Chelsea FC: What Is Jose Mourinho's Best Starting XI?
The World Cup rather scuttled Chelsea's pre-season. Brazilians, Belgians, Nigerians and the lone German were allowed time to recuperate; as such, Jose Mourinho has not been afforded time to let new parts integrate with older ones.
Chelsea play host to Real Sociedad on 12 August; the Stamford Bridge friendly will likely represent Mourinho's best opportunity to play his first-choice XI for 90 minutes. With the Blues visiting Burnley's Turf Moor on 18 August to kick off their Premier League campaign, that does not leave much time for cohesion.
Thus far into the pre-season, Chelsea have not played great—more like "serviceably." The gradual addition of World Cup stars proves to be the next gear, however, the system is still being tinkered and formatted.
Mourinho has started with the 4-2-3-1 in most games, but with Chelsea trailing three of five games, he was forced to take a more aggressive tack—changing to a 4-3-3 and even playing Branislav Ivanovic as a third striker.
Once the Portuguese has his full complement of stars on hand, going with a 4-3-3—given the personnel—is sure to elicit the best Chelsea performances; hence, this "best XI" is based on that assumption.
GK: Thibaut Courtois
Age: 22 (Birth Date: 11 May 1992)
Current Market Value: £22 million
2013/14: Appearances: 56 | Clean Sheets: 28 (All played with Atletico Madrid)
Starting with the biggest change from the norm, we find Thibaut Courtois in goal.
Barring his shoulder injury—something one cannot predict or foresee—Petr Cech has done nothing in the past 12 months to deserve a demotion. That said, his competition is arguably the best under-23 goalkeeper in the world and needs to play.
Mark Schwarzer: born 1972 Petr Cech: born 1982 Thibaut Courtois: born 1992 Know someone born in 2002? They may be a future #CFC goalkeeper.— Chelsea Talk (@_ChelseaTalk) July 28, 2014
An ideal outcome would be Courtois playing the Premier League and Cech taking care of cups competitions.
Jose Mourinho having to choose his best No. 1 will be extremely uncomfortable, but youth and potential growth should outweigh a keeper coming off shoulder surgery.
RB: Cesar Azpilicueta
Age: 24 (Birth Date: 28 August 1989)
Current Market Value: £15.8 million
2013/14: Appearances: 44 | Goals: 1 | Assists: 4
The 2013-14 Chelsea Player's Player Award winner, Cesar Azpilicueta has ingratiated himself with Jose Mourinho, his team-mates and, most importantly, the fans.
Bridging the gap between Ashley Cole and Filipe Luis at left-back, the Spanish international will compete with Ivanovic for Chelsea's right-back spot.
As noted by Kalika Mehta of the Daily Mail, Mourinho has lauded his fullback, saying:
Azpilicueta is the kind of player I like a lot. I think a team with 11 Azpilicueta's probably could win the [Champions League] because football is not just about the pure talent.
Safe to say, "Dave" is a lock for Chelsea's 2014-15 starting XI.
CB: Gary Cahill
Age: 28 (Birth Date: 19 December 1985)
Current Market Value: £16.7 million
2013/14: Appearances: 47 | Goals: 2 | Assists: 2
While highlights of Andre Villas-Boas' transfers have left Stamford Bridge, one remaining bright spot of his Chelsea transfer record was the £7 million acquisition of Bolton Wanderers centre-back Gary Cahill.
Cahill's partnership with John Terry was the catalyst for most of Chelsea's success in 2013-14. For trophies to arrive in west London, the English pairing will need to repeat their stellar work from last season and, if possible, get better.
Continuing his education under arguably the Premier League's best centre-back, Cahill will undoubtedly grow over the next 12 months.
CB: John Terry (C)
Age: 33 (Birth Date: 7 December 1980)
Current Market Value: £6.6 million
2013/14: Appearances: 47 | Goals: 2 | Assists: 2
While Didier Drogba's arrival will certainly galvanise the Chelsea dressing room, the ubiquitous presence of John Terry will be Jose Mourinho's biggest asset this year.
Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole leaving has created a void of leadership, Didier Drogba and Petr Cech are sure to assist, but Terry's ability to marshal a defence while keeping his positional awareness is crucial to the Blues' silverware aspirations.
England's former captain has stated his intention to play next year to Chelsea's official television channel (via Squawka); were he to perform at the level he did last season, there seems no earthly reason why he would be denied another year.
LB: Filipe Luis
Age: 28 (Birth Date: 9 August 1985)
Current Market Value: £13.2 million
2013/14: Appearances: 49 | Goals: 1 | Assists: 6 (All played with Atletico Madrid)
For a near 29-year-old left-back, £16 million seems rather hefty; yet, in his eagerness, Jose Mourinho has cast conventional wisdom to the side.
After a trophyless 2013-14, the patience of Roman Abramovich is sure to wear thin should results repeat themselves. The battle-hardened Filipe Luis will take Cole's No. 3 shirt and know what to do.
Three seasons on, the Blues will again be in the market for a left-back—provided Nathan Ake or Ryan Bertrand are not installed. In the meantime, however, Mourinho will expect his current defensive quartet to play solid, no-nonsense defence. Luis being fully capable.
CDM: Nemanja Matic
Age: 25 (Birth Date: 1 August 1988)
Current Market Value: £22 million
2013/14: Appearances: 41 | Goals: 3 | Assists: 4 (Transferred to Chelsea from S.L. Benfica on 15 January 2014)
Nemanja Matic leaving Chelsea for virtual pennies, then coming back for £21 million had many questioning the Blues' transfer policy. While Chelsea's transfers over the past five years have been rather hit-or-miss, the decision to return Matic from Portugal was a masterstroke.
Tall, technical and savvy on the ball, the Serbian international has easily established himself as Jose Mourinho's best defensive midfield option.
In a 4-3-3, Matic would be Chelsea's regista. His ability to find through balls and elevate pressure has been greatly underestimated. Were he played as such, 2014-15 Chelsea Player of the Year honors may be in order.
RCM: Cesc Fabregas
Age: 27 (Birth Date: 4 May 1987)
Current Market Value: £44 million
2013/14: Appearances: 54 | Goals: 13 | Assists: 22 (All played with FC Barcelona)
Directly responsible for 35 of Barcelona's goals in 2013-14, Jose Mourinho managing to sell Cesc Fabregas on joining Chelsea was half genius, half audacious.
The problem Mourinho now possesses is where to position the former Arsenal man.
While playing in the pivot against Olimpija Ljubljana may work, Fabregas playing there against Premier League and Champions League competition seems a recipe for disaster. The simple solution would be giving the Spanish international another line of midfield protection in Nemanja Matic.
It would allow Fabregas the freedom to roam offensively, yet give Mourinho's side some semblance of balance defensively.
Age: 22 (Birth Date: 9 September 1991)
Current Market Value: £29.9 million
2013/14: Appearances: 47 | Goals: 11 | Assists: 10
Playing in the 2012 Olympics, Chelsea's 2012-13 season, the 2013 Confederations Cup, Chelsea's 2013-14 season and the 2014 World Cup, there has been little time for Oscar to recuperate since his Stamford Bridge arrival.
Many supporters would not be opposed to seeing the Brazilian benched for the start of Chelsea's 2014-15 campaign—hopefully avoiding a dreaded burnout.
With Fàbregas, Willian and Hazard able to play the "No. 10," I would love to see JM rest Oscar until mid-November. The lad looks exhausted!— Chelsea Talk (@_ChelseaTalk) July 8, 2014
One problem, however: Oscar is a terrific footballer, so dropping him is difficult.
Jose Mourinho left the midfielder out late last season, but needing to acclimate with new team-mates, the 22-year-old may have to wait for next summer to get his well-deserved break.
Age: 25 (Birth Date: 9 August 1988)
Current Market Value: £26.4 million
2013/14: Appearances: 46 | Goals: 4 | Assists: 10 (Transferred to Chelsea from Anzhi Makhachkala on 25 August 2013)
If Petr Cech vs. Thibaut Courtois is the main event, then Willian vs. Andre Schurrle is the undercard.
For this XI, Willian gets the nod because of his defencive prowess and high energy. In a midfield consisting of Cesc Fabregas and Oscar, wingers would need to track back often. Schurrle is not incapable of this, but as witnessed at the World Cup, the German is better served attacking.
Willian, by comparison, has a better balance to his game.
Additionally, Jose Mourinho may not require one forward player to be overtly offensively should goals from strikers be forthcoming.
LW: Eden Hazard
Age: 23 (Birth Date: 7 January 1991)
Current Market Value: £39.6 million
2013/14: Appearances: 49 | Goals: 17 | Assists: 10
If Chelsea are to fulfil their lofty expectations, Eden Hazard must as well. The Belgian has graduated; he is no longer a youth product living on "potential." He must be judged by the sum of his actual performances.
For Hazard to challenge the Cristiano Ronaldos and the Lionel Messis of the world, being inconsequential on matchdays is not an option. Every game must seem—as the cliche goes—like a cup final.
Blessed with pace, balance and an uncanny knack of ghosting past opponents, the 23-year-old winger is Jose Mourinho's barometer—his level will determine that of those around him.
CF: Diego Costa
Age: 25 (Birth Date: 7 October 1988)
Current Market Value: £30.8 million
2013/14: Appearances: 51 | Goals: 36 | Assists: 7 (All played with Atletico Madrid)
Scoring 36 goals for Atletico Madrid, Chelsea would have gladly accepted half of Diego Costa's production from one of their striking options in 2013-14; it may have brought at least one trophy to west London.
The Blues' rather frustrating goalscoring record was countered by a staunch, miserly defence last year. To unite Jose Mourinho's defence with a fountain of goals has the makings for a brilliant marriage.
Shelling £32 million on a hopeful fountain named "Costa" does seem costly but no more expensive than paying £50 million for a spasmodic one named "Torres."
Comments Section: Who Ya Got?
So who is left?
Ramires, Andre Schurrle, Petr Cech, Branislav Ivanovic, Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres and a myriad of Roman Abramovich's hired assassins.
Chelsea's bench is without a doubt the best in the Premier League. The class exuding from it makes for embarrassing reading.
Jose Mourinho will have the ability to pressure whichever starting XI—as each player knows there is a man on the bench chomping at the bit to prove himself: It seems the ultimate managerial luxury.
The formations are seemingly endless—likewise the player combinations—so, who ya got?
Drop a comment.
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