be too much competition for him to beat as a lot of the other top four clubs in England tend to spread their goals around the team.
Costa was identified very early in the off-season as the man Mourinho wanted to fill the number nine shirt at Stamford Bridge. The former Atletico man had an excellent season in Spain last year where he finished with 27 league goals, bettered by only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The livewire striker helped his side to win the league title for the first time in 28 years and in doing so breaking the dominance of Real Madrid and Barcleona who had shared the Li Liga title between themselves for the previous nine seasons. Unfortunately for Atletico he did not last very long in the Champions League final against local rivals Real Madrid, as he had to go off within half an hour of the tie due to injury.
For Chelsea, Fernando Torres, Demba Ba and Samuel Eto’o all struggled to find the back of the net on a regular basis last year in the 2013/14 campaign which meant Chelsea missed a talisman that they could rely on regularly to convert chances at the business end of the season. That was one of the reasons as to why Mourinho’s men faded when it came to the crunch, allowing Manchester City and Liverpool to fight for the title. The eventual winners had Edin Dzeko, Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure who all finished with 16 goals or more each, while the runners-up had Luiz Suarez and Daniel Sturridge who netted on 52 occasions between them.
Costa produced the perfect interview for his Chelsea move in the semi-final of the Champions League when Atletico eliminated the English club to make it through to the final in Lisbon. It was his goal from the penalty spot which put the Spanish side in front over the two legs at the Bridge. Not only did Costa show off his goal scoring prowess, but he proved he had the fight inside him, an attribute which would have caught the eye of Mourinho that night.
The challenge for Costa this season is to stay fit. If he can play for 80% of the season, Chelsea should win the league and will have good chance at creating history. Not many strikers adapt so quickly in England but the former Atletico man has the perfect game to be successful in the Premier League. The concern is for the Blues is that if the prolific striker does end up on the side lines for a sustained period, the problems of last season may return. Loic Remy also signed for the Blues in the summer from QPR and Didier Drogba has returned for his second spell at the club, but they do not guarantee a stack of goals like Costa does. Mourinho has been very careful with the way he has used his star striker so far in that he has not been afraid to leave him out of his starting XI if he feels his top goal scorer needs a rest. The hamstring problems that he suffered with at the back end of last season have not completely gone away so that will the biggest concern the Blues boss will have at the moment when it comes to the assessment of his squad.
This new look Chelsea side is a complete contrast to the side Mourinho managed at Stamford Bridge back in the noughties. In his opening stint at the club the Blues would often win matches with a 1-0 score-line in their favour, as they were heavily set up with a solid defence that knew how to close out matches. That is certainly not the case this season as they have managed to find the net on 19 occasions, while conceding seven times so far. Although Diego Costa is the leading talisman, Oscar, Eden Hazard, Nemanja Matic and Andre Schurrle should all contribute from midfield which means there are goals all over the pitch from the Blues in this period at the club, so there should be plenty of high scoring games just like the 6-3 encounter against Everton in August.
Diego Costa is likely to go down as the signing of the season for Chelsea if they do go on to wins the Premier League this season, but the capture of Cesc Fabregas should not be underestimated. The former Barcelona and Arsenal midfielder has helped Chelsea become a lot more adventurous in attack so far in the campaign. Cesc can top the assists chart in his return to the league if he continues in the same rich vein of form. It is difficult to see why the Spanish giants were keen to let him go or why Arsenal refused his services when he was made available by the Catalan club in the summer.
2013-14 was Chelsea’s first trophyless season since 2011 and only their second in the last six years. Although the fans did not react too kindly to that, it would not have worried Mourinho too much in his first season back at the club. The Blues manager’s plan was always to put a squad that was good enough to win trophies in place before the start of this campaign. Mourinho was happy to write the last season off as he was using it to discover which of the players he adopted were good enough and had the right qualities to fit into his plan. He was then able to identify what he needed and he made sure he got those players very early in the summer.
The challenge this season for Mourinho could be to balance his side in four competitions. They have also made a good start to their Champions League campaign, and after their victory on Tuesday night in Portugal against Sporting Lisbon, they should make it through to the knockout stages of the competition once again. There will therefore be times this season where the Blues will have to play three times in the space of seven days, which would take its toll on any side. It will be important that the Chelsea manager rotates his squad during the busy periods to avoid burnout amongst his stars.
Although Mourinho would love to win both the Capital One Cup and FA Cup, they are unlikely to be high on the priority list this season. The Blues were able to beat Bolton in the third round of the League Cup and they now have what should be a straightforward tie against League Two Shrewsbury for a spot in the quarter-final. That game will be the opportunity for some of the fringe players in the squad to try and impress the manager and make a case for a more regular appearance in the first team at the club. Depending on the draw they receive in the early rounds of the FA Cup, Mourinho may do the same in that tournament.
The key to any good side that is competing in numerous competitions is to have at least two top class players for each position in the team. Chelsea is not far from having that this season. They arguably have the best two combined goalkeepers in the world. Mourinho made the bold move to make Thibaut Courtois his number one shot stopper this season, a decision which would not have been easy considering the impact Petr Cech made for him in his first spell at the club. However, the 32-year-old ‘keeper will be aware that he will get chance at various stages of what is going to be a long campaign so instead of leaving Stamford Bridge in the summer in the hunt for regular first-team football, he was persuaded by his manager to fight for the number one jersey.
The one area where Chelsea isn’t blessed with much quality in depth is with their centre-backs. Terry and Cahill have created a really good partnership and understanding together. However, if either were to get injured, it would be a big loss. Brandon Ivanovic could come inside from right-back but otherwise they would have to turn to some of their younger members of their squad to fill the shoes of two very reliable English defenders.