Chelsea: Full Report Card for Every Position Entering Premier League Season
The 2014-15 Premier League season kicks off in just under two weeks, and Chelsea’s squad is starting to take shape. All of the players have now returned from World Cup duties and will be expected to feature in at least one of the three remaining pre-season matches.
Ahead of the first game of the season against Burnley, here is a report card for the players available for each position for the Blues.
Grades have been calculated by studying pre-season performances and, if applicable, previous seasons’ involvement at Stamford Bridge. Players who are able to cover more than one position have been placed in the position they are most likely to occupy.
Petr Cech has been Chelsea’s No. 1 for the best part of a decade, and it is easy to see why. The keeper has consistently been one of the best in Europe, and his heroics have sometimes been performed at great personal cost.
This season he will face his biggest challenge to date, as the prodigious talent of Thibaut Courtois makes his debut for Chelsea. Despite this, Cech will still have an important role to play for the Blues this season.
Courtois has an impressive track record for a 22-year-old goalkeeper. In his three years on loan at Atletico Madrid he collected winners’ medals from the Europa League, UEFA Super Cup, La Liga and the Copa del Rey, boosting his credentials beyond his young years.
Mourinho decided that the time was right to bring Courtois back to Stamford Bridge to challenge Cech, and judging by his save from Franco Di Santo against Werder Bremen, he is more than ready to step up to the plate.
Mark Schwarzer joined Chelsea on a free transfer last season and was called upon to provide backup when Petr Cech suffered a dislocated shoulder. He performed admirably, but with Courtois’ return he is likely to play an even more limited role this season.
Filipe Luis joined Chelsea this summer as a direct replacement for the departing Ashley Cole. The Brazilian was instrumental in Atletico Madrid’s La Liga-winning campaign, perfectly balancing defence and attack with 131 tackles and 111 crosses. He also notched two assists, and his all-round game will add an extra dimension to the Blues’ left side.
Nathan Ake is one of the most versatile youngsters Chelsea have on their books, as he is able to play centre-half, left-back and defensive midfield. Mourinho confirmed that Ake would be part of the first team next season after impressing in pre-season, and he is likely to find himself providing backup to Luis at left-back. At 19 years old, Ake still has a lot of learning to do, but he is in the right place to continue developing his natural talent.
John Terry is the longest-serving player at Chelsea by a country mile, but Mourinho believes that the captain still has plenty to offer. Having missed only a handful of games last season, Terry formed a solid partnership with Gary Cahill at centre-half and used his considerable leadership skills to keep Chelsea in the chase for the Premier League until the closing stages.
Expect more of the same from the captain in 2014-15.
Gary Cahill has gone from strength to strength since joining Chelsea in January 2012. The England international made a total of 205 clearances in 29 Premier League appearances last season and should continue to improve in the coming campaign.
Kurt Zouma signed for Chelsea in January 2014 before being loaned back to Saint-Etienne for the remainder of the season. He is likely to remain at Stamford Bridge for 2014-15 as a rotation player, having put in some impressive pre-season performances.
Andreas Christensen was a member of the Chelsea U21 squad that won the FA Youth Cup and U21 league double in 2013-14. Mourinho’s decision to send Tomas Kalas on loan and keep Christensen was surprising, but shows the faith he has in his youngsters. Although the Dane is unlikely to make regular appearances for the Blues, this season will be crucial in determining his future at Stamford Bridge.
Branislav Ivanovic was Chelsea’s top-scoring defender last season with three goals in the Premier League. He also made 65 tackles and 179 clearances but will face stiff competition for his right-back spot from Cesar Azpilicueta in 2014-15.
Cesar “Dave” Azpilicueta played out of position at left-back for much of last season after impressing Mourinho with his commitment and work rate. Chelsea’s acquisition of Felipe Luis will make it difficult for him to perform the same feat this season, but he will continue to fight for a place in the starting XI.
Cesc Fabregas is likely to be Chelsea’s key signing of the summer. Having arrived from Barcelona, Fabregas’ versatility and Premier League experience will make him an important member of the squad, especially alongside Nemanja Matic. He has already shown an uncanny ability to link up with Diego Costa and is equally adept at playing as both a deep-lying playmaker and a No. 10.
Nemanja Matic rejoined Chelsea in January 2014 after being sold to Benfica in 2011. He was cup-tied for the Champions League but will not have the same restrictions in the 2014-15 season. As the fixtures pile up, he may find himself rotated with John Obi Mikel, but he is undoubtedly Mourinho’s first-choice central midfielder.
Marco van Ginkel
Marco van Ginkel had a promising start to his Chelsea career curtailed by a knee-ligament injury last season. He has since returned to full strength and has put in some excellent pre-season performances. He may find his playing time restricted by the arrival of Cesc Fabregas but will get his chances when the Spaniard is required to play as a No. 10.
John Obi Mikel
John Obi Mikel only made 11 Premier League starts for the Blues last year, as he was sidelined by Nemanja Matic in the defensive-midfield role. He is likely to be used as a utility player again this season and will need to improve his overall form if he is to appear regularly.
Ramires joined up with his Chelsea team-mates this week after an extended holiday following the World Cup. He made 29 Premier League starts for Chelsea last season but will face a fight for his place this season with Cesc Fabregas and Marco van Ginkel. His endurance and work rate are second to none, but he will need to improve his ball retention and tackling if he is to maintain his position as a guaranteed starter for 2014-15.
Andre Schurrle had an excellent World Cup with Germany, picking up a winners’ medal for his troubles. This continued an impressive debut season for the Blues, where his hat-trick against Fulham secured one of his three man-of-the-match performances. Now that he has acclimatised to the Premier League, Schurrle should play a key role in Mourinho’s plans for next season.
Mohamed Salah struggled to fit in initially and had to do a lot of work on his fitness after arriving from Basel in January 2014. The Egyptian has taken his chances in pre-season, however, and should be in the attacking-midfield rotation throughout 2014-15.
Willian's form was patchy throughout 2013-14, but he showed flashes of brilliance. Despite Brazil’s humiliating semi-final defeat to Germany, he should work his way into contention for a starting spot next season.
Marko Marin is likely to be loaned out or sold as Mourinho tries to reduce the number of foreign players in his squad.
Victor Moses went on loan to Liverpool but was unable to break into their first-choice team last season. He is likely to spend next season away from Stamford Bridge, whether on loan or a permanent deal.
Eden Hazard was Chelsea’s top scorer in the league last season with 14 goals and picked up six man-of-the-match awards. He will wear the No. 10 shirt for the 2014-15 season and will likely be Mourinho’s first choice to support Diego Costa.
Oscar started last season brightly and managed to displace fan favourite Juan Mata in the No. 10 role. Much of his work is done off the ball, and his tracking back and tackling are what put him so high in Mourinho’s esteem. However, his form dropped significantly towards the end of the season as his thoughts turned to the World Cup, and he will need to ensure that that doesn’t happen this year if he is to secure his future at Stamford Bridge.
Didier Drogba is unlikely to damage his Chelsea legend in his return to the club but will not play a major role. The 36-year-old spent his two seasons away from Stamford Bridge in China and Turkey, and he will take a while to readjust to the rigours of the Premier League.
Diego Costa was Chelsea’s biggest signing of the summer, costing the club £32 million. Years of disappointing striker signings put supporters on edge, but judging by his pre-season performances he will play a pivotal role for the Blues in the 2014-15 season.
It is hard to work out where to begin with Torres. To say he has underwhelmed since his £50 million move to Chelsea would be an epic understatement, and his spectacular misses in pre-season show little sign of that changing soon. He is unwilling to take a wage cut, making it impossible for Chelsea to sell him, but he will need to do something this season if he is to avoid destroying the remaining threads of his reputation.
Jose Mourinho’s return was one of the best things about last season for Chelsea supporters. The tactical genius who guided them to back-to-back Premier League titles and FA Cup success proved that he still had what it takes, as he outwitted Manuel Pellegrini twice and derailed Liverpool’s title bid at Anfield.
He has shown through the sales of Juan Mata and David Luiz that he is not afraid to make tough decisions if he feels they are in the club’s best interests, and a trophyless season last year will push him to win something in 2014-15.