Chelsea kick off their 2014-15 Premier League campaign with a visit to Burnley on Monday evening. The Blues have had a successful pre-season, scoring 20 goals and conceding 10 as they racked up seven wins, one draw and two defeats.
As the final fixture of the opening weekend, Jose Mourinho will have more time to prepare his team and make some tough decisions, the most difficult of which surrounds the goalkeepers.
Thibaut Courtois played the full 90 minutes against Real Sociedad, giving rise to speculation that he will be the first-choice goalkeeper for the season. However, Mourinho told the official Chelsea website that this is not necessarily the case when speaking after the game:
I played Thibaut for 90 minutes because he was injured and didn’t play last weekend. Petr [Cech] played two matches in Turkey and the first half against Ferencvaros. Since he arrived Courtois has only played 45 minutes against Werder Bremen, he needs to play.
The fact Courtois played 90 minutes wasn’t me saying he’s first choice for Monday, it’s because he didn’t play the last three matches. The players don’t know (who’s first choice). When will I tell them? On Sunday.
Despite Mourinho’s refusal to reveal his final decision until the eve of the game, Courtois is the most sensible choice. For the sake of his long-term future at Chelsea he needs to be shown that the manager trusts him, and he should start between the sticks at Turf Moor.
Cesar Azpilicueta should start ahead of Branislav Ivanovic at right-back, with Filipe Luis on the left. Kurt Zouma’s impressive pre-season performances will not have gone unnoticed, but it is likely to be Gary Cahill and John Terry who start at centre-half.
Tactically, Burnley are likely to build a West Ham-style 19th Century wall, and a midfield pivot of Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas will be best to counter this. Matic’s ability to recycle possession and release Fabregas to make the forward run provides the perfect tool to break down defences.
Oscar should return to the starting XI in his preferred No. 10 role, flanked by Eden Hazard and Andre Schurrle. The Brazilian is yet to play a full 90 minutes with Fabregas behind him, but the partnership that the two forge as they strive to feed the striker will be one of the key factors in any success Chelsea have in the coming season.
Schurrle is not yet fully fit and will probably be replaced by Willian in the second half, while Oscar is likely to make way for Marco van Ginkel at the same time.
According to Mourinho, Didier Drogba could be fit for the trip to Burnley, but he is unlikely to be risked so early in the campaign. Diego Costa should instead get his Premier League debut as the manager believes he is ready to dominate the competition:
What can we expect? I expect Diego and Diego is a team player who works hard, he’s not just about goals, it’s about his defensive work, mentality and ambition. This is the player we bought and we were waiting for since last season. This is why we didn’t buy a striker in the winter market. We were waiting for him, we have him and hopefully everything goes well.
He looks adapted to the team, and the Premier League, not just Chelsea, should be happy.
Burnley boss Sean Dyche, dubbed the ‘Ginger Mourinho’ by supporters, is unlikely to be too happy about facing a striker of Costa’s calibre and form.
Despite the disparity between the two teams when it comes to money spent and trophies won, the real Mourinho will need to guard against complacency if they are to start the league campaign as they mean to go on.