Who Is Chelsea's Best Starting XI?

Daniel Tiluk@@danieltilukFeatured ColumnistFebruary 21, 2014

Who Is Chelsea's Best Starting XI?

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    As the old boxing adage goes: “Styles make fights.” The same notion applies in football.

    Different players will enjoy different success against varying teams, but the best 11 players on a team is a concrete idea given the tactics employed by the manager.

    Roman Abramovich's fortune has afforded Jose Mourinho multiple quality options at every position. This leads many to pontificate and speculate about which starting XI gives the Blues their best chance to win.

    January 2014's acquisitions, in the form of Nemanja Matic and Mohamed Salah, have only added to the Portuguese’s embarrassment of riches. With Chelsea on top of the Premier League and still evolving—too much quality is a great problem to have.

    This article's based on Jose Mourinho's preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.

GK: Petr Cech

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    Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

    Age: 31

    Games Played: 33

    Clean Sheets: 14

    Current Market Value: £17.5 million (via TransferMarkt)

    Chelsea's mainstay between the sticks since 2004, Petr Cech is arguably the world's best goalkeeper—certainly one of European football's most decorated.

    Creating a Chelsea starting XI without the Czech international would be sacrilege; his 33 appearances from 39 matches this season would seem evidence Jose Mourinho agrees.

RB: Branislav Ivanovic

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    Age: 29

    Games Played: 33

    Goals (Assists): 3(2)

    Current Market Value: £16.5 million (via TransferMarkt)

    Branislav Ivanovic is a tank. His physical strength and dogged tenacity gives opposing left wingers all kinds of fits. The defender is cut straight from the Jose Mourinho cloth—interesting, as he was bought the year after the Portuguese left Stamford Bridge in 2007.

    He's weathered the reign of nine different managers (including caretakers), and has become a staple in the Chelsea starting XI this season with good reason.

    The odd goal against Manchester City never hurts your credentials either.

CB: John Terry

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    Age: 33

    Games Played: 31

    Goals (Assists): 2(1)

    Current Market Value: £6.6 million (via TransferMarkt)

    Over 30 is a horrible age to be as a footballer. It seems once you reach the dreaded 30, you lose all ability to play the game, you instantly become a liability and there's no point in having you on the pitch.

    Well John Terry has been rubbishing that notion for three seasons now. 

    From leadership to grit to savvy, Terry is the quintessential English centre-back; his qualities make him tailor-made to anchor a Jose Mourinho back four.

    The Chelsea captain has played so well that a recall to the England squad has been beckoned by the press; it won't happen—which is a shame, really, as the Three Lions could use him in Brazil—but it goes to show the form Terry's been in this campaign.

CB: Gary Cahill

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    Age: 28

    Games Played: 30

    Goals (Assists): 1(2)

    Current Market Value: £16.5 million (via TransferMarkt)

    Gary Cahill looked to be on the outskirts of relevance in the minds of some earlier in the season, those voices of doubt have pretty much died.

    In a team full of attacking thrust and flair, the most "impressive" player this season has been Cahill. You expect flamboyant players to be jaw-dropping, you expect Cech and Terry to be stalwart, but the transformation of Cahill has been a revelation for Chelsea's defensive prowess.

    Placing the England international in the starting XI leaves David Luiz on the bench; while it's a tough decision, it's the defensively sound choice.

    Luiz's instinct to maraud from the back leaves gaps; Terry and Cahill seem to have a better understanding of each other—it's an English thing, conceivably.

    Whatever the cause, Chelsea's back four feels exceedingly safer with them together, so Cahill gets the nod here.

LB: Cesar Azpilicueta

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    Age: 24

    Games Played: 27

    Goals (Assists): 1(0)

    Current Market Value: £16 million (via TransferMarkt)

    Jose Mourinho took some hefty criticism (h/t 101 Great Goals) for his handling of Spanish midfielder Juan Mata. However, another Spaniard has found life in west London much smoother as of late—full-back Cesar Azpilicueta being the man.

    Branislav Ivanovic holds down the right-back spot when he's fit, which left Mourinho with a choice to make: The venerable Ashley Cole or the unproven Cesar Azpilicueta at left-back.

    Mourinho began with the common-sense approach in Cole; the England international started nine of the first 10 Premier League games, the one fixture he missed was due to an injury.

    After Chelsea's 2-0 defeat at St. James' Park, Mourinho's started Azpilicueta in 15 of a possible 16 Premier League fixtures, 13 of those coming at left-back.

CDM: Nemanja Matic

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    Age: 25

    Games Played: 7

    Goals (Assists): 0(0)

    Current Market Value: £22 million (via TransferMarkt)

    Chelsea's attack force needs a bulwark in midfield; before the signing of Nemanja Matic, Jose Mourinho was playing David Luiz, Frank Lampard or John Obi Mikel in the double pivot—not any more.

    His competition is fierce, but Lampard is slowing, Mikel is strictly defensive and why play your only other viable centre-back in midfield when Matic has been bought for the sole purpose of CDM drudgery.

    The Serbian midfielder is a physical behemoth; as seen in the 1-0 victory over Manchester City, he's one of a select few who can compete with Yaya Toure (who's arguably the best all-round footballer on the planet).

CDM/CM: Ramires

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    Scott Heavey/Getty Images

    Age: 26

    Games Played: 35

    Goals (Assists): 4(5)

    Current Market Value: £26.5 million (via TransferMarkt)

    If there are any "easy" selections in Chelsea's starting XI, Brazilian international Ramires is certainly one.

    The engine he has is otherworldly. Add that to his ability to play on the wing, midfield and the occasional defensive assignment, Ramires is the Swiss Army knife of the Chelsea teamsheet.

RAM: Willian

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    Age: 25

    Games Played: 28

    Goals (Assists): 2(6)

    Current Market Value: £26.5 million (via TransferMarkt)

    Taking his time adjusting to the Barclays Premier League from Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala, Willian has found his footing in west London and looks a great signing.

    Having to fend off the likes of Mohamed Salah and Andre Schurrle for duties in the attacking third, the Brazilian is quickly having to improve his craft; it truly is a trial by fire.

    Cracking the Chelsea starting XI is difficult, so starting 22 times this campaign speaks volumes about Willian's quality; more impressive, though, are the shifts he puts in.

    Like his countryman Ramires, Willian is a high-octane player who loves to run and harass his opponents—hallmarks of a Jose Mourinho attacking option.

CAM: Oscar

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    Clive Rose/Getty Images

    Age: 22

    Games Played: 34

    Goals (Assists): 9(7)

    Current Market Value: £30 million (via TransferMarkt)

    Juan Mata who?

    While the Mata transfer still hurts a bit for the Stamford Bridge faithful, the emergence of Oscar has been a welcome addition to the Blues.

    Wearing the iconic No. 11 shirt, sported by Chelsea heroes like Dennis Wise and Didier Drogba, you wondered if the Brazilian midfielder could ever live up to the burden; if his path continues the way it's trending, the sky's the limit.

    Compiling a starting XI without the vision, skill and work ethic of Oscar is a difficult bridge to cross. Capable of stunning free kicks and jaw-dropping wonder goals, the 22-year-old linchpin is certain to be a Chelsea mainstay for the next decade.

LAM: Eden Hazard

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    Age: 23

    Games Played: 35

    Goals (Assists): 14(8)

    Current Market Value: £39 million (via TransferMarkt)

    Gary Cahill has been Chelsea's most impressive player; Ramires has been the most resourceful. But Eden Hazard has been the Blues' best player so far this season. Any Chelsea "Best Starting XI" without the in-form winger should be thrown promptly in a rubbish bin.

    Responsible for 22 Chelsea goals this campaign, far and away the most of any player on Roman Abramovich's ledger, Hazard has come into his own at Stamford Bridge; as such, he's been touted as the next great thing in European football by his manager.

    If Chelsea hope to win anything this season, that being either the Premier League or the Champions League, their Belgian catalyst will have to be at the peak of his powers. And from what we've seen, those powers are surpassingly devastating to opposition defences.

ST: Fernando Torres

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    Scott Heavey/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    Games Played: 25

    Goals (Assists): 8(3)

    Current Market Value: £16.5 million (via TransferMarkt

    To say Fernando Torres has struggled at Chelsea isn't completely fair. To be comprehensive, you have to admit injuries and Didier Drogba set his Chelsea career back. With the No. 9 position more open since the vacuum of Drogba left Stamford Bridge in 2012, Torres has played serviceably—scoring 23 goals in 63 games last season.

    Will he ever live up to his £50 million price tag? Unfortunately, no, but he's not been tasked to world-beat by Jose Mourinho—the Blues' midfield is more than capable of that.

    Torres is on the pitch to be a conduit and an opportunist (see Manchester City goal), and for the most part, the Spaniard has done well.

    Can we talk about Torres' trophy cabinet for a minute?

    For all the lambasting he's taken recently, over the past seven years El Nino has won: The 2010 World Cup, Euro 2008 and 2012 (scoring in both finals), the 2012 FA Cup, the 2012 Champions League and the 2013 Europa League.

    Add in the 2012 Euro Golden Boot and the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup Golden Shoe, with an assortment of other honours, and you begin to wonder—where does he keep all of this hardware?

    Does it have it's own room in his mansion? Do you give them to your parents? At what point do you start using medals as coasters because you have so many? Has Arsene Wenger tried to break inside Torres' London flat and steal a few?

    Anyway, it's incredible the collection Torres has accumulated. If Chelsea win the Premier League come May, and Spain win the 2014 World Cup (provided El Nino makes the squad), there could be more yet.

    It's simply amazing.

Comments Section: Who Ya Got?

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    Jose Mourinho is always scribbling in his notepad on the touchline, consider the comment section your notepad.

    Who do you think Mourinho should be starting?

    What should be the course of action with David Luiz, Andre Schurrle and John Obi Mikel?