Chelsea’s Story So Far: Champions look less than ready to retain

Sitting in 4th place after seven games, we take a look at the story so far for defending champions Chelsea

With the Premier League taking a week off for an international break, we have a chance to regain our breath and take a look at how the defending champions Chelsea are doing.

Results so far

WinsDrawsLossesGoals ForGoals Against
Premier League412126
Champions League20081

As far as the League is concerned, Chelsea have seen the hardest run of any of the top six, facing three of the other five (as well as 6th placed side Burnley, and yet to be determined contender/pretender Everton). Four points from clashes away to Tottenham and home to Arsenal and Manchester City is possibly less than expected, however at face value, it isn’t a meaningless haul.

The win away to Tottenham possibly saved Chelsea’s season after a disastrous opening day loss to Burnley, and it was three points they didn’t pick up last year; the draw with Arsenal was disappointing though the Gunners played extremely well on the day. Manchester City is the form side of the competition, and Chelsea was unlucky in scheduling by having to play them only a few days after a Champions League trip to Spain. Though they collected fewer points than they would have hoped, none of the losses was alarming.

Continental competition

They have made an excellent start in the Champions League, kicking off the competition with a 6-0 home win against Azerbaijani side Qarabag FK, and a dramatic 2-1 away win against Atletico Madrid. The Blues were lauded for the performance against Atletico, and the performance was one of the best in recent memory by an English side against a European superpower. After David Luiz gave away a cheap penalty that was duly converted by Antoine Griezmann, Morata equalised with his head, before super substitute Michy Batshuayi tapped in a ground cross with the last kick of the game to win the match.

Worries on the horizon

One alarm bell that is ringing in Conte’s head will be the hamstring injury to Alvaro Morata, tweaked against Atletico that forced him off the field after half an hour against Man City. A squad already thin on attacking options, Michy Batshuayi is not fully trusted by Antonio Conte, as the Italian gaffer opted to bring on Willian to play up front with Eden Hazard rather than the Belgian cult hero Batshuayi.

This means we could see the return of the fluid front three seen last year with Eden Hazard playing as a false nine, flanked by Pedro and Willian. It could also be an opportunity to play Kennedy or Charly Musonda Jr, with Conte often needing more than a friendly push to turn to his youth options.

Seamless integration

If there has been a surprise coming from Stamford Bridge it has been the seamless integration of new squad additions, rather than individual results. Fewer Chelsea fans have paid attention to Nemanja Matic’s performances for Manchester United since the introduction of Tiemoue Bakayoko, whose midfield presence looks to be a pillar of Chelsea sides for years to come, meshing well already with fellow Frenchman N’Golo Kante.

Another addition, Alvaro Morata, was the joint leader of the Golden Boot award at the beginning of the weekend, having found the back of the net six times in six games, including a hat-trick at Stoke City in his most recent 90-minute performance. The Spaniard’s movement has already seen him counted amongst the Premier League’s smartest forwards, and his soft touch north of his neck (his first three goals and two assists were all via header) has provided another dimension to Chelsea’s attack.

Andreas Christensen has returned from his loan spell to Borussia Monchengladbach and received praise for his performances in defence, so too Antonio Rudiger who joined Chelsea’s defensive stocks from Roma.

Plenty of disappointments

The most disappointing thing from Chelsea’s campaign has undoubtedly been their summer transfer period; though the squad looks bolstered by the new arrivals such as Bakayoko, Morata and Zappacosta, some players such as Fernando Llorente and Ross Barkley turned down moves to the club.

Meanwhile, on the field; the biggest disappointment aside from the opening day loss to Burnley has the return of David Luiz’s wild side. When David Luiz walked Chelsea’s exit plank the first time around it was due to the brain farts that plagued him frequently. Last year upon his return to Chelsea, Luiz was a changed man; he was a cool figure in Chelsea’s defence and roundly applauded. In the opening weeks of the season, his performance had been at its usual level, though against Arsenal he received a straight red card for a horrendous tackle on Sead Kolasinac, before giving away a needless penalty against Atletico. The club and fans will be hoping he returns to last years form upon his return.

Can they retain the title?

As for this season’s expectations, the Premier League title may be a step too far. Though Chelsea was also off the pace set by City and United at this point last year, they caught up in part due to Conte’s tactical change into a 3-4-3; does he have another trick up his sleeve for this season? The Manchester clubs also look far stronger this year, and one cannot count on them coming back to the pack. Chelsea won’t give up hope and will aim for the title, though a top three position and automatic European qualification may be a more realistic aspiration as they battle Tottenham for that spot. In the Champions League, Conte never made it past the quarter-finals with Juventus; he may turn his attention to that trophy if Chelsea’s great start in that competition continues.

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