Chelsea kick-off the defence of the Premier League title at home to Swansea city on Saturday evening.
We did the double over Swansea last season, also facing them near the start of the season, running out 4-2 winners in our second home match of the campaign. Diego Costa netting a hat-trick after we had gone behind early when John Terry inadvertently directed a cross into his own net. Loic Remy also scored on his debut after coming on late for Costa. Jonjo Shelvey scored a late consolation for Swansea. The return match at the Liberty stadium saw us completely destroy Swansea. In what was arguably our best performance of the season the hosts could not cope with our high pressing tactic from the start and we punished them every time they conceded possession and our neat and incisive build up play resulted in some great goals and a true champions performance. Oscar opened the scoring with a cracking finish after closing down well high up the pitch. He book-ended two Costa goals with another great strike, firing high into the top corner after some excellent build up play. Schurrle rounded things off in the second half.
Despite such resounding victories over the swans, they went on to have a very good season, finishing eighth and beating their previous best points total in the Premier League. Sixteen wins including doubles over Arsenal and Manchester United show what they are capable off.
Wilfried Bony departed for Manchester City in the January transfer window but Bafetimbi Gomis proved to be a sound like for like replacement, and looked very good when he started upfront against us at Stamford Bridge last season. They have backed him up this summer with the acquisition of Andre Ayew from Marseille. He led the line admirably for Ghana in their run to the African nations cup final and has been a handful in ligue 1. He can also play wide if required which will add options for Monk in what is likely to be the same 4-2-3-1 shape he utilised for the majority of last season. Another centre forward in Eder has been brought in from Braga as well. Franck Tabanou, a left back from St Etienne has also been recruited.
Monk looks to be building on the good work accomplished last season, and is adding depth around a strong backbone. Fabianski will remain first choice between the sticks, whilst long serving captain Ashley Williams formed a good centre back partnership with Federico Fernandez. The central three in midfield are key to Swansea. They like to play out from the back, and thread balls into the spaces centrally and out wide. Jonjo Shelvey has the vision to both find the space and make these passes, Gylfi Sigurdsson is a goal threat from the midfield and is dangerous on the ball in the final third, while Ki Sung Yeung is one of the most under-rated midfielders in the league. A great work rate, tactically sound, good in the tackle, and with eight goals to his name last season, second only to Bony, it is no surprise he won the supporters player of the year award.
A slightly reduced pre-season schedule, in terms of matches only, has seen us draw with both PSG and Barcelona, defeating both on penalties, and losing to New York red bulls. After losing the community shield 0-1 to Arsenal at Wembley, we suffered another 0-1 defeat at home to Fiorentina on Wednesday night. It is usually a complete waste of time reading anything into pre season results, and I don’t intend to do so. In the community shield, our first proper fixture of the season, we had long periods in possession, but struggled to create to many chances. This was the same against Fiorentina on Wednesday, lacking cutting edge in the final third on this occasion. Defensively we were sound against Arsenal, one moment of brilliance from Oxlade- Chamberlain being the only real differentiator in the fixture. Fabregas began the match in a more advanced central area than we saw most of last season. The shape was more akin to a 4-3-3 than 4-2-3-1, and early on this seemed to give us more options further forward in possession. Over the course of the match there was a lot of positional interchange in the midfield, and in the second half he resorted to a deeper role as Oscar was brought on. Whether Mourinho is considering playing Fabregas further forward this season remains to be seen, but with Ramires more than likely to be the man to sit in with Matic in this case, it could result in Oscar featuring less as he tends to be used centrally more than out wide. One player who has made a good impact so far on his return to the squad is Victor Moses. Probably our best player against Fiorentina, he showed a good work ethic, and looked lively on the ball and was the only player on display who produced anything in the final third. He could provide more strength in depth for us in wide areas.
Diego Costa is an injury doubt for our opening league fixture with another hamstring issue. Lets hope it isn’t a re-occurrence of the problem that dogged him for a lot of last season. He didn’t feature on the bench for either the community shield or our midweek friendly, but I would not be surprised to see him feature on Saturday. In his absence, the choice appears to be between Falcao and Remy to lead the line. Remy played the first half at Wembley. He didn’t have much to work with but didn’t retain the ball particularly well and was caught offside a few times. He would be disappointed not to be given the nod though, as based on last season his goals tally was decent given the matches he played, and he looked a threat, and had he not picked up some untimely injuries would probably have reached double figures.
Falcao looked to have very good off the ball movement in the second half against Arsenal, and he does take up good positions and looks willing to make runs in behind as well which could suit the through balls of Fabregas and Hazard. Hasn’t had nearly enough time on the pitch to make any assumptions yet and should only be judged on what he does starting from Saturday. It is probably a 50-50 shout as to which one will play in Costa’s absence.
Tactically the match will more than likely see both sides lining up 4-2-3-1. Our high pressing and harrying of Swansea, along with the ability to take our chances was the undoing of them in our last match-up. They couldn’t play out under excellent pressure from us, and we made them pay for turning possession over. If we can replicate this from the off on Saturday we give ourselves the best chance of opening the league campaign with three points.
As well as we played at the Liberty stadium; it was also an off day for Swansea. They do have players with the ability to retain possession under pressure, and will run us much closer if on form. In the last twenty minutes against Fiorentina, the only time that we had anything resembling a side that mite play Saturday, we closed down well from the front on occasions, and played at a slightly higher tempo than before. This will need to happen from the start. Both sides will bear a strong resemblance to last season, aside from injuries they are fairly easy to predict. Last season Chelsea had a fairly poor pre season, and then went to Burnley and for seventy minutes looked like they were already three months into the season and on top form. Hopefully we can start this season with the same tempo and artistry that we did twelve months ago, and the continued defensive solidarity that we displayed all season.