Selecting the Starting XI for Chelsea for Opening Day of New Season vs. Burnley

Garry HayesFeatured ColumnistJune 14, 2017

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21: Ngolo Kante, Gary Cahill, John Terry and Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea celebrates with the Premier League Trophy after the Premier League match between Chelsea and Sunderland at Stamford Bridge on May 21, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

We've barely said goodbye to 2016/17, but football is an ever-evolving beast that doesn't rest for anyone or anything.

While we've been away on our summer holidays, the Premier League computer has been chugging away and now the fixture list for 2017/18 has been revealed.

For Chelsea, it means they start their title defence against Burnley and Antonio Conte knows he has plenty of work to do between now and the big kick-off.

The Blues may have been England's finest last season, but with Champions League football back on the agenda, the Italian has to revitalise his squad with some fresh faces to add depth and more quality.

That will mean Chelsea's first-team taking on a new complexion come the opening weekend of 2017/18. Who will retain their place in the manager's affections? Who needs to be looking over their shoulder for the next couple of months?

Join us as we predict what Chelsea's starting XI may well look like when Burnley come to Stamford Bridge.

Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 27: Thibaut Courtois of Chelsea celebrates his sides first goal during The Emirates FA Cup Final between Arsenal and Chelsea at Wembley Stadium on May 27, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The Belgian has already seen off challenges from Petr Cech and Asmir Begovic in his three seasons as first choice. After a return to form last term that coincided with the Blues being crowned champions, there's little reason for Conte to be looking to replace him, regardless of any bids that could be tabled this summer.

Courtois will be starting the Premier League season in goal for Chelsea, that's for sure.

Centre-back: Andreas Christensen

MOENCHENGLADBACH, GERMANY - APRIL 25: Andreas Christensen of Moenchengladbach controls the ball during the DFB Cup semi final match between Borussia Moenchengladbach and Eintracht Frankfurt at Borussia-Park on April 25, 2017 in Moenchengladbach, Germany.
TF-Images/Getty Images

Some of the changes we're expecting at Stamford Bridge this summer won't involve just the transfer market. There are also some big questions—and expectations—about those players returning from their loan spells last year.

Top of the pile is Andreas Christensen, who has spent two years with Borussia Monchengladbach. It's been a productive move for the Dane, giving him Champions League experience. He's really added to his reputation and now looking more senior, we're predicting he will edge his way into Conte's plans.

Christensen has the ability to save Chelsea a lot of money this summer.

Centre-back: David Luiz

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21:  David Luiz of Chelsea poses with the Premier League trophy after the Premier League match between Chelsea and Sunderland at Stamford Bridge on May 21, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

It was once an odd thing to say, but now claims that Chelsea aren't quite the same team without David Luiz in the line-up are very normal. The Brazilian deserves so much credit for the way he has settled back into life at Stamford Bridge, strengthening the backline in the process.

He was a big figure in 2016/17 and will key this time around.

Centre-back: Gary Cahill (C)

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21: Gary Cahill of Chelsea celebrates with the Premier League Trophy after the Premier League match between Chelsea and Sunderland at Stamford Bridge on May 21, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images

Now that John Terry's departed, Chelsea are looking to build the club around another player who can serve them for the next decade. Being the wrong side of 30, that's too much to ask for Gary Cahill; yet seeing his form last term while wearing the armband, Cahill has shown he can serve the club for a few years yet.

The Englishman stepped forward as Chelsea's leader last year and he will be leading them again in 2017/18. He won't last as long as Terry did as captain, simply on age alone, but he's the man for the current moment.

Wing-back: Cesar Azpilicueta

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 27: Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea during the Emirates FA Cup Final match between Arsenal and Chelsea at Wembley Stadium on May 27, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images)
Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

Put Cesar Azpilicueta anywhere in the Chelsea defence and he performs. He's been a right-back, a left-back and last season, a centre-back or wing-back.

As this Chelsea side evolves, we're predicting that Azpilicueta will gradually move into the wing-back positions. Not only has he shown himself to be an attacking threat in the past, but he is defensively capable enough to add the solidity Conte craves.

It doesn't mean the end for Victor Moses, either. Conte will need to rotate, but Azpilicueta's quality marks him out as a first-choice.

Centre midfield: Tiemoue Bakayoko

MONACO, MONACO - MAY 17: Tiemoue Bakayoko of Monaco is interviewed by Laurent Paganelli during the French League 1 Championship title celebration following the French Ligue 1 match between AS Monaco and AS Saint-Etienne (ASSE) at Stade Louis II on May 17,
Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

Where Chelsea looked short last season was in central midfield. If Conte continues with the 3-4-3 system that has served his side so well, it's evident Cesc Fabregas will not be a regular starter; Conte understands that the Spaniard needs an extra body in the middle to dominate the biggest matches.

With Nemanja Matic not proving himself dynamic enough, it's no wonder Chelsea are chasing Monaco's Tiemoue Bakayoko. According to The Express, it's a deal that could be completed as early as next week.

Regardless of timings, if Chelsea do sign the 22-year-old, they'll be adding an all-round midfielder to their ranks; a player who is capable of scrapping defensively and also offering an offensive threat. That's something they don't have right now.

Centre midfield: N'Golo Kante

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21: N'Golo Kante of Chelsea poses with the Premier League trophy following the Premier League match between Chelsea and Sunderland at Stamford Bridge on May 21, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images)
Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images

The triple Player of the Year from 2016/17, N'Golo Kante is one of the first names on Conte's teamsheet. He gives Chelsea the platform to play football and whenever he's available, he plays. That will be the same next season in west London.

Wing-back: Marcos Alonso

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 08:  Marcos Alonso of Chelsea celebrates after the match in the Premier League match between Chelsea and Middlesbrough at Stamford Bridge on May 8, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Ian Walton/Getty Images

Along with the defensive reinforcements we've mentioned, it's clear Chelsea need to find more depth on the left side of midfield to cover Marcos Alonso as the wing-back. Whether that comes from Kenedy or the Blues dip into the transfer market, right now it's difficult to look beyond Alonso.

He arrived unfancied last summer, but come the end of the season, the Spaniard had shown his value to Conte's side. He's more a Jack of all trades player, but in the wing-back roles, it's those who tend to flourish. And Alonso certainly has at Chelsea.

Inside right: Pedro

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 27:  Pedro of Chelsea during the Emirates FA Cup Final match between Arsenal and Chelsea at Wembley Stadium on May 27, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)
Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Pedro really cemented his place in the Chelsea line-up last season. Returning to his Barcelona form, the Spain international was excellent, scoring big goals at times when some of Chelsea's other stars were jaded or out of form.

It would be harsh for him to lose his place in Conte's starting XI. He offers something different to the likes of Eden Hazard, with his high energy and pressing a big factor in Chelsea being so effective on the break.

Pedro is the sort of player every successful side needs: he isn't a poster boy, but he does it where it matters most and that's on the pitch.

Striker: Romelu Lukaku

SWANSEA, WALES - MAY 06: Romelu Lukaku of Everton arrives prior to the Premier League match between Swansea City and Everton at The Liberty Stadium on May 6, 2017 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images)
Athena Pictures/Getty Images

For the sake of our sanity, we hope the Romelu Lukaku to Chelsea rumours are ended soon by some real action from Everton and the Blues.

According to The Sun, Lukaku will cost Chelsea around £70 million as they look find a permanent replacement for Diego Costa, who seems to be heading out of the exit door.

It's a shame to see Costa's Blues career ending on a negative note as he has been a huge reason for the club claiming two titles in three seasons. But it seems Lukaku has been a long-term target for Conte and if he lands him, Michy Batshuayi will have to get used to the back-up role he had last term.

The same goes for any young Blues strikers that hang around, looking for an opportunity in 2017/18.

Inside left: Willian

Chelsea's Brazilian midfielder Willian celebrates after scoring their first goal during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Sunderland at Stamford Bridge in London on May 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Ian KINGTON / RESTRICTED TO EDITOR
IAN KINGTON/Getty Images

With Hazard nursing a fractured ankle this summer, Willian's position at Stamford Bridge has been strengthened. Outside of the Belgian and Pedro, Willian is the only other viable option to support the main striker at Chelsea.

That fact needs to change this summer, with Conte looking at the younger players coming through, but also at some potential high-profile targets, such as Alexis Sanchez, who will be gaining attention due to the fact he has one year left on his Arsenal contract.

For now, though, Chelsea are short on numbers, but not on quality. Willian has proven himself in the past couple of seasons and they will be confident of starting their title defence against Burnley with a bang with him in the side.