Soccer

TSN.ca BPL Preview: Chelsea ready for another run at title

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Shane McNeil, TSN.ca
8/11/2014 10:54:20 AM
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The new Barclays Premier League season gets underway on Saturday and prior to the first kick, TSN.ca presents a week long look at some of the teams and stories that will shape the up coming campaign. 

Our first stop is Stamford Bridge where after a third place finish in 2013/14, Jose Mourinho and Chelsea are locked and reloaded for another shot at the title.

Manager: Jose Mourinho

Last Season: 25-7-6 (third in Premier League)

Notable Additions: Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid), Didier Drogba (Galatasaray), Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid), Mario Pasalic (Hajduk Split).

Notable Subtractions: Demba Ba (Besitkas), Ashley Cole (Roma), Samuel Eto'o (released), Frank Lampard (New York FC), David Luiz (Paris St-Germain)

That was Then: The story of 2013-14 for Chelsea was told not in what they did, but rather what they were unable to do.

The Blues were strong against the best teams in the Premiership, losing just once to the top seven opposing clubs all season long and even earning impressive road victories against the two teams that would finish ahead of them in the standings: Liverpool and Manchester City.

They even went into the final two weeks of fixtures with a mathematical shot at the title.

What went wrong was the team's inability to earn wins over decidedly lesser competition. Of the team's last nine matches, four were against teams that spent considerable time in the relegation zone. Of those matches, they were only able to earn a victory over last-place Cardiff City, and that in the final week of the season.

Losses to Sunderland and Crystal Palace and a draw to Norwich City left them with just four points from four matches and – along with a loss to Aston Villa – sunk their chances of making up ground, despite Liverpool letting them back in the race with an embarrassing draw of their own.

The positives for the Blues included staying atop the table for nearly two months, a 6-0 thrashing of Arsenal at Stamford Bridge, where they would lose just once all year.

As far as Europe goes, Chelsea looked good to advance to a second Champions League Final in three years, taking a 0-0 scoreline back to the Bridge against Atletico Madrid in the semifinal. Disaster would strike there, as well, with the Blues watching three goals bulge their net in the return leg, despite Fernando Torres giving them an early advantage. But a close strike from Adrian equalized and the match was put away when Samuel Eto'o fouled Diego Costa, setting up the penalty that would truly put the match away.

The team was further hampered by a shoulder injury to keeper Petr Cech in the first leg of the semi, forcing them to rely on Australian back-up Mark Schwarzer.

This is Now: So much has changed at the Bridge.

One of the greatest players in the club's history - some might argue the greatest – has moved on. Frank Lampard has taken his club record 211 goals and packed up for a move to the MLS in 2015 with the brand-spanking-new New York FC. Following the paths of David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Jermain Defoe before him, Lampard is looking for a fresh start in North America and to lend his celebrity to building the credibility of the league.

However, as one all-time great exits another is set to return.

(Photo: The Canadian Press)

After two years in relative exile with Shenhua Shanghai and Galatasaray, Didier Drogba will once again be donning the Chelsea blue. This move will doubtlessly appeal to the sentiment of the fan base, but the man they are welcoming back is not the same that triumphantly left the club after leading them to a first-ever Champions League title in 2012.

Now 36, Drogba put up 15 goals with his Turkish club last season and was a talisman for the Ivorians at the World Cup, seemingly altering the outcomes of games by stepping on the pitch. However, he is no longer a realistic option to be relied upon for 90 minutes. He may provide the leadership that will be left vacant, but expectations should be tempered.

The other huge off-season addition is the man that played such a huge role in their Champions League tragedy: Diego Costa. The 25-year-old had a disappointing end to his last campaign, leaving just eight minutes into the Champions Final with a hamstring injury. His year would get worse with Spain's early exit from the World Cup, after winning just once in the group stage.

(Photo: The Canadian Press)

Still, the former Atletico man scored 27 goals last season. That was good enough for third in La Liga's scoring table and just one behind Lionel Messi. When you add that to the man who finished third in La Liga assists – his countryman Cesc Fabregas – the Chelsea attack could be outright fearsome this season. The two should add a proven punch to the young and exciting offence that already boasts the likes of Oscar (22), Eden Hazard (23) and Andre Schuerrle (23) in midfield.

How Oscar – along with the likes of Willian and Ramires – bounce back from this summer's disappointment in Brazil will be another sideline story to watch. Gone, though, from that group is imposing defender David Luiz. He bolted for Paris Saint-Germain for an incredible 50 million quid.

There's been a lot of change in the group, so it will be interesting to see what Mourinho does with them and whether he's able to avoid the harmful, preventable losses that derailed 2013-14 season.

Can "The Special One" be "The Creative One" and get this group firing early and often?

Burning Question: With Lampard and Ashley Cole gone and John Terry aging, who steps in to be the future of English football at Stamford Bridge?



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